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Non-Review Review: X-Men – Dark Phoenix

It reflects the strange state of the modern multimedia landscape that X-Men: Dark Phoenix feels almost like a plucky underdog.

This is a major studio summer blockbuster with a budget of well over one hundred million dollars. More than that, it is the twelfth film in a series that has historically been both critically and commercially successful; the films have earned over $5.7bn dollars worldwide, eight of the twelve films have positive scores on Rotten Tomatoes, seven of those twelve have been popular enough to end on the Internet Movie Database‘s top 250 films of all-time. The current franchise stars a two-time Oscar winner. The last film in the series earned an Oscar nomination for its screenplay.

A hot property.

Dark Phoenix should be an event. Instead, it arrives with a relative whimper. The release date was pushed back repeatedly, first from November 2018 to February 2019, and then to June 2019. It has been hounded by largely unfounded industry gossip about terrible test screenings. It is tracking for the lowest opening weekend in the franchise. In the time between the film entering production and its eventual release, it has been somewhat overshadowed by news that Disney are to buy 20th Century Fox, and that this franchise will be rebooted.

“I am inevitable,” Thanos famously boasted in Avengers: Endgame, the literal manifestation of death and time who existed to be vanquished by the assembled heroes. He might have been speaking of the influence of Disney. Dark Phoenix crashes against that inevitability, shattering and snapping against those immovable objects. Dark Phoenix is a mess, a disorganised husk of a movie carved out in an editing booth and built from last-minute reshoots. However, it is not quite the disaster that it should be. Instead, it seems almost endearingly defiant, a blockbuster flavoured with passive aggression.

Raining on their parade.

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Doctor Who: Rosa (Review)

“We don’t serve negroes.”

“Well, that’s good. Because I don’t eat them.”

Rosa is undoubtedly well-intentioned and timely.

It is hard to imagine a more relevant or important episode of Doctor Who at this moment in time than one which acknowledges the history of racism within the United States, and the horrors inflicted upon its minority populations within living memory. (A “Brexit” episode might be closer to home, though.) This is, after all, a point in history where the President of the United States has been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, described nations with black populations as “sh!thole countries” and argued that Mexico is exporting rapists and murderers to the United States.

Park it here.

Of course, this isn’t just an American issue. The Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom was driven by racial anxiety, to the point that the “Leave” campaign unveiled billboards that evoked Nazi propaganda. In countries like Hungary, a resurgent ethno-nationalism is on the rise. Even on the day that Rosa was broadcast, there was a prominent news story about a white man on a Ryanair flight who insisted that a woman of Jamaican descent could not sit next to him. Rosa is certainly very timely and very relevant. It is important for children (and adults, frankly) to hear this.

There are problems, however. Rosa is a very worthy episode of television with a lot of very important things to say. In particular, its handling of Ryan and Yaz’s experiences in both the fifties and the present are very illuminating and insightful. That said, the episode runs into the same problems that haunt most of the series’ big “fixed point in history” narratives, in that it adopts a fundamentally conservative approach to history and predetermination, arguing that things can only be as they ever were. This may not be the best approach to a story about Rosa Parks.

Suitcase of the week.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Judgment (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Judgment is the first episode of Star Trek to do something interesting with the Klingons since Tacking Into the Wind, almost four years earlier.

After all, it never seemed like Star Trek: Enterprise had any real idea what to do with the Klingons. The show had made use of Klingons in Broken Bow, Unexpected, Sleeping Dogs and Marauders – but none of these episodes seemed particularly interested in telling a story about Klingons. Enterprise seemed primarily interested in the Klingons as a connection to the franchise’s long and distinguished history. After all, Klingons are almost as iconic a part of Star Trek as Spock; working a few bumpy-headed warriors into your script was a nice way of acknowledging the Star Trek legacy.

Trial of the twenty-second century...

Trial of the twenty-second century…

Certainly, Enterprise was not interested in committing to the same Klingon world-building in which Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had revelled. There are a lot of reasons for this. Over ten seasons, writer Ronald D. Moore had probably said just about everything that needed to be said about the Klingons; trying to say something new or interesting without his input was certainly daunting. More than that, Enterprise had committed itself quite firmly to episodic storytelling in its first two years; even the Andorians and Vulcans were still barely developed.

So David A. Goodman’s script for Judgment is ambitious, particularly in light of the spectacular failure of his (heavily re-written) work on Precious Cargo. Constructing an episode that might easily be misread as a rehash of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was a pretty bold choice, particularly given the problems that the show had endured while trying to construct an homage to Elaan of Troyius and The Perfect Mate. On paper, Judgment is an assignment that could easily explode spectacularly. It might not be as crazy a gambit as A Night in Sickbay, but it is a story with lofty objectives.

The court has spoken.

The court has spoken.

With so much of the second season feeling like it is running on auto-pilot, the energy and enthusiasm of Judgment is infectious. Singularity, Vanishing Point, Canamar and The Crossing felt like they were constructed using blueprints of what a Star Trek episode should look like. It is refreshing to watch an episode of Enterprise that seems genuinely excited to playing with these particular toys. In that sense, Judgment sets the mood for the final stretch of the season – despite duds like Horizon and Bounty, the final run of episodes feels like a band playing an encore for a show on the cusp of monumental change.

Although not facing the same threat of cancellation that loomed at the end of the third and fourth seasons, the second season of Enterprise feels like the last gasp of a particular model of Star Trek production, one no longer as viable as it once had been. Starting with Judgment, the show seems to acknowledge that things are going to have to change dramatically and soon; however, there is a clear attempt to bid this particular iteration of Star Trek a fond farewell. As such, any and all references to The Undiscovered Country feel entirely appropriate.

“Don’t wait for the translation! Answer me now!”

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Ed Brubaker’s Run on Uncanny X-Men – Divided We Stand (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Divided We Stand actually feels like the start of something interesting for Ed Brubaker’s run on Uncanny X-Men. It’s a story arc that heralds a bold new direction for Marvel’s merry mutants in the wake of Messiah Complex, taking the team out of their comfort zone and suggesting that Uncanny X-Men will be moving a little outside its comfort zone and trying something different. It’s a story arc that sees the team reflecting on the past and considering the future.

So, naturally, it is Ed Brubaker’s last solo arc on Uncanny X-Men.

A bad trip?

A bad trip?

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Non-Review Review: X-Men – First Class

X-Men: First Class is easily the best thing to emerge from Bryan Singer’s X-Men movie franchise since X-Men II, all those years ago. Jane Goldman’s smart script and Matthew Vaughn’s confident direction help inject life back into the franchise that stirred up this current superhero blockbuster fad, providing one of the finest examples of the subgenre. Although the movie does occasionally veer a little bit too close to (and, once or twice, right into) camp, it’s also a clever, brave, bold and exciting action adventure, which provides the best characterisation of the series to date.

We've got it covered...

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