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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: X-Force #1

Even the cleanest communities need a functioning sewer system. That’s something that even the most wide-eyed, Utopian-seeking idealists understand. Throughout the history of the X-Men comics, Professor Charles Xavier and his X-Men have had to learn this lesson on many occasions. While they don’t outright abandon the idealism at the heart of Charles Xavier’s dream, they understand that less ideal methods are necessary.

That’s where X-Force comes in. Whereas the X-Men are the public photogenic faces of their heroic exploits, X-Force is the secretive, less scrupulous team that fights the ugly battles that need fighting. They are, in essence, the sewer system of Charles Xavier’s dream. Where heroes and idealism fails, they step in.

It’s a tradition that has gone through many eras, dating back to the X-Men’s heyday in the early 1990s. The threats and the circumstances have changed, but the tactics don’t. Even though the X-Men and the entire mutant race are in the best position they’ve been in since the Clinton Administration, there’s still a need for X-Force.

Writer Benjamin Percy, along with an impressive cast of artists, establishes the extent of that need in “X-Force #1” and does so in an appropriately brutal fashion. Charles Xavier may have set up an ideal environment for mutants to thrive, but that environment is still vulnerable to major threats who don’t stop at throwing killer robots at them.

The nature of these threats are vague, as is often the case with X-Force, but their motivations are clear. The new order that Jonathan Hickman built in “House of X” and “Powers of X” has shaken up the geopolitics of the Marvel universe. Mutants are no longer a disorganized hodgepodge of scared mutants, costumed heroes, and Deadpool. They’re a sovereign nation with valuable resources.

While this has set mutants up to prosper like never before, it also makes them a much bigger target. Instead of hunting mutants in dark alleys, there’s an entire country full of them and not all of them have trained in the Danger Room. It doesn’t take long for a shadowy group of masked mutant-haters to take advantage of that.

Initially, it’s hard to know how serious this threat even is. There have been all sorts of shadowy organizations who wear funny masks and dream of slaughtering every last mutant with a smile.  A few have a notable place in the X-Men’s history. However, they’ve never had to face mutants that are this well-organized.

These aren’t just mutant struggling to survive anymore. They have a living island to protect them. They have standing in the international community and they didn’t even need to threaten the planet to get it this time. On top of that, they have powerful psychics, living weapons, and Emma Frost’s sex appeal on their side. How can anyone threaten them?

This is where “X-Force #1” really makes its mark. It doesn’t just set up a new threat for X-Force to combat. It shows that this threat is capable of hitting the X-Men where it hurts. Their elaborate defenses, their legions of powerful mutants, and their emerging place in the international community isn’t enough. They can still be attacked. They can still suffer casualties.

It’s a rude awakening, especially after everything Charles Xavier did to make Krakoa the ultimate haven. It’s also shocking at how successful this attack is. Even those who aren’t traditionally associated with X-Force, such as Jean Grey and Beast, see first-hand how devious their enemies can be.

It’s a harsh reminder that they’re still living in a world that isn’t swayed by their idealism. While some might have their attitudes tempered by diplomacy, life-saving drugs, and Wolverine’s claws, others won’t stop until they’re dancing atop a mountain of mutant corpses.

Those aren’t people that the X-Men can confront through heroic means. This is the kind of challenge that needs X-Force and their less-than-ideal tactics. The last page of “X-Force #1” makes that abundantly clear. The only question is how far are they willing to go in order to respond?

Through its many iterations, X-Force has always had a darker tone to go along with its darker themes. Percy captures that tone perfectly in “X-Force #1.” He crafts a story that isn’t entirely built around X-Force’s harsher tactics and the lines they’re willing to cross. More than anything else, the story reaffirms the need for X-Force.

It lays a foundation that includes characters who are no stranger to X-Force’s methods, such as Wolverine and Domino. It also sets the stage for other characters to play a role, like Jean Grey and Black Tom Cassidy. In other eras, these same characters would oppose the very existence of X-Force or actively fight against them. However, in this new emerging order with Krakoa, they cannot avoid it.

