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What I Learned At The “Dark Phoenix” Panel At New York Comic Con 2018

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There were a lot of wonderful moments at New York Comic Con this year. While I’ve already shared a few, it’s safe to say that the biggest highlight for me was being able to attend the panel for the “Dark Phoenix” movie. Since I’ve made my excitement and concerns about this movie very clear, I don’t think that should surprise anyone.

The panel itself was very well-attended. Anyone who claims that nobody is interested in this movie since Disney is buying Fox can officially piss off. As soon as Tye Sheridan and Sophie Turner walked out onto that stage, there was a huge cheer that echoed throughout the Jacob Javits Center. It was a really powerful moment.

I had to fight my way through a lot of equally-eager X-men fans to get a good seat. These pictures, by the way, are not taken from some comic reporting site. I took these with my phone and I’m very proud of how close I managed to get. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to celebrities like this for the rest of my life.

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While at the panel, I learned a few things of note that made me all the more excited about this movie. Some of those things have already been reported by some sites. Here are a few others I picked up on.


Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan have great chemistry, more so than James Marsden and Famken Jansen did in the original X-men movie.

This was obvious by how how well they got along, how close they sat, and how much they smiled around one another. You can usually tell when an actor and actress don’t get along. It really shows and it tends to undermine the movie. If you don’t believe me, just look at how that worked out for Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman in “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.


This movie will fully embrace the cosmic nature of the Phoenix Saga.

Those aren’t my words. That’s what Simon Kinberg said outright during the panel. He flat out admitted that “X-men: The Last Stand” did not do justice to the Phoenix Saga, which actually drew some cheers. He then made clear that the cosmic part of the Phoenix will be a big part of the movie and the footage they showed definitively proved that.

This is huge because anyone who claims this movie is just a remake of “X-men: The Last Stand” will not be able to say that with a straight face after seeing how it plays out.


Jean Grey is NOT the one in that grave during the funeral scene depicted in the trailer.

 

I was kind of surprised that Kinberg confirmed this, outright. He said during the interview that the funeral scene was not for Jean. There was someone else in that grave and the identity of that person, which he did not reveal, is what really divides the team.

On top of that, Kinberg made clear that this moment really undermines the faith the X-men have in Charles Xavier. Before this moment, they trust him implicitly. Jean, especially, trusts him. After what happens here, though, the team somewhat turns against him and he struggles to regain their trust.

That’s another powerful bit of drama that “X-men: The Last Stand” did not do much to develop. Xavier makes some hard choices and the consequences of those choices hurt many.


Cyclops really steps up and becomes the true leader of the X-men.

This also got plenty of cheers from the crowd. To hear Tye Sheridan talk about his character was a powerful moment. He talked about how Cyclops finds himself in a tough position where he has to make decisions that put him against others. He has to go against the will of friends, teammates, and even Charles Xavier. He isn’t given the role of leader. He earns it.

For the many Cyclops fans who hated how he got treated in the original X-men trilogy, this should be music to your ears. I could feel Tye’s enthusiasm for the character, along with many others in the crowd. I also noticed Sophie Turner smiling a lot when he talked about it, which I also think was a promising sign.


Jennifer Lawrence, more than any other cast member, tried to get “Game of Thrones” Spoilers out of Sophie Turner.

This was a serious question that also got some cheers, mostly from people dressed as “Game of Thrones” characters. Sophie Turner didn’t hesitate when she answered. She said that Jennifer Lawrence made her love of “Game of Thrones” very clear on set. She tried on more than one occasion to get some details from Turner. She didn’t say how much she succeeded, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Lawrence knows something we don’t.


There are a lot of other details I could mention from this panel. I’ll keep them to myself, though. They are now among my most precious memories of New York Comic Con and I honestly don’t know how they’ll be topped in the years to come. After being part of this panel, though, I’m a lot more hopeful about this movie. I genuinely believe it’s going to be the movie X-men fans have been waiting for.

 

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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.

