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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: House of X #4

In life, there are usually a handful of moments when you can say that you’ve had your finest hour. Whether it’s winning a championship, finding the love of your life, or winning a buffalo wing eating contest, those moments are special. They reveal just how good and capable you can be. For the X-Men, “House of X #4” is that moment.

Writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Pepe Larraz have been redefining, revamping, and at times revolutionizing who the X-Men are and what they stand for. As a lifelong X-Men fan who will find any excuse to write about them, I could fill a pool with the tears of joy I’ve shed while reading this series. With “House of X #4,” however, those tears are mixed with a host of other feelings besides joy.

Since it began, House of X has put the X-Men and the entire mutant population in a bold new situation. They’re no longer hiding in fancy mansions, isolated islands, space stations, or hellish dimensions. Hickman has gone heavy on the world-building, turning the living island of Krakoa into a vast, expansive sanctuary for mutants. The results have been both functional and awe-inspiring.

However, building a new world for the mutants of the Marvel universe is just part of the story. Protecting their future and preventing their extinction at the hands of Nimrod and the Sentinels are a much larger part. That part of the story is what culminates in “House of X #4.”

It’s not overly elaborate. Hickman doesn’t try to reinvent the nuts and bolts of how the X-Men go about saving the day and their species. He simply raises the stakes while Larraz makes it a visual spectacle. It effectively builds on what was set up through the events of Powers of X and the many lives of Moira MacTaggart.

For once, the X-Men aren’t on the defensive. They’re not the ones caught off-guard by an army of Sentinels or some new mutant-killing menace. They know what’s coming. They know that Mother Mold will give rise to Nimrod and Nimrod will be the end of mutants, humans, and everything in between. Now, they’re in a position to stop it.

They don’t send the B-team for this mission, either. They throw the X-Men’s heaviest hitters with Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Mystique, Arcangel, and Nightcrawler. They even add in some lesser-known, but still-effective names like Husk and Monet. Their mission is simple, but the logistics are not. It’s an opportunity for the X-Men to be at their best and they take full advantage of it.

The struggle is intense. The battle is dramatic. Larraz’s artwork is simply stunning every step of the way. There’s never a sense that this is a mission from which the X-Men will escape intact, unscarred, and completely triumphant. This isn’t a Saturday morning cartoon or a movie where the good guys have to win outright. This is a battle for the present and future of the X-Men. Battles like that will come at a cost.

There’s definitely a sense that this mission is a suicide mission. There’s no teasing this mission will require heavy sacrifices. That sort of thing has been par for the course with X-Men comics for years, now. After they killed Wolverine for a while, the death of any character become much more trivial.

Making anything count in any comic these days is a challenge. Fans who have been reading the books for more than a few years know that nobody stays dead, nothing remains stable, and Deadpool never shuts up. The key is giving the conflicts weight and substance. In that, Hickman definitely succeeds in “House of X #4.”

The previous issues help establish why the X-Men need to take down Mother Mold. They also establish what happens if they don’t. The past, present, and future are all at stake at the same time and for once, it’s not because someone is abusing a time machine. For any superhero comic, especially an X-Men comic, that’s nothing short of revolutionary.

It all comes down to this single mission. Cyclops takes lead. Wolverine does something incredibly badass. Nightcrawler is astonishingly charming. Jean Grey has a flare for the dramatics. Even Monet gets a chance to cut loose. It’s a dire sequence of events, but one that has depth and meaning.

If someone ever wants to show who the X-Men are and why they’ve resonated so much since the Kennedy Administration, they would be wise to cite “House of X #4.” It doesn’t just depict heroes saving the day. It shows what the X-Men are willing to fight for and sacrifice for the sake of their future.

It’s not just about defeating the villains and winning the day. There are many personal moments in this battle that show the strengths and bonds of each character. Some shine more than others, but they never stray far from what makes them great. The stakes are high, but the characters stay consistent.

At their core, the X-Men are mutants and mutants are human. They’re not these larger-than-life icons in the mold of Superman, Captain America, or Spider-Man. They’re real people who didn’t get their powers by choice or circumstance. They were born that way. They can’t escape who and what they are. They don’t want to, either. They want a future for their kind and those who hate them.

They fight for that future in “House of X #4.” They know what will happen if they lose. There’s no ambiguity in what they do or why they do it. This is just X-Men being the kinds of heroes they need to be when everything is at stake. The story isn’t over, so their finest hour may still be ahead of them. However, the astonishing events of “House of X #4” are going to be very hard to top.

 

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: House of X #2

What would you do if you could live your entire life over again with all the memories of your previous life? What if you could do that more than once and come into the world with knowledge and experience equivalent to multiple lives? Movies like “Groundhog Day” and “Edge of Tomorrow” attempted to answer that question in part. Jonathan Hickman tries to answer that question more fully in “House of X #2.”