X-Force #1” has most the defining traits that X-Force comics have always had. What makes it stand out is how it builds those traits around a world in which mutants have never had it better. This is as close as they’ve ever gotten to fully realizing Charles Xavier’s dream, but X-Force is still necessary.

It’s a sobering reminder. You could even argue that it’s a necessary reminder. After what happened on the final page, nobody in X-Force is going to forget that anytime soon.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Age Of X-Man Omega #1

Comics are a unique form of media in that its structure allows a certain kind of story to be told. It’s not like a movie in that it comes out once every few years and costs over $150 million to produce. It’s not like a TV show either that requires broadcast rights, streaming services, and dealing with cable companies.

The simplicity of comics, unfolding on paper and needing only ink and text to convey the story, gives it near unlimited capacity for telling big stories with bold concepts with vibrant imagery. There’s no need to pay Michael Bay or a special effects team to bring it all to life. It just requires a bold idea and someone with incredible art skills to make it real.

A comic like “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” is one of those books that fully utilizes the greatest strengths of the medium. It builds entire worlds while exploring bold concepts on a level that, if it were a movie, would take the gross national product of a small country to make real.

Writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler, alongside artist Simone Buonfantino, created an incredible world. Mutants, the X-Men, and their struggle took on an entirely new context within a new realty, courtesy of Nate Grey, one of the X-Men’s most overpowered characters. Age of X-Man has been a story about the strengths and flaws in this reality. “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” brings that story to a close.

From its inception in “Age Of X-Man Alpha #1,” this world that Thompson and Nadler created has been an elaborate thought experiment. What does a perfect, Utopian world look like for mutants and the X-Men? Given the many dytopian timelines the X-Men have explored, it’s not an unreasonable question.

Over the course of multiple books that cover multiple characters and concepts, we get to explore that world and all its complexities. Thompson and Nadler go heavy on the world-building, revealing the best parts of this Utopian vision, as well as price it incurs. With “Age Of X-Man Omega #1,” the full story of this world is complete. Now, it’s up to the X-Men to decide what to do with it.

Like all Utopias, the Age Of X-man comes at a cost. On the surface, everyone is safe and happy. However, there are some dark, disturbing reasons for this. The X-Men of this world, which include the likes of Jean Grey, Storm, Magneto, Nightcrwaler, Mirage, Colossus, Beast, and Bishop, have been uncovering those reasons over the course of the series. Now, they know the full truth.

However, this isn’t just a matter of fighting the source of these harsh truths. Nate Grey is not a mustache-twirling villain. “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” goes out of its way to justify his actions and the logic behind them. In the grand scheme of things, his logic isn’t that twisted.

The greatest strength of “Age Of X-Man Omega #1,” as well as the overall event, is that none of the conflicts were born out of total malice. Nate Grey didn’t create this world to toy with the X-Men or get revenge. He did it because he had the power to end the never-ending struggle that only ever brings them pain and suffering.

It’s at the heart of every Utopian vision, attempting to eliminate suffering so that everyone can be happy. It always comes at a price and Nate Grey understood that price. He even goes out of his way to justify it to the X-Men as they’re opposing him. To some extent, he has a point.

He highlights how the relationships the X-Men forge have been a liability in their efforts. He points out, ironically, how some of their most human traits are the very reason why they suffer so much. His world worked to subvert that and, even though it meant manipulation and subjugation for some, it succeeded in its own perverse way.

That’s exactly what makes the ultimate conclusion in “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” feel dramatic. It’s not entirely framed as the X-Men escaping from a prison or uncovering Nate Grey’s secrets. There is a final clash and it definitely maximizes Buonfantino’s talents. However, that clash doesn’t end because the X-Men defeated Nate Grey.

Without spoiling too many details of a story that has such an immense scope, I’ll note there are some powerful moments in which the X-Men and the mutants they’ve sworn to protect make some difficult choices. They’ve lived in this Utopia. They now know the price of such a Utopia. What they do with this knowledge is less about the battles they fight and more about the choices they make.