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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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How Negative Expectations May Ruin “X-men: Dark Phoenix” (For The Wrong Reasons)

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There’s an important, but understated difference between negative expectations and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Expectations are like reflexes. They’re somewhat involuntary, reflecting our assumptions and understanding of a situation. A self-fulfilling prophecy involves actual effort. Whether intentional or not, it guides our perceptions in a particular direction, one often associated with a particular bias.

To some extent, a self-fulfilling prophecy is akin to self-hypnosis. We convince ourselves so thoroughly of a particular outcome that to consider otherwise would be downright shocking, if not distressing. That’s why it’s so difficult, at times, to escape a particular expectation, especially if it’s negative.

I bring up expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies because they do plenty to shape our reactions and attitudes, especially in the media we consume. For better or for worse, often varying from person to person, we tend to determine how much we enjoy something before we even experience it.

Sometimes, it works to the benefit of a particular movie, video game, or TV show. The powerful brand of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is built heavily on the expectations that a long list of quality, well-received movies have established. Conversely, the DCEU struggles with negative expectations, thanks largely to a catalog of movies that have failed to consistently deliver.

Then, there’s “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” It’s a movie for which I’ve made my passion and my excitement very clear over the past year. It’s also a movie that is in the midst of an emerging crisis. It’s not the kind that involves negative press, actors melting down on set, or sordid sex scandals, for once. Instead, it’s an issue that involves negative expectations that may very well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As big an X-men fan as I am, I don’t deny that the X-men franchise is not on the same level it was in the early 2000s when it dominated the box office alongside Spider-Man. Even though I loved “X-men: Apocalypse,” I can’t deny it under-performed and underwhelmed.

Despite that, “X-men: Dark Phoenix” has more going for it. It’s attempting to tell the Dark Phoenix Saga, the most iconic X-men story ever told. Moreover, it’s attempting to tell that story after it botched it horribly in “X-men: The Last Stand.” Even the director, Simon Kinberg, has gone on record as saying that he wants to “X-men: Dark Phoenix” to succeed where the last one failed.

Given how rare that kind of humility is in Hollywood these days, X-men fans and fans of superhero movies in general have every reason to expect better things from this movie. Given how low the bar is after “X-men: The Last Stand,” I’m more optimistic than I dare to be when it comes to comic book movies.

Unfortunately, that sense of optimism seems to beg getting less and less prevalent. Whether due to the underwhelming performance of “X-men: Apocalypse” or a growing impatience to see the X-men join the MCU after the Disney/Fox merger is complete, there’s a general sentiment that this movie is going to be bad.

I see it on popular YouTube channels. I see in the many comic book message boards I frequent. The overall consensus is that this is a Marvel movie that isn’t part of the MCU. Therefore, it’s going to be terrible. That is, by every measure, a terrible excuse to dismiss a movie, especially when we haven’t even seen a trailer.

To make matters worse, a recent string of leaks from an alleged test screening revealed details that have only fueled those negative expectations. For reasons that I’ll make clear in a moment, I won’t list the details of those links. I will, however, offer a direct quote that aptly sums up the prevailing attitude for this movie.

“I do believe some things won’t change. What can’t change is the movie being really underwhelming. Really lower your expectations because this one is not good.”

This news, if accurate, is not encouraging to anyone hoping to see a well-done Dark Phoenix Saga on the big screen. To make matters worse, those who already had negative expectations about this movie have even more excuses to resent it.

As I’ve noted before, people tend to cling to excuses that justify their preconceived notions. It doesn’t even matter if the excuse is true. Once they have it, they cling to it. It’s usually not done out of malice. It’s just a lot easier to keep thinking what you’ve already thought rather than adjust your expectations.

In this case those, the story surrounding the leaks has already confirmed to be untrue. That leak came from a Reddit post, of all things, which is akin to getting your news from 4chan. On top of that, and this is a testament to Reddit’s users, the mods have stated outright that the user was not credible. This is an exact quote.

Apparently test screen guy is Atlanta Filming, created an account and sent fake spoilers/leaks. Trying to discredit other bloggers because he wants to be “the only legit source”.