As someone who has been reading comics for a sizable chunk of his life, I know how rare it is to see a single issue come along that both redefines a character and explores a host of new, exciting concepts. I thought “House of X #1” was one of those once-in-a-decade comics that wasn’t going to be matched for a good long while. I was wrong.

I’m glad I was wrong too because what Hickman accomplishes in “House of X #2” is as remarkable as it is engaging. It doesn’t just give context to the previous events that were revealed in both “House of X #1” and “Powers of X #1.” It completely redefines the entire history of the X-Men.

For a series that includes multiple time travel plots and multiple dystopian timelines, that’s quite an accomplishment. It’s how Hickman and artist Pepe Larraz go about it that makes “House of X #2” so impactful. It begins and ends with how the story rewrites the role of Moira MacTaggart.

It’s not hyperbole to say that this single issue makes Moira the most important character in the history of the X-Men, the mutant race, and their future. For a character who was either a love interest for Charles Xavier or a side-character who often got overshadowed by other mutants, that’s quite an accomplishment.

This is not the same Moira from the “X-Men First Class” movie. This version of Moira is a mutant with a very unique power. It doesn’t involve shooting lasers out of her eyes, reading minds, or shape-shifting. Her power is basically a more complete version of the abilities that Bill Murray and Tom Cruise enjoyed in the aforementioned movies.

In essence, Moira lives her entire life, dies, and is reborn with all her memories and experiences intact. It’s not restricted to a single day. It’s not indefinite, either. Like an old Mario game, she has a limit to the number of lives she can live. What she does with them is up to her. Knowing what happens to mutants, humans, the X-Men, and Charles Xavier informs her choices.

It raises many profound questions about Moira’s role in the history of the X-Men and the Marvel universe in general. It also expands on how Moira came to influence the events of “House of X #1” and “Powers of X #1.”

The story, itself, is built around the multiple lives that Moira has lived. I won’t spoil the details, since this is one of those comics that needs to be read to appreciate the impact. I’ll simply confirm that she tries multiple approaches to averting yet another dystopian future for the X-Men, mutants, and humanity as a whole.

Some of those approaches involve working with Charles Xavier. Others involve actively opposing him. In all the lives leading up to her tenth, there are a few common themes. When two competing species inhabit the same world, there’s bound to be conflict. Efforts to escape or preemptively win that conflict rarely pan out.

Like Phil Connors constantly waking up on Groundhog Day, no matter what he does, Moira keeps hitting a proverbial wall. No matter what she attempts, there doesn’t seem to be a way around this conflict. It’s not until her 10th life that she comes to the realization that leads to “House of X #1.”

It’s hard to overstate how much “House of X #2” changes the overall context of the X-Men comic. Suddenly, Moira MacTaggart is the most influential character in the history of the X-Men, mutants, and everything in between. What she does, why she does it, and how she goes about it changes how we see the past, as well as the present.

The benefits of hindsight make it seem simple, but it isn’t. It also raises a great many questions. If Moira has all this knowledge, why didn’t she use it to achieve more? What made her choose the path that led to the most recent events for the X-Men and the Marvel universe, as a whole? Most of these questions go unanswered, but there are some telling clues that add even more intrigue.

Hickman and Larraz achieve something truly uncanny with “House of X #2.” I know I said the same thing about “House of X #1,” but that comic now has a greater meaning thanks to this one. The stakes for every other X-Men story that unfolds after this has a new meaning as well. Few comics can boast that kind of impact without being written by Jack Kirby, but “House of X #2” is definitely one of them.

Even for those unfamiliar with the convoluted history of the X-Men can appreciate the concepts this comic explores. We see someone who has lived multiple lives, cursed with knowing how things play out for those she cares for. She wants to make that life better for herself and the world as a whole. She’s in a unique position to pursue that change, but it’s fraught with more complications than any “Groundhog Day” rip-off could convey.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: House of X #1

Ever comic book fan has been conditioned to revere Wednesdays as New Comic Book Day. It’s basically Christmas every week. However, much like Christmas, not all Wednesdays are equal in terms of the presents they bring. Every now and then, a Wednesday comes along that a certain segment of comic fans come to revere for years to come.

For X-Men fans, this will likely go down as one of those Wednesdays because “House of X #1” is just that astonishing. Every now and then, a book comes along that is presented as a major paradigm shift for the characters, the themes, and the over-arching narrative of a series. In superhero comics, books like that are hyped up at least once a month. Very few deliver on that hype. “House of X #1” is one of those select few.