For once, there’s no army of killer robots to fight. There’s no deranged, mutant-hating villain to thwart. “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” puts the burden on the X-Men and the entire mutant population of the Marvel Universe to decide the course of their fate. Being heroes, their decisions aren’t that surprising. Even so, those decisions carry a great deal of weight.

As a final chapter, “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” caps off a bold story within an exotic world that dares to explore some weighty concepts. The idea of a Utopia is not new, but it’s a concept that still resonates in both real and fictional worlds. As long as people live in imperfect worlds, fictional or otherwise, it’ll continue to resonate.

The Age of X-Man built a story around an ideal life for mutants, free of conflict and killer robots. That story didn’t bring an end to the X-Men and their mission, but it did put it in a very different context. That, in my opinion, is an uncanny accomplishment.

 

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“Dark Phoenix” Review: An Astonishing End To An Uncanny Era

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It’s never easy, trying to capture the essence of an iconic story. It’s even harder when you’ve tried once before and failed miserably. To say that “Dark Phoenix” faced more challenges than most movies would be like saying tobacco companies have an image problem. Many of those challenges go beyond the story, the franchise, the studios, and even the movie industry, as a whole.

Despite so many confounding circumstances, the most important challenge of “Dark Phoenix” was always the same. After this iconic X-Men story was horribly botched in “X-Men The Last Stand,” this movie’s primary goal was to do that story justice. The director and long-time X-Men producer, Simon Kinberg, has gone on record as saying he failed in his first attempt. This movie gives him a chance to rectify that.

Before I get into the fiery details, which may include light spoilers, I’d like to offer my personal sentiment after having seen the movie. I understand that not everyone will agree with me, but as a long-time lover of X-Men, this movie means a lot more to me than most in the superhero genre so I like to think that sentiment is strong.

Yes, “Dark Phoenix” does justice to the X-Men’s most iconic story.

Yes, “Dark Phoenix” succeeds where “X-Men The Last Stand” failed.

Yes, “Dark Phoenix” is a satisfying conclusion to this era of X-Men that has spanned nearly two decades.

I realize that many might disagree with my assessment. That’s perfectly fine. Every movie impacts people in different ways. For me, though, “Dark Phoenix” struck all the necessary chords and then some. It focused on the core components of what makes the Phoenix Saga so endearing and runs with it.

That means that there aren’t multiple plots being juggled constantly. From the very first scene, the focus is on Jean Grey and her journey towards becoming Dark Phoenix. It’s a journey that has a foundation in tragedy, lies, love, betrayal, and loss. What happens to her is never just a matter of circumstance. There are tough, meaningful decisions made before, during, and after the darkness consumes Jean.

At every turn, there is plenty of drama. Jean Grey isn’t just some obscure side-character. She’s surrounded by people who love her. Charles Xavier loves her like a surrogate daughter. Mystique loves her like a sister. To Cyclops, she’s the woman he loves and for once, there’s no terrible love triangle that detracts from that love.

That love gives the drama incredible weight, which is critical for any story derived from the Phoenix Saga. It also ensures the losses leave a major impact and, as one of the trailers revealed, those losses are pretty devastating. They’re not just glossed over or forgotten, which was a huge issue with “X-Men The Last Stand.” They resonate throughout the story and inform the decisions of multiple characters.

That’s not to say every aspect is caught up in personal dramas. “Dark Phoenix” still utilizes a villain to maintain some basic superhero dynamics. That villain, played by Jessica Chastain, isn’t as iconic as Magneto or Apocalypse. She and her villainous henchmen are aliens known as the D’Brai, who actually play a critical role in the original story from the comics.

While Chastain is no Thanos, she and her fellow D’Brai have clear, understandable motivations. They’re not just there to cause more suffering and upheaval. They sense the power in Jean and they want to use it to serve their agenda. That’s perfectly consistent with what Jean and the X-men faced in those same comics.

