Tag Archives: Scott Summers

“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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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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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Uncanny X-Men #16

Every Wednesday, this crazy world of ours gets a little less intolerable thanks to a fresh batch of comics. At a time when most of our heroes are in movies and too many villains run free in the real world, we need a little something to remind us of all things good, upstanding, and awesome. As such, I make it a point to select one comic from this batch that’s a better reminder than most.

While the world of superhero comics goes through cycles of hope and despair as often as the Hulk goes through cheap pants, the state of affairs for the X-Men have been more dire than usual. Since the reality-warping events of “Uncanny X-Men #10,” the state of mutant affairs in the Marvel universe hasn’t just been tenuous. Mutants are essentially fighting for the right to be more than an afterthought.

As much of the mutant population is exploring the dystopian utopia that is “Age of X-Man,” the remaining X-Men have been trying to find their place in a world that seems all too happy to be rid of mutants. It has not been an easy endeavor, but “Uncanny X-Men #16” reminds us why it’s worth doing.

The X-Men have been beaten, demoralized, wounded, and marginalized. They’ve had to battle old enemies, attack old allies, and even clash with close family. To say they’re at a low point would be like saying John Wick likes his dog. This is one of the most dire situations the X-Men have ever had to endure, including everything ever written by Chuck Austin.

Despite all that, “Uncanny X-Men #16” finds a way to bring out the best in the X-Men’s most ardent champions.

If you’re a Cyclops fan, you’ll find something to love about this issue. If you’re a Wolverine fan, you’ll find something to love about it too. Hell, if you’re a fan of mutant ninjas fighting alongside magic-wielding Russian teenagers, you’ll find something love about it. That last one is not a metaphor, by the way.

Uncanny X-Men #16” continues a story that has wounded the X-Men in so many ways. A lot of it is mental. Some of it is physical, as Cyclops’ lingering head injury shows. Even as the X-Men fight on, this issue finally shows all the struggle getting to the team. It’s not the first time these characters have expressed doubts, but in the context of the story, it does something important with respect to the past, present, and future of the X-Men.

Everyone on Cyclops’ team knows that mutants are in an existential crisis. They know their numbers are dwindling and that humanity is doing everything possible to make them an afterthought. How does anyone even go about being X-Men in a world like that? Thus far, that has been an unanswered question.

Cyclops and Wolverine tried to answer it by creating a new team out of what remained of the mutant population. They’re actually setting aside their differences and attempting to keep the spirit of the X-Men going. Keep in mind, these are two people who don’t like each other. One of them kept trying to sleep with the other’s wife and the other has shot him through a wall on more than one occasion.

Just putting the team together and fighting what’s left of the X-Men battles has been a struggle over the past several issues. However, “Uncanny X-Men #16” dares to step back and question what they’re fighting for and why they’re even fighting.

Writer, Matthew Rosenberg, explores some overdue discussion among the team. He also puts Cyclops in a unique position that somehow makes him more awesome. For much of his history, as well as his ill-fated roles in the movies, Cyclops has always been the uptight leader who barks orders and expects others to follow them. While we’ve seen hints of that Cyclops here and there, he finds himself in a more uncertain position.

Cyclops no longer trusts himself to be the leader he once was. Even his own brother, Havok, isn’t sold on his leadership at times. While it’s hard to be much of a leader when your entire species is on the brink of extinction, the criticisms aren’t without merit.

Essentially, Cyclops gives the X-Men a chance to show that they can be X-Men without him barking orders. He goes so far as to temper his own leadership in order to give the X-Men a chance to prove their causes is bigger than one person. I won’t say it’s Cyclops’ greatest tactical decision, but the results speak for themselves.

The criticisms and difficult discussions are relevant, giving “Uncanny X-Men #16” much more depth than a typical X-Men comic. It still has plenty of standard superhero action that artist, Salvador Larroca, renders beautifully with his skills. It’s not the flashiest battle, but it has a few twists and complications that require more than just better leadership.