If that weren’t telling enough, it was already announced back in March that the movie was going to undergo reshoots in August. Now thanks to “Justice League,” reshoots have gotten a bad name, but they’re a fairly common practice. Even the heavily-hyped, positively-perceived “Avengers 4” is scheduled for reshoots.

Even if those leaks were accurate, chances are the cut of the movie shown at test screenings isn’t the final cut. Kinberg himself has said that the reshoots are intended to shore up the final product, as one would expect of any piece of art. It sounds so reasonable and logical.

That still doesn’t matter, though. It doesn’t change the expectations. This movie still isn’t meeting the impossible set of criteria that fans spoiled by the MCU have so unreasonably set. It’s not in the MCU, nor is it being guided by Kevin Feige. Therefore, it must be terrible.

It’s unfair, unreasonable, and just plain asinine to judge “X-men: Dark Phoenix” by those standards, especially with reshoots to come and no official trailer. At this point, the negative expectations are so heavy that they’re starting to sound more and more like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With that being the case, I feel like I can predict the reactions from people once the trailer drops. Sure, there will be some like me who are eager to give this movie a chance after what happened with “X-men: The Last Stand,” but I think there will be more comments like this.

“It’s not the MCU. I’ll pass.”

“X-men Apocalypse sucked! I’m not even giving this one a chance.”

“To hell with this movie! Just let Marvel have the rights back already! Fox can’t do anything right!”

Now, far be it from me to defend Fox, the same company that gave us “Wolverine: Origins,” but these are all intensely petty reasons to judge a movie. I say that as someone who is guilty of setting low expectations for movies, cartoons, comics, and TV shows. Hindsight has done plenty to reveal which of those were the result of self-fulfilling prophecies. That still doesn’t make the expectations any less absurd.

Even for those who aren’t just ardently opposed to any superhero movie that isn’t a product of the MCU, I think I can predict the criticisms they’ll probably levy against this movie even after it comes out. Chances are, they’ll be every bit as petty and include comments like this.

“It’s too dark and not cosmic enough!”

“It’s too cosmic and not grounded enough!’

“It’s too much like the comics!”

“It’s not enough like the comics!”

“It doesn’t have enough [Insert Favorite Character Here]!”

“It has too much [Insert Intensely Hated Character Here]!”

There will probably be plenty more excuses for hating this movie, far more than I can list. It doesn’t even matter how subjective they are or how empty they may be. People who are determined to hate something will find an excuse that satisfies their psyche and vindicates their feelings. Anything else would require that someone actually re-evaluate their expectations and that’s just untenable.

It’s frustrating and tragic that a movie or any piece of media would be subject to this kind of debasement before it’s even completed. It’s one thing for a movie to face skepticism because of production troubles, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” being the most recent example. For a movie whose primary crime is not being in the MCU, that’s just plain absurd.

In terms of the bigger picture, it’s good for superhero movies, as a whole, if “X-men: Dark Phoenix” succeeds. It’s unhealthy for the genre if the MCU is the only acceptable avenue for quality superhero movies. We’ve seen with “Wonder Woman” that it is possible for a superhero movie to succeed in a world that doesn’t have Robert Downy Jr. or Chris Pratt.

X-men: Dark Phoenix” deserves the same chance. That’s why I intend to keep my expectations high, but cautious for this movie. Even if it turns out to be good, though, I worry that it’ll be undercut by too many people who are too eager to hate it. It would be both a tragedy for the movie and all those involved, as well as a bad omen for the genre as a whole.

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A (Welcome) Message Of Forgiveness And Compassion In X-men Red Annual #1

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Who doesn’t enjoy a good revenge story? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m dead serious. Is there anyone out there who isn’t enamored with a story about sweet, bloody revenge? I know the success of movies like “John Wick” and the iconic status of Batman do plenty to answer that question.

The question is still worth asking because the answer says just as much about the appeal of stories about forgiveness. To some extent, it shows that forgiveness isn’t as sexy as revenge. A revenge story can be bloody, action-packed, exciting, and cathartic. Almost every moment in “John Wick” and every issue of the Punisher is like that. It’s not hard to see why that is the basis of so many movies, TV shows, comics, and video games.