To say that the X-Men comics needed a book like this is like saying an insomniac needs a good night’s sleep. For years now, going back to the days of “House of M,” both the X-Men and the entire mutant population of the Marvel Universe has been in a constant state of extinction-level crisis. Even when they’re not about to go extinct, they’re caught up in something that has them just one slip-up away from another dytopian future.

In “House of X #1,” writer Jonathan Hickman dares to rebuild the X-Men’s world without first sending them to the brink of extinction. For anyone who has followed X-Men comics for more than two years, this is like a breath of fresh air, a massage, and a chocolate milkshake all rolled into one. It shouldn’t be that radical a concept, but between Hickman’s vision and Pepe Larraz’s beautiful artwork, it sure feels like it.

This bold new world for the X-Men isn’t built around mansions with high-tech jets hidden below the tennis court. You won’t find orbiting asteroids, isolated nations, or island sanctuaries in the middle of San Francisco Bay. This world is more than a nation or sanctuary. It’s a bold new form for Charles Xavier’s dream.

It comes courtesy of Krakoa, a name right out of one of the most iconic X-Men comics of all time. This living island has evolved and Charles Xavier is maximizing its potential with intriguing results. He comes off as more than just a visionary or messianic figure in “House of X #1.” He has a bold new plan for the entire mutant race and it’s big.

By that, I don’t just mean it’s big in terms of goals and scope. This plan is something that changes the way the X-Men operate. It’s not just flying around in X-Jets anymore. It’s not just peaceful protests and confronting bigotry. Charles Xavier is rallying mutants to his cause in a bold new way. He’s also dealing with humans in a new way, as well.

It’s here where “House of X #1” explores some very interesting concepts that take the X-Men into uncharted territory. For much of their history, the X-Men have been either reacting to attacks by their enemies or trying to counter intense hatred and mistrust of mutants. It hasn’t just hindered Xavier’s efforts at peace and understanding. It has kept them isolated and always on the brink.

Rather than simply brace for the worst, Charles Xavier decides to offer something tantalizing to both humans and mutants alike. I won’t spoil too many details. I’ll just say that he puts the X-Men in a unique position, in terms of how the world sees them. It may not win them the love and adulation that the Avengers get, but it does provide some bold incentives.

That’s something that few X-Men comics have ever attempted on this scale. It’s not enough to confront hatred and mistrust. Hickman puts the X-Men in a position to be more diplomatic with the world. They have something to offer the world. Accepting that offer benefits humans and mutants in a tangible, positive way.

Again, that should not be such a radical concept, but Hickman and Larraz present it in a way that feels both novel and vast. It’s not entirely utopian in its potential, but it has the potential to bring positive change to a world and a narrative that needs it.

As a lifelong X-Men fan, “House of X #1” fills me with both curiosity and awe. There’s a lot to love about this bold new world that Hickman and Larraz are building. For once, it’s not just another threat that puts the mutant race on the brink of extinction. There’s a larger effort to do something bigger.

That’s not to say the threats aren’t there. Just as Charles Xavier pursues his bold new vision in “House of X #1,” other visions forged by other characters emerge to present obstacles. Some parts of that vision are new, but there is some familiar imagery that X-Men fans will recognize. It ensures that there will still be plenty of mutant-powered fights in this new world.

At the same time, “House of X #1” creates a clear impression that fighting killer robots will only be a small part of this new vision for the X-Men. There’s so much more going on, both with the characters and with the larger Marvel Universe. After all the upheavals they’ve had over the past 15 years, it finally feels like they have room to grow again.

It’s an exciting time to be an X-Men fan. On top of Kevin Feige confirming that mutants are finally coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hickman and Larraz are taking X-Men in a bold, if not overdue direction in the comics. This sentiment is even captured perfectly in Charles Xavier’s first lines of the book.

“Humans of the planet Earth. While you slept, the world changed.”

Truer words were never spoken. In a world that gets invaded by aliens, Hydra, and renegade gods every other day, that’s saying something.

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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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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Age of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5

For comic book fans, Wednesdays are basically our weekly holy days. It’s the day when we take a moment to stop obsessing over the latest casting rumors for the MCU and just enjoy a stack of new comics. After all, superhero movies wouldn’t be the multi-billion dollar draw they are without these comics.

The over-arching narrative of superhero comics is powerful. They embody the best parts of the classic hero’s journey that often finds their way into our most iconic stories. They can inspire, as well as guide people down a particular path. In “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5,” however, someone finds a way to weaponize that narrative.

For the past several months, the X-Men comics have undergone a strange, yet colorful upheaval. Nate Grey, an overpowered mutant capable of warping reality on a level that makes “The Matrix” look lazy, basically lost his mind and decided to go out with a bang. That bang involved taking nearly every major X-Men character with him and putting them in an entirely new reality with an entirely different history.

