Film discussion

X-Men: Dark Phoenix – 2019 Preview

Baz Greenland looks ahead to the latest entry in the long-running X-Men movie franchise.

When Bryan Singer’s X-Men debuted in 2000, it signalled a shift in superhero movies. While Batman and Superman had both had successful (and not so successful) outings on the big screen, attempts to translate superheroes from their comic book origins were largely hokey adaptations, seemingly embarrassed by its comic-book roots or lacking the special effects and creativity to translate these characters into fully-fleshed and believable characters.

But X-Men changed all that. Using racism and xenophobia to tap into historic and real world cultural issues, it proved to be a challenging, thought-provoking movie. And fun too. It might seem a little tame by today’s standards but this film gave us Magneto, Cyclops, Professor X, Sabretooth, and mixed humour and drama with super-powered action. It also helped that it had a terrific cast too; having Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart face off against each other brought depth and gravitas to the tale while Hugh Jackman was introduced to the world thanks to his pitch-perfect performance as Wolverine (though the less said about Halle Berry’s woefully miscasting as Storm, the better).

Jump forward almost two decades and superhero movies are big business. 2019 will bring the culmination of a decade’s worth of Marvel Cinematic Universe stories in the hotly anticipated Avengers 4, AKA Endgame, while Spider-Man will be having his seventh solo outing. In the struggling DC Extended Universe, Wonder Woman will return after her incredibly successful debut solo film while more offbeat characters like Shazam will make their big screen debut.

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Into this arena comes X-Men: Dark Phoenix, the likely final main instalment in the X-Men movies that ran for an original trilogy before quasi-rebooting with a younger cast in the superb X-Men: First Class. It’s not officially confirmed that this is the end of this run of movies, but it would be highly surprising if it wasn’t. Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult have been playing these versions of Mystique, Magento, Professor X and Beast for four films now and will likely want to move on. Furthermore, there’s that little detail of Disney’s acquisition of Fox, which means the MCU finally has access to the X-Men for the first time – the chance to have a (almost definitely re-cast) Wolverine hanging out with the likes of Spider-Man is a fan boy’s dream that won’t be passed up. And with their current run of stories coming to an end next year, a new version of the X-Men would be the big creative push the MCU needs.

But where does that leave X-Men: Dark Phoenix? It’s a film that has already been delayed twice and perhaps won’t garner the same excitement as it might once have; certainly with fans’ memories of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Apocalypse still in their minds (though the latter still has a huge amount going for it). Also the inevitability of being rebooted for the MCU makes it feel a little… dare I say, pointless? A cynic might suggest that fans are more concerned with what Marvel will do with the franchise rather than what Fox is doing now, particularly how they refreshed Spider-Man after the critical (and somewhat misguided) failures of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 at Sony. There is certainly a degree of apprehension as to how the ‘Dark Phoenix’ storyline will be adapted again after the miserable, half-arsed version in X-Men: The Last Stand. The ‘grounded’ approach of this film that has been promised might not fit with a cosmic entity that can destroy whole worlds – something the MCU could handle quite well given the more cosmic events of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor films.

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But let’s not be cynical and consider the merits of this upcoming (and likely final) instalment in the X-Men franchise. For a start, knowing that this is likely to be the end, director Simon Kinberg can go as big and bold as he likes. Grounded it might be, the [POTENTIAL SPOILER] presence of the Shi’ar Empire, Genosha and the Phoenix entity herself is enough to get any fan boy excited (while unfamiliar with the comics, I remember greatly the epic storytelling of the 1992 animated series – which coincidentally is the year this film will be set). And when you consider they have the mighty Hans Zimmer to score the film, you know there is going to be something epic for audiences to enjoy; the fact that Kinberg convinced him to come out of his planned retirement for X-Men: Dark Phoenix says something it itself.

Even if the story is lacking, this is a film that will see Professor X, Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Nightcrawler, Quicksilver, Magneto and Mystique onscreen together, a set of truly iconic X-Men characters. After the new team set-up in the last film, this is a chance to see many favourites in action (and hopefully give Storm to on screen presence she finally deserves). The acting talent is superb too; McAvoy and Fassbender in particular could carry the film on their own and with Jessica Chastain joining the film as the not yet defined ‘Smith’, that pool of acting talent is only going to be more impressive.

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And when it comes to plot, this movie only really has one way to go: up. Kinberg has spoken of taking influences from Logan, which should be enough to quell concerns that it will be another glossy but somewhat soulless affair like X-Men: Apocalypse. The presence of Genosha, Kinberg has described as Magneto’s Israel for Mutants, another sign that this film will embraces the real world cultural issues that has defined the franchise’s biggest successes. And to be honest, anything more spectacular that the last attempt at the Dark Phoenix is going to be enough to be seen as an improvement, even if it isn’t as fantastical as the comic-book origins. Eight seasons of Game of Thrones will also have given Sophie Turner to skill as an actor to carry off the tortured conflict of the Jean Grey and Phoenix personas.

While for X-Men: Dark Phoenix has had its release date pushed back twice, the one thing we can be certain off is that it won’t be a rush job affair. Fox and Kinberg obviously care about getting this film right and for ending the franchise on the high of those first two X-Men movies. Will it meet everyone’s expectations? Almost certainly not, but then fellow superhero movie Avengers: Endgame is not going to either and that surely will be spectacular. But if this film can deliver something with the reverence, passion, great performances and strong moral storytelling of its predecessors, then surely X-Men: Dark Phoenix can’t be anything other than a success? It’s one film, I can’t wait to see unfold.

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