That’s not to say that a story about forgiveness can’t have appeal as well. It most certainly can. Forgiveness may not offer the same spectacle as revenge, but it can incur a uniquely powerful emotional impact. There’s a reason why forgiveness has been shown to have therapeutic effects and was the basis of a major religion.

This brings me to a very special comic book entitled “X-men Red Annual #1.” Yes, I am going to tie this powerful human experience to a comic book. No, I’m not going to apologize for it. If you’ve had a chance to read this comic, you’ll understand why.

It’s been a while since I singled out a specific comic that I believe conveys a much larger message, but sometimes a comic comes along at just the right time and strikes just the right emotional chords. This one does all that and so much more, especially for a die-hard X-men fan like me. However, it’s the forgiveness themes I want to focus on here.

Without spoiling too much about the comic itself, which I encourage everyone to go out and buy, it’s important to establish the circumstances that make those themes work here. Those circumstances revolve around Jean Grey, a character who is no stranger to death, resurrection, love triangles, and clones. Even by superhero standards, she deals with a lot of emotional baggage.

Until recently, though, she didn’t have to deal with any, largely because she was dead. From 2004 until earlier this year, Jean was among the numerous superheroes who were “officially dead.” I put that in quotes because “dead” in the world of comics tends to have a pretty loose meaning, well past the point of absurdity. The fact that Jean Grey stayed dead for that long is, in and of itself, pretty remarkable.

However, it was never a matter of if she would return from the dead or even whether Marvel would resort to time travel to replace her. It was only ever a matter of when. Her return was bound to have a huge impact on the X-men and the entire world of Marvel comics. “X-men Red Annual #1” simply built a story around it and it’s a damn good one.

It unfolds mere moments after Jean officially comes back to life again on the final page of “Phoenix Resurrection #5.” That moment, in and of itself, is full of emotions that writer, Tom Taylor, captures beautifully. It provides insights into Jean’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions at that moment. It’s a lot to take in, but in addition to the joy, there’s also a heavy bit of sorrow thrown in.

In a sense, Jean Grey picked a lousy time to come back to life. She’s coming into a world where her mentor, Charles Xavier, is dead. Her best friend and occasional love interest, Wolverine, is also dead, although that’s already changing. Most painful, though, is that her husband, Cyclops, is dead due to the events that unfolded in a series aptly named Death of X.

These are people near and dear to Jean Grey. She’s not the kind of character who just brushes off that kind of loss, hardens her heart, and moves forward. She’s someone who wears her emotions on her sleeve and does it with pride. It’s part of what makes her such a lovable, endearing character. Sure, those passions attract destructive cosmic forces every now and then, but she makes it one of her strengths.

As she reconnects with those who’ve sorely missed her, she has an opportunity to confront the one most responsible for her husband’s death, namely Black Bolt of the Inhuman royal family. While Cyclops’ death was largely an accident, he’s still the one whose decisions ended up killing him and many other innocent mutants. For that, Jean has many reasons to hunt Black Bolt down and make him pay.

Had she gone that route, I don’t think anyone would’ve blamed her. Hell, some within the X-men would’ve gladly fought by her side, including a few who hate her guts. Accident or not, Black Bolt killed her husband by doing what he did. There’s no way around that. She has every possible excuse to channel her inner John Wick.

However, that’s not what happens. Yes, she still assembles a team of X-men to confront Black Bolt and the Inhumans. Yes, she has a very tense exchange with Black Bolt. What she doesn’t do, though, is seek vengeance for her husband’s death. Instead, she seeks forgiveness and that ends up being far more powerful.

Think about the mentality it takes to forgive someone like that. Imagine you knew there was someone responsible for the death of a loved one. Even if it was an accident or unintentional, chances are your first inclination wouldn’t be to forgive them. More than likely, you would rather see them suffer and pay for their crime.

Even if that person ends up going to jail or is held legally liable for your loved one’s death, you’re still going to resent them. They took the life of someone you loved and, assuming you’re not in a world where people regularly come back from the dead, you can never get back what you’ve lost.