Some of the choices made over the course of the story are questionable. Many of the wounds they’ve suffered haven’t entirely healed. These X-Men are still a far cry from the X-Men that hang out in mansions, fly around in high-speed jets, and fight killer robots. They’re not just struggling to find their place in a world where mutants are almost extinct. They’re trying to find a better way to do what they’ve always done.

The events of “Uncanny X-Men #16” prove that the X-Men still have plenty to offer. They’re still in a tenuous state, but they’re still intact. They’re still finding their way. They’re still learning overdue lessons that bring out the best in each character while not overlooking the worst.

These are exciting times for the X-Men and not just because the movie rights have returned to Marvel. Rosenberg and Larroca have broken the X-Men down in their darkest hour. Now, it feels like they’re becoming the superheroes they have to be. There’s bound to be setbacks, mistakes, and tragedies. However, that’s often when heroes like the X-Men are at their best.

 

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Uncanny X-Men #11

Every week, a fresh crop of new comics comes out and the world is a little bit more awesome because of it. As a lifelong fan of comics, superheroes, and many other things that the Bill Maher’s of the world despise, I take it upon myself to single out one comic from that week that makes this most special of days for superhero fans that much more memorable.

This week was a busy week with big events brewing with DC’s Heroes In Crisis story and Marvel’s ongoing Age of X-Man event. Being a lifelong X-men fan, I know I’m somewhat bias towards the X-men side of things. This week, however, I didn’t need that bias to single out Uncanny X-Men #11 as my top pick of the week.

It’s not just because this book comes on the heels of Cyclops’ latest return from the dead, which occurred in Uncanny X-Men Annual #1 a couple weeks ago. It’s not just because he’s returning to a world where most of the X-Men have disappeared and been presumed dead after their battle with Nate Grey in Uncanny X-Men #10, either. What makes this comic my top pick is something far greater.

In every superhero comic, you learn the most about a character when they’re at their worst. It’s easy for any hero to shine when things are going well. When the world loves them, when super-villains despise them, and when they’re not stuck on the wrong end of a love triangle, it’s easy to seem heroic. It’s when everything is terrible and their world is on the brink that you learn who they truly are.

Uncanny X-Men #11 lets everyone know who Scott “Cyclops” Summers is. In this story, he has no X-men to lead. He has no beautiful wife by his side or buxom blonde lusting after him. His mentor is gone. His home is gone. Everything he ever fought to defend is gone. What does a man like that do in a situation like that?

He can either cower and whine or he can step up and fight. Cyclops, having gone to war with the Avengers and the Inhumans, has never been one to cower. The story that Matthew Rosenberg and Salvador Larroca tell here shows why he’s the leader of the X-men in the first place. It shows why beautiful telepaths are attracted to him. When things are at their worst for the entire mutant race, this is the man you want leading you.

If you’re a Cyclops fan in any capacity, Uncanny X-Men #11 is a must-have. However, what makes this book even more valuable is that it’s giant-sized. That means it costs a little more than the typical two to three dollar price, but you get a lot more for those few extra bucks.

In addition to Cyclops kicking ass, Wolverine has his own story that unfolds in the background. He too recently came back from the dead and has been dealing with the many complications associated with resurrection in his own series, Return of Wolverine. Having sufficiently stabbed those complications, he’s ready to return to the X-Men and he’s just in time to help Cyclops, a guy who’s wife he kept trying to sleep with.

It’s a beautiful thing, these two coming together once more in the X-Men’s darkest hour. The way it happens and the action it inspires is too great for words. That’s why I’m not going to spoil it. I’ll just say that if you’re a Cyclops fan, a Wolverine fan, or an X-Men fan in general, this comic feels like one of those books that will one day be critical in the history of the greater Marvel universe.

As it stands, the X-Men are gone and the mutant race is fading into obscurity. Rather than genocide, they’re facing a future where people simply treat mutation like a flu shot. The vaccine that was introduced in Uncanny X-Men #1 works. Parents can now keep their children from becoming mutants. While it greatly limits their chances of becoming superheroes, it ensures they can lead a “normal” life.