It also firmly establishes that the Phoenix Force in “Dark Phoenix” is not at all like the one on display in “X-Men The Last Stand.” The Phoenix isn’t some split personality within Jean. This movie actually embraces the more cosmic aspects of that story. While it only does so to a point, it helps raise the stakes in a way that goes beyond trying to save or kill Jean Grey.

Even with these cosmic elements, however, “Dark Phoenix” never loses its focus on Jean, her struggles, and the X-Men’s efforts to save her. The pace of the movie rarely slows down. Things happen quickly and concisely. There are still plenty of intimate character moments along the way, but they never drag. The plot keeps unfolding until the very end.

I won’t spoil too many of the details, but I will say that the ending is far less dire and depressing than what unfolded in “X-Men The Last Stand.” Jean isn’t a coward this time around. She doesn’t constantly whine or beg others to kill her before it’s too late. She is the one who ultimately decides her fate. More importantly, she is the one who makes those difficult choices.

Making all this drama and action work wouldn’t be possible without Sophie Turner turning in a truly uncanny performance as Jean Grey. She goes through many emotions over the course of the story. There are scenes in which she goes through more in five minutes than Famke Janssen did in the first three X-Men movies combined. She carries herself wonderfully through the movie’s most intense moments.

The collective efforts of James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Tye Sherridan as Cyclops, and Nicholas Hoult as Beast perfectly complement Turner every step of the way. They capture those essential elements of family and team that’s so critical for every X-Men movie. This being their last ride with these characters, they make the most of the opportunity.

Unfortunately, some characters don’t get as many chances. Alexandra Shipp’s Storm and Evan Peters’ Quicksilver have fairly limited roles, although Shipp turns in a powerful performance in the final battle. Chastain’s alien character, and the D’brai in general, only gets so much refinement. However, that doesn’t make “Dark Phoenix” any less effective because it is, at its core, a story about Jean Grey.

There are other flaws in the movie. To some extent, the constant focus on Jean and the rapid pace of the action prevent other characters or side-plots from getting much emphasis. The long-running romantic sub-plot between Beast and Mystique had some moments, but not nearly enough to maximize the impact of the story.

There are also times when the visuals of “Dark Phoenix” aren’t as colorful as they could’ve been. To some extent, that’s more a reflection on the overall style of the X-Men movies, going back to the first one in 2000. These movies have never focused too much on the flashy costumes that are so prominent in the comics. Considering the iconic styles teased at the end of “X-men Apocalypse,” it’s somewhat disappointing.

This movie might have been able to get away with that 10 years ago, but the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its embracement of iconic superhero attire make the overall style of the movie seem uninspiring. For most of the movie, nobody even wears a uniform or costume. While a movie like “Logan” can pull that off, it doesn’t work nearly as well in “Dark Phoenix.”

There are some moments where the visual effects really shine, but not in the ones that would’ve really complemented Jean Grey’s journey. While that fiery halo does show up at one point, it feels like it doesn’t show up enough and wasn’t quite as radiant as its brief appearance in “X-men Apocalypse.”

The finer details of the story aren’t flawless either. While they remain concise until the end, there’s a bit of ambiguity in terms of how the events in this movie tie to the epilogue in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” There’s certainly enough to imply that this movie does not completely undermine that ending, but a lack of specifics leaves a lot of gaps for the audience to fill in.

Even with these shortcomings, the most important components of “Dark Phoenix” still work. It seeks to tell a focused Phoenix story for Jean Grey and it never loses sight of that goal. The acting, the drama, and a brilliant musical score by Hans Zimmer simply add more gravitas to the mix.

Over two years ago, I wrote an article that laid out how the “Dark Phoenix” could succeed in this golden age of superhero movies. Pretty much everything on that list came to pass. This movie embraced the passion surrounding this iconic story. It made use of the Cyclops/Jean romance, kept the Phoenix as the primary plot, and ensured every dramatic moment felt genuine. It didn’t check every box, but it came pretty damn close.

Does that mean that “Dark Phoenix” is among the greatest superhero movies ever made? No, I wouldn’t make that case, especially when it came out the same year as “Avengers Endgame.” The bar for superhero movies is higher than it has ever been before and it’s a difficult standard to apply to a movie like “Dark Phoenix.”