That feeling would be even more intense if the person responsible never faces consequences for what they did. In the case of Black Blot, he didn’t face any repercussions for killing Cyclops. He wasn’t charged with murder or even for involuntary manslaughter. In fact, Cyclops becomes vilified for a while.

If anyone would be motivated to pursue retributive justice, it’s Jean Grey. She even has the perfect opportunity to do so when she fights her way towards Black Blot. At one point, she uses her telepathy to show him just how much she loved Cyclops and how much losing him hurt. She even admits she could make him feel some of that pain, if only to let him know why he deserves punishment.

She doesn’t do that, though. She doesn’t attempt to impart her pain onto him. What she ends up doing is much more heartfelt and meaningful. She gives Black Bolt a chance to offer genuine, sincere remorse for his role in Cyclops’ death. He ends up taking that chance. He apologizes for what he did and, more importantly, Jean accepts it.

For a woman confronting a man responsible for her husband’s death, even if she is a comic book character, it’s a pretty powerful moment. It’s one that carries a unique emotional weight that you wouldn’t otherwise get if Jean had just shot him in the head with a 44 magnum. It very much reflects the power of forgiveness.

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It’s the kind of heart that is exceedingly rare outside of Superman comics. At a time when we expect our superheroes to be edgy and tough, Jean Grey offers a very different approach in “X-men Red Annual #1.” It’s one that Tom Taylor uses to full effect, reaffirming Jean’s incredible capacity for love and compassion. It’s an approach that feels refreshing in an era of superhero civil wars.

It also reminds us that while vengeance may still be more appealing to our most basic instincts, it’s also incomplete at times. No matter how many criminals the Punisher kills or how many villains that Batman beats up, their loved ones are still dead. The pain continues and so too does the struggle. Forgiveness, on the other hand, offers a way forward.

Jean Grey feels the pain of loss like anyone else. She also has the choice to seek retribution or forgiveness. Forgiveness is, by far, a much harder recourse because it means accepting painful circumstances and even a certain level of injustice. Given how most of us are wired with an innate sense of justice, such acceptance seems untenable.

That’s what makes forgiveness so hard, but that’s also what makes it more impactful. Rather than focus on making Black Bolt pay for her husband’s death, Jean chooses to channel that pain into something positive. The very end of “X-men Red Annual #1” has her acknowledging how much it hurts losing her husband, but it also shows how this pain has inspired her.

Jean Grey is, essentially, doing the most heroic thing a superhero can do and it doesn’t even involve her powers. She decides to forgive the transgression that killed her husband and chooses to use that pain as motivation to make the world around her better. It’s still not as big a spectacle as watching John Wick kill 77 people over a dog, but it’s more dramatic for all the right reasons.

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“X-Men: Dark Phoenix” DELAYED Until 2019 (Along With Several Other Movies)

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I normally try not to report the news too much on this blog, unless it’s extremely urgent or extremely sexy. Sadly, this is more in line with the former rather than the latter.

Just this morning, Entertainment Weekly reported that “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” is being delayed until 2019. It had been originally scheduled for release this coming November, just in time for the holidays, no less. I even went out of my way to explain why I’m more excited for this movie than I am “Avengers: Infinity War.” It now seems I’ll have to temper that excitement.

Thankfully, unlike a few other movies that keep getting delayed, this change doesn’t seem to have much to do with the movie itself and has more to do with Fox’s scheduling. “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” is just one of several Fox movies getting delayed or pushed up, some of which aren’t related to superhero movies, including the upcoming biopic on Freddy Mercury, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

While it’s still only minor comfort for me, as a comic book fan and an X-men fan desperate to erase memories of “X3,” I’m willing to be patient for this movie. To see Sophie Turner do justice to one of the greatest X-men stories of all time is definitely worth waiting for.

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Romance And Tragedy Done Right (In An X-men Comic)

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When it comes to two genres that are often associated with one another, romance and tragedy are the literary equivalent of peanut butter and jelly. When you think of one, it’s not long before you associate it with another. Romance without tragedy is like fries without ketchup. Both are still good on their own, but it’s only when they’re together that they maximize their potential.

