Print Edition - 2019-06-15  |  On Saturday

Dark Phoenix proves the X-Men need a no-holds-barred Marvel resurrection

  • As Deadpool charges on, X-Men’s young mutants seem doomed to fail without more substance—or Wolverine’s presence.
Kathmandu

Jun 15, 2019-

Is it mere coincidence that the longest-running big-screen superhero saga has finally been brought to its knees, just as events in Hollywood have conspired to ensure that it would have been finished pretty soon anyway? With Marvel waiting in the wings to take charge of the X-Men, following Disney’s merger with 20th Century Fox, it is certainly pretty convenient for the mouse house that X-Men: Dark Phoenix’s pitiful opening US weekend (a mere $33m) ensures this current iteration of the colourful mutants has finally been fed to the Sentinels.

A sole outlier, the long-delayed, horror-themed The New Mutants, remains in the can and will probably not be seen until 2020, while Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool is likely to continue in trademark potty-mouthed form at Disney. But after 20 years, during which a dozen movies have been released, the adventure is pretty much over, and it is fair to say that the series will not be overly missed.

The best instalments (Deadpool, Logan) have taken place largely outside the main continuum, while the renewed sci-fi energy that seemed to have been pumped into the core chronicle by 2014’s cunningly crafted time travel adventure Days of Future Past has been completely lost during its two sequels. It goes without saying that the X-Men are missing the raw, brooding presence of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Quite why the opportunity was never taken to reintroduce the gnarled character in the current timeline (albeit with a new actor pulling on the adamantium claws) is open to question.

Dark Phoenix compounds all the issues the core X-Men movies have had at their worst: the surfeit of characters that means we rarely get under the skin of any of them; the failure of the story to evolve beyond its key Magneto-Professor X dichotomy; the clunky inter-superhero romances. Then it adds new ones such as ham-fisted dialogue that horribly signposts imminent plot shifts; dull alien shapeshifters that the movie barely bothers to show in their original form (the contrast with the lively Skrulls in Captain Marvel is palpable) and the death of a major character that underplays their contribution over the past four movies.

Did a sense of malaise settle over the Dark Phoenix set once it became obvious that Disney was unlikely to keep the series going in its current form? Could cast and crew simply not be bothered to keep up their energy levels, like an office workplace before Christmas break? Apart from the always-reliable Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, nobody seems to have made any effort to raise their game – though Simon Kinberg’s tepid script and by-the-numbers direction (not to mention all those reshoots) can hardly have helped.

When Matthew Vaughn semi-rebooted the saga with 2011’s passable 60s-set X-Men: First Class, the series gained an engaging Watchmen-esque period veneer that continued with the 70s-set Days of Future Past. Dark Phoenix is ostensibly set in the 90s, but there is little to indicate this, not even a Captain Marvel-style visit to Blockbuster Video. Worse still, the movie has been afflicted by what British director Danny Boyle once referred to as the “moisturiser problem”—namely that Fassbender, McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult look barely a day older than they did eight years ago, even though their characters are supposed to have aged 30 years since First Class. Presumably, in another eight years (Dark Phoenix is set in 1992, while the first X-Men film was made in 2000), McAvoy will morph into noughties Patrick Stewart, which suggests it is going to be a pretty rough decade for Charles Xavier.

At least we won’t have to watch that transformation and perhaps it’s best that Marvel will now have to start all over again, presumably after a reasonable period has passed to allow audiences to regain their interest. A Marvel producer recently told the Hollywood Reporter: “There is no rush to bring the X-Men to the marketplace after this. And when they come back, it’s going to extend Marvel’s run another 10 years.”

Can we imagine any of these versions of the X-Men, bar those such as Jackman’s Wolverine who have already been written out, having the gravitas to walk straight into the MCU? All things considered, these rather insipid and under-written mutants are probably best left trapped forever in this strange and barely recognisable version of the early 90s.

- Ben Child

—©2019 The Guardian

Published: 15-06-2019 11:17

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