Does that mean that “Dark Phoenix” is the greatest X-Men movie ever made? No, I wouldn’t make that case, either. There are other X-Men movies that rank above this one in terms, but it still captures the most important elements that makes these movies so endearing.

Is it a great movie in general? Yes, I certainly would say it is. If I had to score this movie, I would give it an 8 out of 10. It sets out to do a fitting adaptation of the Phoenix Saga and it succeeds, utilizing all the necessary drama and action along the way. It also caps off 19 years of X-Men movies.

Now, as the X-Men stand poised to enter the MCU, this part of their journey can end and “Dark Phoenix” ended it on a truly uncanny note.

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The “Dark Phoenix” Delay: The Possible Reasons (And A Best Case Scenarios)

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It has been a week of roller coaster emotions for X-men fans. I feel like one of those fans who has ridden that ride one too many times and thrown up more than I care to admit. While our collective stomachs settle, it’s worth talking about what happened.

This week started with excitement and elation. The first trailer for “X-men: Dark Phoenix,” or just “Dark Phoenix” as it’s officially called now, finally dropped. As someone who has been eagerly awaiting this movie and written more than a few pieces about it, this moment was the biggest thrill I got since I first saw the “Avengers: Infinity War” trailer.

Then, just a few days later, Deadline dropped some frustrating news. The release date for “Dark Phoenix” is being pushed back for the second time to June 7, 2019. Originally, it was supposed to come out in November 2018, but it was delayed for entirely understandable reasons.

This movie boasts a cast of big names who are busy with major projects. Sophie Turner, the fiery woman tasked with bringing Jean Grey and the Phoenix Saga to life, was busy shooting the last season of “Game of Thrones.” Since you can only do so much with CGI and body doubles, the movie had to be pushed back to February 2019 to accommodate her schedule and that of the other stars.

I was okay with this. In fact, I thought it would be perfect. Now, “Dark Phoenix” was set to come out in mid-February, which has become a hot slot for movies in recent years. The massive success of “Deadpool” and “Black Panther” proved that this can be a viable slot for a major blockbuster.

On top of that, the Phoenix Saga is very much a love story. If “Dark Phoenix” could capture even a fraction of the heart that Chris Claremont’s original story did in the comics, then this movie could’ve gone onto be a true Valentine’s Day classic. Being both an X-men fan and a romance fan, I couldn’t have been happier with this situation.

Now, it seems, that ideal scenario is no longer happening. I’ve got nothing against a June release date. Historically, that’s when most major X-men films come out, going all the way back to the days of the first “X-men” movie. At the same time, though, this news has me worried, but not necessarily for the content of the movie.

As I’ve noted before, “Dark Phoenix” has a bit of a branding problem that it doesn’t deserve. Unlike other Marvel movies, this movie is assumed to be awful for the simple reason that it isn’t in the MCU, the gold standard for all superhero movies. A good chunk of the comments for the trailer are people whining that this movie doesn’t have Kevin Feige’s magic touch, among other things.

Never mind the fact that this movie is actively trying to undo the mistakes that were made in “X-men: The Last Stand.” Never mind the fact that the trailer already revealed that it’s doing the exact opposite of what its predecessor did, from embracing the cosmic elements of the Phoenix Force to giving Cyclops a major role. It’s still getting crap because it’s not in the MCU.

This latest delay is only going to give those people even more excuses to whine about it. It doesn’t matter if that whining has no basis in truth. They can claim that this is another sign that this movie is awful and, no matter how great it ends up being, they’ll cling to that notion until their dying breath.

I’m not going to try and convince those people that “Dark Phoenix” will be good or that this delay has a perfectly reasonable explanation. I don’t have any connections in Hollywood and I’m not a mind-reader on the level of Charles Xavier. I’m still hoping we’ll get some explanation in the coming days, but I doubt anyone will believe it.