In that same spirit that the likes of Shakespeare and “Titanic,” superheroes often follow that narrative, but with more spectacle than old playwrights and even James Cameron could ever imagine. Being such a huge fan of superhero movies and comic books, I’m more familiar with their take on romance and tragedy than most aspiring erotica/romance writers.

As such, when an amazing, uncanny, astonishing, or whatever other adjective that a comic book puts before their title tells a story that truly embodies those ideas, I take notice. Seeing as how I’m also an unapologetic romance fan on top of being a comic book fan, those kinds of stories resonate especially well for me. They don’t come around too often, but when they do, they’re worth appreciating.

This particular story involves the X-men, which should surprise nobody who has followed this blog over the past couple years. It also involves the romance/tragedy of Cyclops and Jean Grey, which should also not surprise anyone. I’ve mentioned them before when talking about balanced romances and insufferable love triangles. This might end up being the most heart-wrenching, albeit for all the right reasons.

The name of the story is called Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey by Matthew Rosenberg. Now, if you don’t want to be spoiled, I strongly encourage everyone to read it. Either buy it at a comic shop or buy the digital version. Even if you’re not a comic book fan, it’s a great story that will still evoke all the right emotions.

That’s because this story does something that’s very rare and very difficult to do. It’s something that everyone form Shakespeare to Tolken to Stan “The Man” Lee struggled with at some point in their creative endeavors. It gets the balance between romance and tragedy right. It gets it so right, in fact, that I intend to judge all future romance/tragedies by this comic. That includes any I write.

To understand how I came to this conclusion, it’s important to understand the context of the story and why it had such a powerful impact. To do that, it’s necessary to point out the circumstances of this story. When it was announced last year, it’s stated goal was to bring Jean Grey back from the dead. Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with comics knows that’s not all that groundbreaking.

Superheroes have been dying and coming back to life for decades. While “The Death of Superman” might have been the most high-profile, the initial death of Jean Grey in the original Phoenix Saga is probably the most iconic. That story established Jean Grey as a character who would be defined by death, rebirth, and everything in between. That’s part of the reason it’s the foundation of the “X-men: Dark Phoenix” movie.

That original story had a lot of romantic elements in it, but it was largely defined by its tragic ending. In that original story, Jean Grey willingly sacrificed herself in front of Cyclops and her friends to stop herself from becoming corrupted by the cosmic power of the Phoenix Force.

It was a truly gut-wrenching moment. It’s because of that moment, though, that it’s often singled out as one of the best X-men stories of all time. It was the culmination of Jean Grey’s struggle to deal with the immense power with which she’d been imbued. Moreover, she reached out to that power in order to do the impossible to protect those she loved, even if it corrupted her.

That’s an important detail to note because that’s a theme that would go onto play out on many occasions for Jean, eventually culminating in her second death in 2004. Her constant struggle to manage the immense power granted by the Phoenix Force and the corruption that often came with it is one of the primary driving forces behind Jean’s character. It’s also a big part of her appeal.

Rosenberg uses those same themes, as well as the immense power afforded by the Phoenix Force, to build the tragedy and romance that plays out in Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey. It’s a story that has more drama going for it than most because, despite the presence of time travelers, Jean Grey has been dead since 2004. Her coming back after such a long absence is a big deal for X-men fans and for her character.

The challenge Rosenberg faced was making that resurrection feel more compelling than overdue in an era where dead characters come back all the time. On top of that, Jean’s association with a cosmic force known for death and resurrection means her character basically has a built-in cheat code for bringing her back. How can that be so compelling, let alone raise the bar for romance and tragedy?

This is where the spoilers come in so again, please take the time to read the comic if you can. That’s because the way Jean comes back in this story has less to do with tragedy and more to do with agency. Way back in the original Phoenix Saga, Jean reached out to Phoenix Force in an act to save her friends. It was a choice of desperation.

Well, since that fateful choice, the Phoenix Force has been like a clingy ex, wanting desperately to stay bonded to her, even thought it often corrupts her. I’ve argued before how the context of that corruption might be more complicated than it seems, but on the basis of history alone, Jean Grey has many reasons to regret that choice.

