Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

x-men Archive

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June 2019

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Dark Phoenix Is an Enjoyable, Flawed Sendoff for the X-Men

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

For all the ways that 2011’s X-Men: First Class represented a fresh start for the superhero franchise that helped establish the genre as a cinematic powerhouse, the series never really let go of its roots. The majority of the principal cast of the original trilogy returned for 2014’s Days of Future Past, which also served as their do-over sendoff following the lackluster reception to 2006’s The Last Stand. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine remained a major part of the franchise, starring in his own trilogy in addition to cameo appearances in both First Class and 2016’s Apocalypse. Deadpool, a character first played by Ryan Reynolds in 2009’s poorly received X-Men Origins: Wolverine, existed ostensibly in both worlds, while shattering the fourth wall in just about every way imaginable.

The X-Men franchise’s timeline is such a splintered mess that it’s hard to call the James McAvoy/Jennifer Lawrence/Michael Fassbender-lead team a reboot, a prequel, or even a second generation. Like Days of Future Past, Dark Phoenix set out to clean up the mess that was The Last Stand, while serving as a farewell to Fox era before Disney takes over the reins. Deadpool is likely going to be only remaining tie to the franchise that first began in 2000, assuming his R-rated humor has a place in Disney’s family-friendly world.

Dark Phoenix is not a film particularly concerned with serving as the finale for nearly twenty years of history. The film is the first with the name X-Men in the title not to feature an appearance from Wolverine. Only four actors from First Class remain, McAvoy, Lawrence, Fassbender, and Nicholas Hoult. Many of the X-Men in Dark Phoenix, including Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey, only made their debut in the previous film. The lackluster reception to Apocalypse further complicates the idea that this current iteration of the team is capable of meeting the broader expectations that the franchise’s extensive history has created.

The best it could hope to achieve is a satisfying send off to the four characters who have carried this chapter of the franchise. McAvoy, Lawrence, Fassbender, and Hoult all get their moments to reflect on their journey, even if Dark Phoenix’s broader narrative isn’t really about wrapping up the X-Men. It’s a film about Jean Grey that’s only sort of about Jean Grey. Part of this reflects the reality of Turner’s late entrance into the series, as The Last Stand’s attempt at the storyline featured Famke Janssen, whose earlier take on the character had played a pivotal role on the team up to that point.

The audience simply hasn’t had enough time with Turner’s Grey for the character to feel all that compelling. At times the film feels like it’s relying too hard on the audience’s familiarity with either the character or Turner as an actress, spending little time presenting a case for why we should care about this iteration of the powerful mutant. With obligations to wrap up the franchise, this approach is hardly a bad idea, but the film’s emotional core at times feels completely all over the place.

The narrative ends up working pretty well as a film. The action scenes are quite enjoyable, giving each mutant a chance to work their magic one last time. Jessica Chastain gives a compelling performance as Vuk, the leader of the alien race the D’Bari, who seek to harness the power of the Phoenix after the force destroyed their homeworld. At times, Vuk feels a bit too obligatory as an antagonist, but the film’s preoccupation with X-Men’s own sense of morality is a better use of its time.

At times, the film frames Charles Xavier as its true villain for using his school as a farm system for broader political motivations, a mildly awkward heel turn for McAvoy that doesn’t feel entirely earned given the arc of the character for the past few films. The humans vs. mutants dynamic remains present, but isn’t the true focus of the narrative. Casting Xavier as a manipulator is a means to an end, which is certainly fitting given that this is in fact, the end.

With a runtime of just under two hours, Dark Phoenix moves at a brisk pace considering all it needed to accomplish. The film presents a self-contained narrative while simultaneously wrapping up the franchise’s extensive history. It juggles all of that surprisingly well, with an excellent final act that brings everything all together.

The biggest letdown of the recent X-Men era has been the poor handling of Evan Peter’s Quicksilver, who looked poised to be the breakout star of the franchise after his excellent debut in Days of Future Past. Quicksilver never reached the high of that beautifully shot kitchen sequence set to the music of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” and only plays a minimal role in Dark Phoenix. Under different circumstances, Peters might have had a solo outing in the role plus another installment in the main franchise, but Disney’s acquisition of Fox called for this to be the end of the line.

