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We had a long conversation about Dark Phoenix; and we have uploaded it here for your edutainment!
WARNING: CONTAINS A WHOLE LOT OF SPOILERS FOR DARK PHOENIX.
We were also ALL OVER THE INTERNET last week week! Here are the many places we have been talking about Dark Phoenix and Dark Phoenix Saga-related stuff:
- Battle of the Atom #96 – A Phoenix Force of Our Own: Jay talked the Dark Phoenix Saga–plus some related comics–with Zack and Adam!
- Comic Book Buds #11 – Ben and Miles X-plain the Dark Phoenix Saga: Miles discussed the Dark Phoenix Saga with Portland podcast Comic Book Buds!
- Why the Dark Phoenix Saga Blew Our Minds: Jay is a talking head in the latest installment of SyFy Wire’s “Comics that Blew Our Minds” video series, where you can also hear a lot of cooler people talk about the Dark Phoenix Saga and why they love it. There’s also a very heartfelt Jimmy Carter impression.
- Wanna get your pals/partners/parents into X-Men? Jay wrote about nine good jumping-on points–and where to go next–over at Polygon.
- Also at Polygon, here’s Jay’s full review of Dark Phoenix. IT IS ALSO FULL OF SPOILERS.
It saddens me that this movie is so panned. Let me state at the top that it is not a good film, in the grand scheme it’s astonishingly mediocre. However, Dark Phoenix had the most X-Men feeling moments of this franchise. Much like the end of apocalypse felt like the first team-up movie (particularly the end), Dark Phoenix had the most family like moments, the subtle Scott and Jean, the Storm and Cyclops moment. The actual party felt like one of many Claremont quiet moments. I completely recognize it should have been bigger. And that the writing in particular was clumsy, but at least for myself the parts are greater than its sum. (Miles I do agree that the Nightcrawler murder spree was disturbing, and probably my least favorite part).
The portrayal of the D’Bari in the movie has made me retroactively glad that Jean killed them in the comics. That’s how boring and terrible they were.
One thing I did like that I haven’t seen get much praise, is the fight in New York – not just because of the fight itself, which was well-done, but because the emphasis on New York City felt very true to the source material. I was recently re-reading the story and noticed that early Claremont felt very New York with a strong emphasis on the fact that they’re a part of the city even if they’re from the suburbs. I was glad that the fight at the Not-Hellfire Club was in New York since it felt missing from previous movies.
I think the Nightcrawler scene would work better if he were shown having to deal with the emotional aftermath. I liked the scene at first, but I also didn’t read him as enjoying it the way you did. I read him as bing caught up in his rage for a lost life of someone he thought he was getting through to.
Maybe i was misreading him. But if, like Miles said, he’d screamed or cried–and maybe he’d said something about the guard’s son being orphaned–or shown him being even remotely appalled by his reaction it would’ve worked better.
Just finished the podcast and came here to comment, but BDElf above covered most of what I was going to say, particularly about the movie being mediocre but still X-men-ish. One thing I’d really hoped for before seeing it that does a lot to redeem it is that there’s a few places where someone explicitly makes a choice to trust Jean, and that’s shown to be the right decision.
One other thing – before listening to this it hadn’t occurred to me that you could read the end of the movie as Jean dying. I’ve though t about it and decided I don’t believe that’s what happened. (Note: I’m wearing my The Author is Dead hat here) Why? The Phoenix we see in the last shot of the movie is in its firebird form. But the firebird isn’t associated with the cosmic force; we never see it in that form before it encounters Jean, either in Earth orbit or in the D’Bari flashbacks. The phoenix flare is Jean’s own power, as seen at the end of X-Men:Apocalypse.
In fact, now that I put it that way, the final confrontation makes more sense: We see the firebird burst out of and absorb the cosmic force’s energy. Huh, I think I just convinced myself this was a slightly better movie than I thought before.
Yyyep, sure enough, thaaat really sucked. So bad…so, so bad :(.
Having zero expectations, I was actually really digging the first half an hour. And then awful from there. it turned into some weird b-grade alien zombie movie though for the rest. Why the corny generic aliens?!? Blow after blow after blow showing the alien’s head and heal. YUH, we get it (already), they heal.