The Phoenix only gives her another in this series. After having bonded with plenty of other hosts since her death, it goes to great lengths to bond with Jean again. It goes so far as to resurrect both her and everyone she ever cared about, creating this own little world in which Jean never experiences the many tragedies that befell her. It’s like the Matrix, but with a volatile cosmic bird running the show.

 

As part of that fantasy world, Jean Grey’s long-time love, Cyclops, is alive and well. That’s critical because, at least for the time being, he’s also dead. The Phoenix Force basically gives her everything to be happy, content, and loved. Keep in mind, though, it’s not doing this out of pure altruism. It wants to bond with Jean again. That’s the goal and the fantasy world is just a means to an end.

That makes the tragedy inevitable. As is often the case with fantasy worlds, even those created by a cosmic power, they tend to crumble under the harsh weight of reality. The way in which this happens is best revealed through the story. However, the part of the story that really balances out that tragedy occurs in the final issue.

In that issue, the fantasy world crumbles, thanks largely to the efforts of Jean’s fellow X-men. Naturally, the Phoenix Force fights this and tries to tempt Jean into bonding with it again, saying its power can give her everything she desires. It can even bring back those she loves.

As part of a last-ditch effort, it demonstrates this by bringing Cyclops back to life. He’s not a clone. He’s not a time traveler. He’s not some illusion either. He’s the real, flesh-and-blood Cyclops, complete with the thoughts, feelings, and passions of the man she married.

It’s a dick move on the part of the Phoenix Force, to say the least. It’s also the moment where the romance balances the tragedy in an important way. That’s because in that moment, Jean makes another fateful choice, one every bit as dire as the one she made in the original Phoenix Saga. This time, though, she lays her heart on the line, knowing damn well it’ll be broken.

Rather than just reject this tactic as another attempt by the Phoenix to lure her in, she embraces it for a brief moment. In that moment, she gets to say goodbye to her husband. She and Cyclops even go out of their way to make clear how much they love each other, both in life and in death. Even if you’re not a big romance fan, this is a moment of pure, unadulterated heart.

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We still know the tragedy is coming. We know it’s a moment that’s going to end with tears and sorrow. Anyone that ever had to read “Romeo and Juliet” in high school English class knows it’s coming and is might think they’re numb to it, especially if they flunked the test.

That’s why it was so important for the story to reaffirm that sentiment. Rosenberg did something critical when he had Cyclops and Jean Grey remind each other just how deep their love went. He gave even greater weight to the loss.

At least with “Romeo and Juliet,” the characters involved had just met. They barely knew each other. Cyclops and Jean Grey’s love story spans 50 years of X-men comics, complete with weddings, clones,  and raising a child together in the future. To know the extent of their love is to know just how much that tragedy hurts.

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That, more than anything, is what puts Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey in a league of its own in terms of romance and tragedy. Instead of the tragedy defining the romance, it’s the other way around. It’s the romance that gives that tragedy such immense weight.

In too many stories, both in comics and in other mediums, tragedy relies too heavily on its own weight to make an impact. Making a love story dependent on that tragedy gives the impression that the love needed it in order to have depth. That’s why, when the tragedy eventually occurs, it doesn’t always hit all the emotional chords.

Rosenberg left no emotional chords unstruck with this story. It’s because Jean shared that special moment with the man she loved that her decision to reject the Phoenix Force carries so much weight. That decision comes with so much pain, anguish, and sorrow. It’s one thing to just depict it. It’s quite another to truly convey it.

That’s what truly makes Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey so special. It conveys both the breadth of the romance and the extent of the tragedy. Moreover, it does that in a way where one complements the other. For a romance built heavily around two characters operating as equals, I can’t think of anything more fitting.

Again, if you’re fan of romance, tragedy, or both, check out Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey. Even if you hate comics and the X-men, this one will evoke all the right emotions. You’ll shed tears of sorrow and joy at the same time. It’ll feel so weird, but so right.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Marriage and Relationships, X-men