Half the comments in the comments section will say, “Cancel the damn movie and give it to Feige!” They say this as though the people who work at Fox and Disney don’t like money and can just throw away a movie that costs $200 million. This isn’t Roger Corman’s dirt cheapFantastic Four” movie. This is a movie with major star power that can definitely turn a profit.

It even has the potential to be very good. Director/Producer, Simon Kinberg, has made it very clear that he’s trying to get back to the source material of the Phoenix Saga. Even so, people are still whining about it because his name isn’t Kevin Feige.

I’m still very excited for this movie, but I think this is the worst move Fox could’ve made. They’re just feeding the perception that this movie will be awful and even if it’s objectively good, those perceptions will sink this movie. Even if it makes a lot of money, it’ll be branded as that movie that was so bad that it got delayed twice.

It leads me to wonder why Fox made this decision and why their soon-to-be overlords at Disney let it happen. At the moment, I can only come up with three scenarios. One is the best possible case. The other is the worst possible case. The third is probably the most likely. Again, I claim no inside knowledge. This is just me speculating on what could be at work, based on what little information we can get from Google.


Worst Case Scenario: Fox Has No Faith In This Movie, But Has Faith In “Alita: Battle Angel”

Lost in the whining about what the trailer did or didn’t have, there’s another detail to the delay of “Dark Phoenix” that’s worth mentioning. Its previous release date, February 14, 2019, is now the release date of another Fox movie, “Alita: Battle Angel.”

This $200 million spectacle has James Cameron’s name attached to it so you know it carries weight. Its former release date also happened to be in the middle of December, which is packed with some heavy competition from multiple studios. As a movie that has also been delayed before, “Alita: Battle Angel” is a potential franchise that Fox wants to succeed.

Again, look no further than “Deadpool” and “Black Panther” to see how a franchise can blossom in February. The fact that Fox delayed “Dark Phoenix” implies that they think “Alita: Battle Angel” has more potential. Given how the X-men franchise has made $5.7 billion worldwide, that’s a pretty big downgrade.

Dark Phoenix” coming out in June means that Fox is just willing to dump the movie in the middle of crowded summer box office that will already be burnt out by “Avengers 4” and “Captain Marvel.” On top of that, it has “Toy Story 4” and “The Secret Life of Pets 2” as competition. Since the X-men are heading to the MCU anyway, they’re just throwing it away and hoping to scrap what little profit they can.

That’s the worst case scenario. Once a studio gives up on a movie, it really shows. Josh Trank’s “Fantastic Four” is proof of that and no movie, especially not “Dark Phoenix,” deserves that.


Best Case Scenario: The Delay Is Intended To Set The Stage For The X-men’s MCU Debut

This is probably the only reason I and even the most ardent detractors of the movie will accept. If it turns out that the reason for this delay is to set up a teaser for the X-men’s arrival into the MCU, then I would totally be okay with that. In fact, that would probably bump up the box office for this movie in a big way.

While I doubt this is likely, it’s worth pointing out that June 2019 is exactly 18 months after Disney and Fox announced they were merging in December 2017. At the time, it was said outright that the merger would take 18 months to complete. For all we know, the day “Dark Phoenix” premiers is the day the X-men are officially under Disney’s domain.

That means they could use this extra time to tac on a few scenes to connect “Dark Phoenix” with the MCU. Given the universe-shattering events of “Avengers: Infinity War,” it’s not that crazy an idea. Trust me, if fans saw a hint of Thanos’ finger snap at the end of the movie, their jaws would hit the floor and they would throw all the money in their wallets at Disney as thanks.

Now, this is unlikely for a very good reason. As far as we know, Fox and Disney still haven’t completed their merge. That means that legally speaking, Disney still can’t mention mutants in their movies. However, seeing as how Feige got his start at Fox, it’s not inconceivable that he would try to pull something like this.

If Fox could do this and move “Alita: Battle Angel” out of a crowded holiday season, then that’s just icing on the cake.


Most Likely Scenario: It’s Just A Mundane Marketing Decision

This is the most boring, but likely scenario. At the end of the day, it all comes back to marketing. Delaying “Dark Phoenix” had nothing to do with agendas, Disney conspiracies, or production issues. It was all about marketing.