Finally, the movie we all always wanted…the X-Men train fight movie! yyyYES!!
Jean’s backstory butchered and shit on. And why??
Felt like the people making the movie were barely familiar with the comics. Just a garbage heap of failure.
I see now after the movie that that alien race was supposed to be the D’Bari, the asparagus people that all died when dark Pheonix destroyed their planet. How could you have the Asparagus people and not have them look like Asparagus!! That’s their whole thing!! 😛
Fictional race biography
The D’Bari were a humanoid plant species that lived on the fourth planet of the D’Bari system, located within the sphere of influence of the Shi’ar Empire. They have been nicknamed the “Asparagus People” because of their asparagus-like appearances. One D’Bari originally appeared using a device that turned the Avengers into stone.
Sooo lame & movie-corny how Raven died. God, that’s so overdone in movies…when you go to a shot of someone’s face in pain & shock and the camera pans down to their stomach to see at their abdomen is impaled on something.
The thing that made me the maddest was when Storm made ice cubes instantly from her hand, for someone’s drink. …!!WTF (not how her powers work)
That was hilarious when crippled Professor was made to walk up the stairs LOL heheheee. That was my favorite part.
The movie had an overall lack of humour..
I have never heard of this retcon that Jean’s powers were tampered with by Charles until now. I wondered why there were two adaptations which did this when it has nothing to do with the Dark Phoenix Saga. It might be a potentially important note for these characters, but breaking or rebuilding trust between them was never the primary focus of the story. As Miles points out, “This hurts for so many characters.” It’s about everyone coming together for Jean, which we finally did get in this movie, but for the wrong reasons. Instead of coming together to support this member of their family when the weight of an alien empire is against her continued existence, it is instead about putting aside their differences over how to handle her so they can stop a new species from killing everyone on Earth and Jean can extinguish them first.
Jay: I’m going to say, based on “…Future Past” that Beast is the only reason that Charles Xavier hasn’t drowned in a pool of his own vomit by this point.
You don’t need to look to X-Men: Days of Future Past, it is already apparent in X-Men: First Class, in which Charles Xavier does more drinking than thinking and Beast is the one designing Havok and Banshee’s costumes. Beast puts in the work.
Here’s my take on Dazzler. Everyone at that party attended the school, including her. This is not an adult Dazzler who loves playing the Xavier School, this is Alison Blaire before she had developed distinct musical skill and vocoders and similar have been used in music since the 1960s.
Dazzler’s music didn’t leave any impression on me, I don’t know if Auto-Tune was used or not, but “Believe” by Cher came out in 1998. Auto-Tune was around and used in pop music in the 90s, just the wrong end of them.
Listening to the Xtra episode after Jay & Miles saw X-Men: Apocalypse, there were some of the “I want to see” statements about the future of the franchise which sort of came to pass.
Miles: I wanna see them a little bit older… have them be an established team… but, let’s have them be a superhero team. Let’s not have them, like, be building themselves as a team. Let’s not have them coming to terms with the way the world deals with mutants, let’s have them out there doing it. Let’s have them show Xavier’s dream in action. Y’know? Like, saving humans from evil mutants or whatever…
Jay: So, the first thing I want is I want Singer off the franchise.
But then there’s this exchange which didn’t come to pass.
Jay: I want to see a movie that’s about the team. I want to see a movie about the close connections that kinda got lost in the Wolverine drama in the first movie. I want to see those bonds. Y’know, if they do the Dark Phoenix Saga, I want to see that tear apart something with an incredibly strong foundation.
Miles: Right, because if you have tragedy break up a family which you’ve never really seen be a family-
Jay: They’ve got to earn it.
Miles: -it’s not as effective.
Wanted to touch on a couple things.
1) Y’all pretty much covered the rights and the wrongs with the movies.
2) In the case of Nightcrawler, not excusing how it was protracted, this version of Nightcrawler joined the X-Men way earlier. And while his killing spree is atypical, he is a (kid?) Processing his friends being hurt compared to being a much older adult being used and abused and actively wanting to atone.
3) Good on Miles for planting his foot on his opinions!
