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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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X-men Dark Phoenix Update: New Directors, Alien Princesses, And Concerns

I was going to talk about a more pressing topic today. Then, some news and tidbits about the upcoming “X-men: Dark Phoenix” movie hit the web and I immediately updated my priorities.

For those of you who rely on this blog for sexy thoughts and updates on bionic penises, I ask that you sit tight. Also, I’m not apologizing because I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m a huge comic book fan and an ardent X-men fan. When there’s big news about both, it’s going to get my attention and I’m going to talk about it. That’s all there is to it.

At this very moment, “X-men: Dark Phoenix” is beginning production. The first images from the movie set have leaked and James McAvoy, who plays Charles Xavier, has teased the prospect of shaving his head again. As a comic book fan and a Marvel fan, I couldn’t be more excited about this without Jennifer Lawrence begin naked. Then again, with the X-men movies, that may be a moot point.

As excited as I am to see this movie come to life without someone going on a cocaine bender, there has been some recent news that’s worth mentioning and it does have some important implications for “X-men: Dark Phoenix” and the future of the X-men a movie franchise.

I’ll probably end up saying this more than a few times between now and next year, but “X-men: Dark Phoenix” is the most important X-men movie ever made. It’s not just that Fox has to keep making X-men movies in order to keep the movie rights from reverting back to Marvel/Disney, which happened with Daredevil. This movie is both a foundation for the future of the X-men, as well as an act of redemption.

That leads me to the first major bit of news that came out recently. Unlike “X-men: Apocalypse,” Bryan Singer won’t be directing this movie. Instead, “X-men: Dark Phoenix” will be directed by long-time X-men producer, Simon Kinberg.

This move seems amicable. Bryan Singer even went so far as to formally pass the torch on Instagram. The fact it was so amicable in an industry town built on cocaine, blowjobs, and exploiting child stars is a positive sign. It also helps that Kinberg and Singer have been working together since “X-men: First Class.” That means will be a sense of continuity, so to speak.

This is already a big deal for anyone who had their heart, soul, and balls crushed by the massive wet fart that was “X-men: The Last Stand.” That movie was mired in controversy before it even began production because Bryan Singer left the franchise to direct “Superman Returns.” That move left X-men fans with Brett “Rush Hour” Ratner. In hindsight, nobody won that exchange.

There’s another important element to highlight with Simon Kinberg directing this movie. As I pointed out in my instructions on how to not to screw up “X-men: Dark Phoenix,” Kinberg showed a bit of humility that’s rare for Hollywood these days. He apologized for the role he played in “X-men: The Last Stand” and vowed to do better if he got a second chance.

Well, that chance has arrived for Mr. Kinberg. On paper, he’s the best man for the job because he has a huge personal investment in this movie. He understands that he botched the Phoenix Saga when he tried to force it into “X-men: The Last Stand” as half-baked side-plot. He also understands why that was a big problem and a huge taint on his credibility with X-men fans.

As director of “X-men: Dark Phoenix,” he can do more than just get the Phoenix Saga right the second time around. He can be more than the man who not just atoned for the cinematic migraine that was “X-men: The Last Stand.” He can be the man who brought the greatest X-men story of all time to life and made it awesome. That’s a hell of a legacy, one that will surely get him laid by X-men fans for the rest of his life.

He has no excuses and all the resources. Unlike the last craptacular attempt in “X-men: The Last Stand,” this movie has every cast member returning, including Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender. The younger cast, led by Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey and Tye Sherridan’s Cyclops, is all under contract. None has jumped ship for a DC movie. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, just look up James Mardsen.

Mr. Kinberg may even be getting an extra boost with that cast because another bit of important news dropped recently. According to Deadline, Jessica Chastain is in talks to join the cast of the movie. Other than her inherent sex appeal, her role actually has some vital implications for this movie, as well as some uneasy concerns.

That’s because Ms. Chastain is in line to play a well-known X-men character named Lilandra. In the context of the Phoenix Saga, as well as the X-men as a movie franchise, that’s a big deal because Lilandra isn’t just any ordinary supporting character for the X-men. She’s the empress of a race of warring, bird-like race of aliens called the Shi’ar.

If that sounds like a lot of WTF to inject into a movie franchise that already has problems staying grounded, thanks largely to conflicting timelines, then calm down. There is at least some method to the madness and trust me, there’s still plenty of WTF to go around.

The casting of Lilandra is huge for the X-men franchise and for “X-men: Dark Phoenix” because in the original comics, she plays a critical role. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to say that she’s a big reason why the original Phoenix Saga became the dramatic, heart-wrenching story that still gives X-men fans wet panties to this day.