Unlike the previous two scenarios, this one has some actual merit. In the same Deadline article, there’s this quote.

“Summer is not only a better date, but again, it gives the film a better shot to have a bigger opening in China. Why? The trailer clocked 44 million views in first 24 hours of release online this week out of China. Also, premium screens previously reserved for Gambit will be in play and provide an even bigger upside for the film.”

It makes a bland bit of sense. The long-delayed “Gambit” movie was slated for a June 7, 2019 release and that movie hasn’t even started production. On top of that, it’s not as close to other major Disney/Marvel movies. February 14, 2019 is just a few weeks before “Captain Marvel” drops and “Dark Phoenix” could end up undercutting it, which is not what Disney wants.

In addition, if launching the movie in summer means a bigger opening in an overseas market, which has become a big deal in the movie business, it’s just more practical in the long run. That still won’t stop people determined to hate this movie from finding an excuse to hate it. Those people aren’t the millions of Chinese movie-goers this movie is now aiming for.

I’m still hoping we’ll get a more complete explanation from someone like Simon Kinberg or Sophie Turner very soon. In the end, though, I doubt it will matter. It certainly doesn’t matter to me. I’m very excited about this movie. I’m determined to see it. If it’s as good as I hope, then I’ll gladly praise it. I just worry that too many people have already made up their mind and won’t stop looking for excuses.

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The Dark Phoenix Trailer: What’s There, What’s Missing, And What’s Uncanny

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It’s finally here! It was subject to delays, bogus leaks, and misinformation about the extent of reshoots. None of that matters now because it’s really here. The trailer for “X-men: Dark Phoenix” has finally arrived in all its fiery glory.

Before I write another word, let’s all just take a moment to watch it again and appreciate the promise of a movie that may actually do justice to the Phoenix Saga.

I’ll give everyone a minute to process it again. Whether you loved it or hated it, there’s no way around it. This movie is coming, despite the rumors that claimed otherwise. On February 14, 2019, this movie is coming out and I hope to be among the first to see it. That had been my intention since the movie was announced, but this just gave me more incentive.

For the next several days, there will be plenty of talk about the reaction to this trailer. I already have a pretty good feeling of how it’ll play out. X-men fans, like, me who were deeply disappointed by how this story was handled in “X-men: The Last Stand” will be elated. Those who just want the X-men to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe will whine about how this movie is a waste of time.

In between it all, there will be trolls and assholes who will find an excuse to hate the trailer and this movie, but that’s to be expected of any movie these days. There’s no helping those people. Instead, I’d rather focus on what we can and cannot glean from this trailer.

It goes heavy on the drama, which is perfectly appropriate for any movie involving the Phoenix Saga. It also answers some questions about the details of the story while posing a few others. I won’t break down every frame, but here are a few key insights that should get X-men fans like myself very excited.


What’s There

In short, there’s a lot. In fact, I would go so far as to say this trailer had more elements of the original Phoenix Saga from the comics than the entity of “X-men: The Last Stand.” Most importantly, this trailer established that the story of Jean Grey becoming Dark Phoenix will not be relegated to a side-plot.

That’s something I belabored last year when I listed several critical ways to avoid screwing up this movie. In fact, it was near the top of the list. One of the many mistakes “X-men: The Last Stand” made was trying to squeeze the most iconic X-men story ever written into several other plots involving completely unrelated themes. That’s just one of the many reasons it turned out so poorly.

This trailer starts and ends with Jean Grey’s struggle against the emerging darkness. That’s not just key for the basics of any Phoenix Saga. It makes clear that the main plot of this movie will focus on her and give Sophie Turner plenty of opportunities to show off her fiery persona. That, alone, is very promising for those hoping for a competent movie about this iconic X-men story.

In addition, the trailer offered hints that this movie will actually develop the Cyclops/Jean relationship that’s so critical to the emotional weight of the Phoenix Saga. That was another massive mistake in “X-men: The Last Stand.” A big part of why this story is so powerful is because it’s fueled by a love story between two characters trying to overcome obstacles of cosmic proportions.

