The X-Men stand as a dominant structure in the original foundation of MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Beginning with the first X-Men comic book in 1963, created by the legendary writer Stan Lee, the modified mutant beings have evolved from artistic drawings to the films and television shows known today. With the help of Hollywood’s highly sought after and praised actors and actresses including Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, and Patrick Stewart, the X-Men movie adaptations have been mostly successful. The MCU is hoping to continue that success by giving the nearly two-decade span of mutant movies a much-needed modernized twist with its first female lead in Dark Phoenix, starring Sophie Turner.
However, there is some doubt about moving forward. In the last few years, both critics and fans began to lose interest in the mutant squad members as television shows and films missed the mark on plot developments and character/villain portrayals. The X-Men movies still drew out loyal crowds but seldom left a memorable impression the way Marvel’s other recent films, such as Black Panther, have.
After the disappointing 2006 release of X-Men: The Last Stand — which many credited to the absence of the usual director, Bryan Singer, having been replaced by Brett Ratner — the next release, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, seemed like a smart move to regain the audience’s enthusiasm and get the X-Men back on track. But the Wolverine solo-film has become one of the worst received films of the X-Men franchise. Viewers expressed disappointment in the messy plot and one critic wrote, “…there’s nothing quite memorable here: much of the combat is just a whirl of movement photographed up close. As the X-Men series has progressed, the startling poetic extravagances of the first film have given way to flesh-pounding clumsiness.”
As Marvel’s mutants yo-yo’ed among high and low reception, here are 3 things Dark Phoenix, a film with ample potential, must avoid to put the X-Men back on top.
REWRITE OF MYSTIQUE’S ROGUE PLOT
In the Dark Phoenix trailer, a young Jean Grey (Turner) arrives at the X-Mansion after the death of her parents, revealing a troubled past and setting the stage for a character-driven plot. As he did with Raven aka Mystique (Raven), shown in Days of Future Past, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) consoles the misunderstood and skeptic mutant telling her “you are not broken.”
After he promises Jean that mutations are nothing to be afraid of, Professor Charles teaches her how to control her developing powers. Charles’ approach, which Jean sees as an attempt to “fix” who she is despite his original acceptance of mutants, molds an emotional core within the leading conflict of the film. In the trailer, the professor is heard saying, “The mind is a fragile thing. Takes the slightest tap to send it in the wrong direction.” A mind sent in the wrong direction, sound familiar?
In Days of Future Past, Mystique (Lawrence) has a lonely childhood where she must fend for herself, bringing her to Charles’ home in search of food. Charles befriends the blue shape-shifter but as she gets older, Raven sets out on a rogue path (misled by Magneto [Michael Fassbender]), believing mutants were meant to be seen and even feared by humans. Professor X uses his psionic power to try to warn Raven about the grave she is digging for all of mutant-kind, leading to further resentment and chaos.
Given that Days of Future Past is one of the most praised X-Men films to date, this sort of hero possibly turned villain plot could be successful. But if it is too reminiscent of Raven’s rash plan that made audience members question her identity as a hero, Dark Phoenix will manifest as a non-creative sense of déjà vu.
‘THE LAST STAND’ REBOOT
Like the way the Dark Phoenix trailer seemed to be borrowing character developments and complexities from Mystique, it also appears to have similarities to the plot of The Last Stand. Both fans and critics have drawn several parallels between the upcoming film and the 2006 story of division due to the contradicting beliefs, tolerance vs. survival of the fittest.
Admittedly, the new trailer for the Phoenix solo film seems to follow the same plot formula of The Last Stand with Jean Grey losing control of her powers, destruction and loss that prompts Professor X to use his superhuman mind powers in efforts to restore order, a fierce action scene, followed by a dramatic disagreement between Professor X and Magneto about how to address the issue at hand— ultimately leading to a split in the X-Men. While Dark Phoenix seems to have adopted a far more eerie story arc than that of its predecessors, it will take a lot more than dimming the hues on screen and a few acts of stepping outside of the teaching from the X-Mansion to make the film stand on its own.
THE UNDEFEATABLE DEFEATED TOO EASILY
A common occurrence in Marvel films, including the X-Men franchise that can make the films feel flat, is a rushed ending. Most of the time, this stems from the dramatic build-up that makes a positive outcome feel out of reach and yet subsequently, quickly attained. This winds up audience members in a whirlwind trying to place how victory was reached. Now, it is understood that these are superheroes and heroes most often win. However, the win needs to be earned, like an epic defeat that changes things forever (consider the failed attempts to overcome the antagonist and high stakes in Infinity War and Endgame).
In Dark Phoenix, Jean Grey is struck and nearly killed by a powerful cosmic force during an outer space rescue mission. Grey’s powers are not only heightened in strength after the collision but also far more unstable. The film’s villain, played by Jessica Chastain, attempts to counsel Grey in hopes to use the Dark Phoenix’s powers for her own gain. While most of the details about Chastain’s character are unknown, her knowledge of cosmic power looks to be a game changer for X-Men villains and creates another misguided path that Professor Xavier will have to try to steer a spiraling Grey away from.
Defeating one of their own gone haywire means the X-Men are expected to do something audience members have never seen before. Here’s to hoping the defeat of the Dark Phoenix, doing the seemingly impossible, is achieved in a groundbreaking and action-packed scene. An epic mutant face-off could be the ultimate revamp the X-Men franchise needs to re-stabilize its reputation and reception with fans.
Dark Phoenix will be released in theatres June 7.