What does this mean for the future of the X-Men? What does it mean for mutants? These are unanswered questions that will probably linger for many issues to come, but Uncanny X-Men #11 effectively fires the first shot in a new struggle. Cyclops, Wolverine, and the rest of the mutant race aren’t content to just whither away. That’s not their style and this issue demonstrates why in so many uncanny ways.

If the measure of a true hero is determined by how they handle their darkest hour, then Uncanny X-Men #11 reaffirms why the X-Men are in a league all their own. The world may always love the Avengers, but the X-men will always command their respect.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Uncanny X-Men Annual #1

Every Wednesday, a new crop of comics enters this world and makes it just a little more awesome. Being a lover of comics in addition to a lover of love, I try to select one comic from this fresh batch that I feel offers the most awesome for just a few bucks. At a time when the economy is always on a verge of tanking, it’s hard to find a better value.

This week’s pick was an easy one with “Uncanny X-men Annual #1” and not just because I’m hopelessly bias towards the X-men, in general. This issue marks a critical development in the overall landscape of the X-men and the Marvel Universe, as a whole. As the beautiful cover art by Salvador Larroca indicates, it’s all about Cyclops.

That may not seem like a big deal for those who don’t regularly follow the X-men comics, but trust me when I say that this is a huge development. That’s because for the past three years, Cyclops has been dead in the X-men comics. In an event aptly called “Death of X,” Scott Summers met an inglorious end at the hands of the Terrigen Mists, the alien gas cloud that gives the Inhumans their powers.

His death had a major impact on the overall landscape of the X-men and very little of it was good. In the same way that the Avengers aren’t the same without Captain America and the Justice League isn’t the same without Superman, the X-men just aren’t the X-men without Cyclops. He’s literally been with the X-men since the beginning and there’s just something missing when he’s not there.

Writer, Ed Brisson, makes it a point to highlight this throughout the issue. Aside from just telling the story of how Cyclops came back from the dead, he takes some time to demonstrate why he’s the leader of the X-men. He even puts him in a position to show why he’s a hero and why other heroes follow him.

Without spoiling too much, the story builds beautifully off the events of both “Death of X” and “Extermination,” which is another brilliant X-men story by Mr. Brisson that I highly recommend. It even references moments from “Phoenix Resurrection,” another story I’ve given high praise. The connections and details in this comic fit beautifully. It shows that there was a lot of effort and thought put into this story.

As someone who has read more comics than most will ever admit to reading, I can safely say I know when a writer isn’t trying very hard. For the past couple years, a new crop of writers that include the likes of Mr. Brisson show that there’s a new round of passion surrounding the X-books and it clearly shows in “Uncanny X-men Annual #1.”

Beyond making appropriate connections to recent continuity, the story checks all the right boxes in terms of telling a quality X-men story. It even checks some extra boxes in terms of showing a character at his best when they sorely need it.

Cyclops is one of those characters who always seems to generate heated debates among X-men fans. He’s also someone a long list of talented Marvel writers have mishandled over the years. The fact he’s part of the worst love triangle of all time is proof of that. This issue cuts through those complications and just gets to the core of what makes Cyclops great.

This issue is one of those comics that will definitely have a ripple effect for future X-men comics. Any time a major character comes back from the dead, which happens a lot in X-men comics, it’s a big deal. It often marks a turning point for the course of the story and lays the groundwork for the future of the series.

By the time you finish “Uncanny X-men Annual #1,” you really feel as though you’ve just witnessed one of those turning points. On top of that, there’s a sense that this character who has been so maligned over the years for all the wrong reasons is back to his old self. If that doesn’t get your inner X-men fan excited, then you’re just being difficult.

For Cyclops fans, X-men fans, and Marvel fans in general, “Uncanny X-men Annual #1” is one of those rare books that actually gets you excited about the future. At a time when you can’t go more than a day without something terrible trending on social media, that’s worth the price of a comic book.

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The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for “X-Men: The Exterminated #1.”

On Melodrama and Family Ties in Marvel’s ‘X-Men: The Exterminated #1’

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December 6, 2018 · 7:53 pm

The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for X-men Blue #35. Enjoy!

Time (Inevitably) Runs Out in ‘X-men Blue #35’

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September 13, 2018 · 6:01 pm