Nine years had passed since X-Men: Apocalypse. Kurt Wagner’s age isn’t pinned down there, but he’s a teenager. Even if he had been 13 years old (which seems unlikely), by Dark Phoenix he would be 21 at the youngest if he hadn’t had a birthday, yet. Charles is actually the one who points out that the X-Men aren’t kids anymore.
I haven’t seen the film – this is definitely one for which I’ll wait until I can see it on the small screen. Nor have I listened to our hosts on it yet — I’ll reserve that for when I have seen it. So apologies if this duplicates some of their discussion.
But I’m struck by the fact that this makes two tries for a film version of the Dark Phoenix story, and neither has worked. X3 has other problems, of course, and it seems that so does this.
But I wonder if TDPS is a poisoned chalice for film adaptation — something that is so iconic that everyone expects you to do it, especially because it is the Jean story, but whose success in its original comics form is tied to things that don’t translate well to a film.
Here are some possible aspects of that. (Possible, certainly not exhaustive, and all pretty much off the top of my head as they come to me.)
– TDPS was originally not really its own story, but the payoff to the Hellfire Club story. Making a film of TDPS is essentially making a film of the conclusion to a story, not a story. And as with a lot of conclusions, TDPS isn’t all that interesting in itself, but that doesn’t matter because it is a satisfying resolution to earlier parts of the story that grabbed the reader’s interest then (which was their job).
-Extension of that point: TDPS is a good example of the “soap opera” side of X-Men. It really depends on your investment in the characters over a long-running saga. The iconic moments in it: Jean destroying the planet; the different X-Men’s thoughts on the night before; Scott and Jean running out; Jean sacrificing herself — these all, especially the third two, are primarily about you caring about Jean and the others as people in a way that is hard, if not impossible, to duplicate in the more compressed format of a film. To put it another way, it’s maybe more suitable to be like Avengers: Endgame if it is going to be a film at all.
-With that in mind, TDPS depends also on previously established plot elements. Specifically, it’s a retread of the Shi’ar space opera that Claremont had done extensively earlier on. That’s important (maybe not critical, but important), because it gives the story something of the feel of a twist after the Hellfire Club stuff. Plus it helps give it a sense of cosmic and epic scale. The film does apparently incorporate aliens, but I don’t know that it’s aliens that matter: it’s star-spanning galactic empires. Judging by the trailers, the film doesn’t really go there.
– Which it can hardly be blamed for doing, because that’s not really something that would feel anything other than incongruous in the films. That’s just not the sort of thing that they’re about. It’s something of a virtue of the MCU that it’s accustomed viewers to the sort of crazy genre hybridity that superhero comics readers take in stride. But the X-films are more clearly cast as a specific type of science-fiction story that’s more restrained and grounded.
But this raises an awkward point: TDPS isn’t an “X-Men” story. Well, that’s silly. What I mean is that it’s not really about the whole “mutants as a metaphor for marginalized minorities” thing that we have come to see as the defining element of an X-story (certainly in the films). But that’s not something that was prominent in Claremont’s UXM from day 1, and TDPS is really the culmination of Claremont’s first phase as X-writer, in which the distinguishing features of the book are soap opera, soap opera, and also soap opera (plus an international cast and a fair amount of globetrotting).
Shortly after this, in Days of Future Past, Claremont makes his big turn towards reviving the political element and making it central to the X-Men. But it’s basically not at all what TDPS is about, and this renders the story quite unsuitable to feel thematically coherent with the films.
– I get why both films have included the “It’s all Charles Xavier’s fault” retcon (although my memory of X3. It’s not actually that far from the original story, because it’s the tampering with Jean’s mind by Mastermind that unleashes Dark Phoenix. Given that you’re eliminating the Hellfire Club — and you absolutely can’t lack an element like that for obvious reasons: nothing could be worse than removing one of the features of TDPS that mitigates the fact that it’s killing off a woman because she’s too powerful — adopting the Xavier retcon is the most elegant solution, because it makes things turn on a central figure.
But there is the obvious objection, that it tends to make this Xavier’s story, not Jean’s, in classic Aristotelian fashion — he’s the person who’s made the critical choice that’s driving the whole plot.