Phoenix

Those are two critical factors in ensuring that this movie has the necessary elements to make a Dark Phoenix movie work. The trailer also hints at a few other details that aren’t related to the main Phoenix story, but nicely connect with other moments from the recent movies.

The most ominous scene, in my opinion, was the brief shot of Beast and Mystique. If you saw the “Rogue Cut” of “Days of Futures Past,” you saw that these two have had some romantic undertones that began way back in “X-men First Class.” From the looks of it, something happens to Mystique that sends Beast over the edge. That could also be what pushes Jean further down the path of the Dark Phoenix.

It’s hard to say what this means, but the shots of a funeral do not bode well for Jennifer Lawrence’s character. The fact that Beast is siding with Magneto later on in the trailer hints that he does not agree with how Xavier is handling Jean’s situation. Considering how Beast helped defeat Magneto in “Days of Futures Past,” that would be a major shift, but one that could add even more weight to the story.

There are so many hints and clues as to how the story will play out, but I’d rather not speculate too much. This trailer does manage to avoid excessive spoilers, but it’ll be interesting to see what else will be revealed as the release date draws near.


What’s NOT There

There’s not a lot, but I don’t deny that this trailer did have some glaring omissions. The biggest one, in my opinion, has to do with Jessica Chastain’s still-unnamed character. The only thing we know about her is that she plays the main villain of the story. While some took that to mean she would be playing the alien queen, Lilandra Neramani, that has since been debunked.

On her IMDB page, her character is only named Smith. That could mean any number of things. She could play a shape-shifting Skrull, who have clashed with the X-men many times in the comics. She could play Deathbird, an alien hunter with close ties to Lilandra’s alien race, the Shi’ar. She could be someone else entirely. We really don’t know.

Other than Chastain’s character, we don’t see much of Storm, Quicksilver, or Nightcrawler. They’re clearly present, but they don’t get to say or do much. That’s to be expected, though. This is a Dark Phoenix movie, after all. The focus should be on Jean Grey, Charles Xavier, and Cyclops.

That said, the other glaring omission in the trailer has to do with the Phoenix Force itself. While we do get some signs, we don’t get anything like the fiery display Jean showed at the end of “X-men Apocalypse.” We also don’t get any signs of the more cosmic elements of the Phoenix. While there are a few shots that hint of a scene in space, it’s only a tiny part at most.

That’s to be expected, though. This movie just finished up reshoots so I imagine the effects aren’t fully polished yet. There’s plenty of time between now and February to make it look as beautiful and stunning as a Dark Phoenix movie should. Perhaps a second trailer will reveal more. It worked for “Venom” and it can definitely work for this.


What’s Uncanny

More than anything else, this trailer showed that Simon Kinberg, Fox, and everyone else who got crap from what happened in “X-men: The Last Stand” is making a concerted effort to right the wrongs of the past. Kinberg has said in the past that he did not like how things played out in that movie. I’m all for giving him a chance to do so.

This trailer doesn’t prove he managed to fix everything. However, it does offer hope that this time will be different. This time, the Phoenix Saga won’t be a sub-plot. The story won’t be radically changed to make it all about Wolverine. It’s going to genuinely try to tell this iconic X-men story in the most complete way possible.

As much as I hated the first attempt, I’m more than willing to give this one a chance and then some. I know as well as everyone else that this will be the last X-men movie of the era that began back in 2000. It has already been confirmed that Kevin Feige, the architect of the MCU, is going to take control of the X-men’s cinematic future after the Disney/Fox merger.

Some are already looking forward to a completely rebooted X-men movie, complete with a new Wolverine who isn’t played by Hugh Jackman and a new line of stories that’ll give the X-men a chance to participate in the global juggernaut that is MCU. I’m excited for that too. However, that makes it all the more important that “X-men: Dark Phoenix” be the best, most uncanny movie it can possibly be.

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The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for Astonishing X-men #15. Enjoy!

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