On the surface, it’s a utopia. Granted, love and intimacy are outlawed, but there are no mutant internment camps so that counts as an upgrade for the X-men. Everyone lives in peace and the X-Men aren’t just celebrated. They’re basically real-life holy figures. There are no more killer robots to fight or extinctions to avoid. They basically won.

However, that’s just the primary narrative of this world. That finally starts to unravel in “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5.”

Since the whole Age of X-Man story began, Nate Grey has basically been the architect of his own world. He’s built the society, crafted its history, and completely changed the life story of every individual. This isn’t just another case of wiping someone’s mind to think they once dated Taylor Swift. This is an entirely new world, but to the X-Men, it’s the only world they’ve always known.

This huge gut-punch to reality isn’t something Nate did out of malice. Writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler establish from the beginning that Nate’s intentions are good, albeit tragic. There’s never a sense that he created this world for selfish reasons. He genuinely believes that this world is one in which mutants can live in peace and everyone he loves can be happy.

Even his power and the narratives he weaves around them have limits, though. While investigating the murder of Moneta, the X-Men finally uncover unambiguous clues as to just how much Nate has been manipulating things. The signs have been there throughout the Age of X-Man story, but now there’s no avoiding the truth. They know the story he’s trying to tell and the lies he’s using to tell it.

When Nate wrote the history of this world, he did so knowing that it wasn’t enough to make everyone happy. Even in a world without killer robots or convoluted movie rights, people need something to strive for. That means it’s not enough to give the heroes a good story. He has to give the villains a story, as well.

That means that even Apocalypse, Nate’s biggest enemy, has to be part of this narrative. His role is very different from the murder-happy social Darwinist he’s always been, but he still acts as this powerful threat to this utopian world. He makes the X-Men necessary and creates discord that requires more than just fighting.

Even as Thompson and Nadler finally peel back the curtain, Nate’s efforts to maintain this narrative never waiver. In some parts of the issue, Nate acts as the narrator, trying to justify the story of this world. There’s still no mustache-twirling evil in his story, but it’s clear there are a few plot holes that he just can’t plug.

Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5” isn’t entirely built around the X-Men uncovering the truth. There’s no existential crisis or mental breakdown upon learning the truth. Instead, there’s a sense of anger and betrayal. Nate isn’t just some unhinged, overpowered mutant. He’s their friend. He’s family. To them, he was a hero before he tried telling this bigger story.

In many respects, that’s what has made Age of X-Man such an engaging story. “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5” effectively doubles down on the tragic elements of that story. This is very different from the Scarlet Witch going crazy and committing mass genocide. Nate comes off as disturbingly sane as he tries to protect and maintain this world that he’s created.

In any superhero narrative, intentions matter. Villains, by definition, tend to have selfish and destructive motives. By that standard, Nate is not a villain. He is certainly misguided, though. The extend of just how misguided he is finally plays out in “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5.”

For many of the characters involved, especially characters like Jean Grey, Storm, and Nightcrawler, it’s devastating in ways that go beyond having their lives manipulated. Nate Grey is their friend. He’s helped them in the past. Hell, he goes by the code-name, X-Man. He’s supposed to embody the best aspects of who they are.

Now, they have to take him down. After learning about what he did and how much he warped their lives, the X-Men have to be the ones to end Nate’s story. It’s tragic, but fitting. In terms of ending a story, though, that can be a potent combination.

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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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Filed under Movie Reviews, movies, superhero comics, superhero movies, X-men

Final “Dark Phoenix” Trailer Is Threatening (In A Good Way)

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These are wonderful, exciting times for fans of superhero movies, unless you’re a Hellboy fan. “Avengers Endgame” is poised to break all sorts of box office record. The Disney/Fox merger is complete. On top of all that, “Dark Phoenix” is still set to come out on June 7, 2019.

While some have opinions on this film that are petty and unwarranted, I’m still very excited and not just because Sophie Turner is flexing some cosmic sex appeal. This movie is poised to be the last of the X-Men movies that began way back in 2000. While I can understand why some are eager to jump ahead to the X-Men joining the MCU, lets’ not forget that there would be no MCU without the first “X-Men” movie.

It was X-Men that helped usher in this golden era of superhero movies. Now, both “Dark Phoenix” and “Avengers Endgame” promise to usher in a new era. As such, the final trailer for “Dark Phoenix” dropped today and it promises closure, along with cosmic threats.

Sophie Turner has never looked more menacing as Jean Grey.

Tye Sheridan has never looked more determined as Scott Summers.

Between them and the wondrous dynamic between James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, this movie has everything necessary to cap off this era of X-Men movies in all the right ways.

I know “Avengers Endgame” will break most of the records and make more headlines. However, I believe “Dark Phoenix” will ultimately have a greater impact when all is said and done.

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Filed under Marvel, movies, superhero movies, X-men