And it’s more than that. Arguably, the original TDPS works because it is the Hellfire Club’s fault. They’re offstage for the final act (TDPS), and the most responsible person, Mastermind, has paid the price for his actions. There is no-one left hanging around whom it is useful to blame. The X-Men are united in defense of Jean, and there’s no element of guilt to that. The Shi’ar are equally doing what’s right from an entirely understandable perspective. I think you might need all that to inform one’s emotional response to the death, both in order to be moved by it as a tragic necessity in an impossible dilemma, and to feel that Jean’s sacrifice is defensibly the right choice for her to make.
-Which brings us to the death. I don’t know if the new film kills Jean off. I would cautiously guess that it probably doesn’t. But even if it does, I don’t think one can underestimate the extent to which killing off a major character who had been around since the ‘60s, and writing the story so as to sell the reader that this was permanent was an enormous deal in a superhero comic book in 1980. It’s easily the main thing about the plot that makes the story so iconic, and it’s something that you can’t easily duplicate if you tell the story in a different context.
I would like to posit that a Dark Phoenix story could be told in movies much as another previously thought unfilmable thing: The Lord of the Rings. Make it explicit that all parts fit together and, while they might possibly stand on their own with certain structural changes, they are meant to be seen serially. Give crucial backstory through monologues by Shi’ar. Include flashbacks to earlier points in the lives of antagonists. Make a minor victory/defeat in the larger conflict into a bigger deal for a middle part.
But, uhm, don’t recreate the foot injuries Sean Astin and Vigo Mortenson suffered.
I think most of the doubts about LOTR’s filmability always revolved around its length, not its inherent qualities as a story.
It’s certainly true, however, that a lot of my doubts could be dealt with by making it a sequence of films. E.g. Phoenix (the Lilandra M’Kraan stuff); Hellfire; Dark Phoenix. (I’m resisting PhoeniX. I’m not sure they would.) Build affection for the characters, establish space opera as the genre in the first film — I think that could work. And I don’t know that you’d need flashbacks, and the films could be punchy 2-hour things, too. Unlike LOTR, there’s not that much actual *story* here.
I’d still wonder about whether it’s sufficiently compatible with the world that the X-films have taught people who only know the films to expect. But worth a pitch in your next meeting with a Disney executive. “Listen, Kev — can I call you Kev? What this franchise needs is change, to make it different from the Fox films. And do I have an idea for you…”
Logan seemed to fair well enough as a significant change in genre, timeline and audience demographics.
Timeline, definitely. Audience demographics, possibly — although I’d say that it was more expanding than changing. It kept the kind of person who would go to the previous X-films and added people who would be attracted by a somewhat* more self-consciously arty approach.
Genre, though, I’d quibble with. It’s very much in the same grounded SF genre. It’s particularly close to X2: X-Men United – secret government projects, etc. It just handles it with a lot of sombreness of tone and visual allusion to Westerns.
*I emphasize somewhat. I mean, it’s still basically an action movie in which the hero fights a clone of himself.
Well, Logan was an R-rated movie. The casual audience was Restricted by definition. Yet, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2 in a theater and parents brought 5 year-olds to see Yondu end up with a bigger body count than Logan’s from any of his movie appearances, except perhaps the implied kills while fighting in wars Canada didn’t even send troops to in that X-Men Origins: Wolverine opening montage.
One thing I don’t think I heard you guys mention that drove me nuts about the movie was the fact that in Apocalypse we clearly saw the phoenix force be released in the final battle, and in Dark Phoenix suddenly the phoenix force is this extraneous unrelated force completely separate of Jean and… what the hell, man?
I saw some speculation that only Apocalypse experienced the firebird imagery, but the problem with that is it ignores Jean burning the walls in her bedroom. There are a number of things which are completely disconnected from previous movies with this one. Did Peter never tell Erik that they’re related? If Erik went to the United States to be granted that island for Genosha, they were just cool with him doing a lot of property damage in 1983 (not the level of deaths Jay suggested, but there are some coastal buildings which are definitely destroyed) and 1973 before that? Psylocke never seemed to get that revenge she silently swore. Nothing ever came from that Essex Corporation tease of Mister Sinister.