Dark Phoenix was not particularly well-equipped to be the finale for close to two decades of franchise lore, but it makes the most of its truncated circumstances. We barely know these iterations of Jean, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Storm. It’s hardly this film’s fault that the franchise is headed into hibernation before an eventual reboot into the MCU. It’s an awkward goodbye, but an enjoyable movie. McAvoy, Lawrence, Fassbender, and Hoult all deserve better, but they made the most of an imperfect situation.

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Tuesday

27

May 2014

4

COMMENTS

X-Men: Days of Future Past and the Unimportance of Film Continuity

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

As impressive as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been from both a critical and financial standpoint, the evolution of superhero movies does present some risks. Both the X-Men film franchise, which is owned by Fox and therefore is separate from the movies connected to The Avengers, and the DC film universe have followed in Disney’s footsteps of moving away from stand-alone films in favor of franchises with large connected plotlines. In theory, this is pretty smart. If end credit scenes and brief cameos can draw fans to films they might not otherwise be incline to see, then why not? More movies, more money.

X-Men: Days of Future Past took one of Marvel’s most endeared story lines and used it to connect the cast’s of the original trilogy with the cast of X-Men: First Class, which was a deceivingly ambitious effort given the star power involved. With so many Oscar winners and nominees amongst the principal cast, the stakes were high to deliver a top-notch story that correctly utilized the talent involved. With a run time of a little over two hours, an equal division of screen time would’ve certainly come at the cost of the story.

Thankfully, this was something that director Bryan Singer was aware of. While this story called for both casts, the true meat of the film belongs to the newer cast. It’s nice to see Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Ellen Page and Anna Paquin all back in the roles that brought this franchise to the big screen, but James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult are the future and rightfully took point on the film. Hugh Jackman excelled in his role as a mediator between the two generations without stealing all the spotlight. Wolverine might be a fan favorite, but coming off his second solo film, it was smart not to give him all the attention.

The film also deserves credit for choosing to ignore the blatant plot continuity problems brought forth by X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, by far the franchise’s two weakest entries. Old Professor X is back from the dead and the world is in shambles. Why? Who knows and more importantly, who cares?

The biggest problem with a shared universe is the inherent obligation to explain the significance of the other films. This gets you more time with characters who would be in fewer movies without a shared universe, but it comes at a cost. Thor: The Dark World had its moments, but it also felt weighed down by a necessity to intentionally distance itself from The Avengers.

X-Men Days of Future Past chose to only make references to the past films when the plot called for it. The result is a film that’s allowed to embrace the fact that it’s a movie and not a TV show. Part of the reason that this particular film could get away with this is because its source material ignored such problems and also received critical acclaim, but it’s something that other franchise should think about.

Shared universes can take you out of the movie. I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering where Iron Man was when Thor was duking it out with the alien guy in The Dark World. That’s not a big problem now, but more movies in the future means more pressure on these films to make an effort to be conscious of their surroundings. Distractions in film are far more problematic than in television.

Days of Future Past had a story to tell and nothing got in the way of that. A summary of the events leading to the dystopian world that the original cast found themselves in could’ve added half an hour to the story. The majority of Paquin’s scenes were cut which suggests that Singer knew that there could be too much of a good thing. Rogue was a good character, but it’s hard to believe that her presence was missed by anyone other than die-hard fans of True Blood.

The success of Days of Future Past calls into question the importance of film continuity when it comes to superhero films. The cameos and the end credit scenes are nice, but as the phases of the MCU evolve, so will the need to adjust to accommodate the ever-growing universe. In a genre known for excess, it would be wise to exercise some restraint on that front. References are fun as long as they don’t alienate those who choose to take a pass on questionable choices like the upcoming Ant-Man.

X-Men: Apocalypse will feature the new cast with no expected involvement from the cast of the original trilogy, even Wolverine though a cameo would not be surprising. It remains to be seen how the new film will address Days of Future Past, but it certainly doesn’t need to. I hope it doesn’t.

In creating complex superhero worlds, we can easily forget what these films are. Silly action movies. That doesn’t mean they need to be devoid of any artistic value, but that value should be derived from the film and not from a cameo from a different superhero or an end credit scene, which teases a different movie. Days of Future Past worked because it lived in the moment, albeit in a moment that fluctuated in time. Those moments didn’t always make sense, but that’s okay. Superhero movies don’t always need to make sense, but they do need to be entertaining.

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