The Phoenix Force, at least in the comics, has a very cosmic origin. It has roots in an elaborate space mythos that would make the Church of Scientology envious. “X-men: The Last Stand” captured precisely none of that. Instead, it built the Phoenix around the idea of Jean Grey going crazy and Famke Janssen looking deadpanned every other frame. It’s even less exciting than it sounds.

This development with Lilandra is big because it means “X-men: Dark Phoenix” is going to try to follow the comics a bit closer. It also means that the X-men may have a very different enemy to face this time. After over a half-dozen movies of clashing with Magneto, it’s something the X-men movies need.

In fact, when I made my list of ways to not screw up “X-men: Dark Phoenix,” I highlighted the need for better enemies as one of the critical reasons. I cited a character named Mr. Sinister in that article. While he would be a huge draw in any X-men movie, especially if Bryan Cranston played him, he does have one shortcoming. He played no significant role in the Phoenix Saga.

With the casting of Lilandra, “X-men: Dark Phoenix” checks more than a few boxes and I’m not just talking about those involving X-men fans. Lilandra may have been a quasi-villain in the original Phoenix Saga, but she’s no Rita Repulsa. She’s no Disney Princess either.

She’s a tough, driven, hard-nosed ruler who will make hard decisions and not shed a goddamn tear about it. At a time when Wonder Woman has proven that there’s a market for badass female heroes, Lilandra can show that there’s also a market for complex female villains.

That’s a big deal in an era where Hollywood is trying to cater to more than just young men with a functioning penis. Everyone is trying, and failing at times, to create strong female characters. They’ve finally got a major success with “Wonder Woman.” Lilandra can be a success on the other end of that equation, but as a villain.

That’s going to be even more challenging because the margin for error for female characters is much smaller. We’re used to seeing flawed male characters screw up, step up, and everything in between. We’re not as used to seeing female characters do the same because if it’s messed up, people get accused of misogyny and sexism. It’s part of what video game critics have dubbed the “Galbrush Paradox.”

Having a character like Lilandra, along with the star power of Jessica Chastain, can break new ground for the X-men movies and for female characters in movies as a whole. However, with such a small margin for error, there is a distinct possibility that messing up this part will derail the movie.

Keep in mind, this is also a movie that has Sophie “Sansa Stark” Turner front and center. Her profile is rising fast and catching up to Jennifer Lawrence, probably more so than she’d ever admit. As Jean Grey, one of the founding members of the X-men and one of the most powerful female heroes in Marvel, there will be a lot of girl power in “X-men: Dark Phoenix.”

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If it works, then it’ll be a boon for female superheroes on par with “Wonder Woman.” If not, we may end up with another “Catwoman” scenario that sets both the X-men franchise and the genre of superhero movies back another decade. As an X-men fan, I don’t want to see neither.

While I’m thrilled that Mr. Kinberg is going out of his way to capture the core elements of the Phoenix Saga for “X-men: Dark Phoenix,” I’m also worried that he’s not giving this movie a lot of flexibility. Just having great female characters and a great female villain just isn’t enough. Just ask “Power Rangers.” The story and drama has to work.

The cost of failure will be even higher this time around and not just for Mr. Kinberg. Failing to do justice on the most iconic X-men story of all time won’t just put him on the same level as Joel Shumacher. He’ll be responsible for failing to do justice to a strong female character in Jean Grey who, until “X-men: Apocalypse,” was nothing more than a pretty face for Wolverine to whine about.

I want to believe that Mr. Kinberg learned his lessons after “X-men: The Last Stand,” but that might not be enough for this movie. The cast is already pretty bloated and will likely juggle a lot of side-plots, which was one of the criticisms of “X-men: Apocalypse.” Adding aliens and cosmic forces to the mix is sure to complicate that.

Even with complications, “X-men: Dark Phoenix” has the potential to lay the foundation for the X-men franchise for the decade. By opening up the X-men’s more cosmic side, which includes space pirates and terrifying alien bugs that would give Ridley Scott nightmares, there could be a whole host of new movies for the X-men to pursue.

Again, a lot of that hinges on the success or non-total failure of “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” One movie can kill a franchise. Just ask the Fantastic Four. Mr. Kinberg was involved in that, which is another major concern, but he was not nearly as much at fault for that bombastic failure as he was “X-men: The Last Stand.” Despite this, I’m sure he’d like to make “X-men: Dark Phoenix” a high point for his career.

For now, these are my primary concerns and while some may end up being alleviated, others might emerge. Whatever the case, expect me to keep a close eye on developments involving “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” Between the stakes for X-men fans and the future of female characters, this movie is a huge deal in more ways than even Mr. Kinberg probably thinks.

In the meantime, I’ll keep myself busy with sexy stories and news about sex robots. For other X-men fans, here’s a fan trailer of the Dark Phoenix Saga using clips from the classic X-men 90s cartoon. It’s not much, but it should tide X-men fans over until the first trailer comes out.

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