Dark Phoenix

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The Twentieth Century Fox X-Men franchise has come to a close after almost twenty years. It isn’t the kind of conclusion one would expect. It’s not so much a matter of narrative or character conclusion as it is the result of circumstance; if Disney hadn’t acquired Fox then this franchise may have survived. Regardless, Simon Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix (2019) is Fox’s last word on the greatest superhero team of all time.

But why does this matter? Well, it goes without saying that to a certain degree a generation of film goers came of age with this franchise and has formed a close emotional bond with the world of X-Men and its characters. More importantly, however, the X-Men films have consistently exhibited a cinematic sophistication and maturity that has been absent in Disney/Marvel’s films, Warner Bros./DC Comics films, and Columbia’s Spider-man and Fantastic Four pictures.

If one were to compare the best X-Men films (X-Men, X-2: X-Men United, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, and Logan) with the best Disney/Marvel Studios films you’d be immediately struck by a few rather important details. Firstly, that the X-Men films take the time to bring some resemblance of dimension to the relationships between its characters; nurturing our investment in the ensemble. Secondly, the X-Men films, at their best, contain a commentary of one kind or another on the importance of tolerance and the ways that our society struggles to be more inclusive. Thirdly, the women characters in the X-Men films have always been more than “eye candy” or the result of a half hearted attempt by a studio at political correctness (how many lines and how much does Scarlett Johansson actually get to do in any of the Avengers films?). And, lastly, the X-Men films (specifically Deadpool, Days Of Future Past, and Logan) take a lot of risks to push the boundaries of audience expectations regarding the genre.

And though the Disney/Marvel Studios films gross more, what do their films have to offer audiences that the X-Men films do not? Firstly, they offer a kind of characterization that relies almost exclusively upon the actor as celebrity persona (or signifier) to grab audience sympathy. Secondly, these films avoid at all costs any and all social and political commentary of any importance (why give Wakandan technology and support to a neighborhood in San Francisco before aiding ANY other country in Africa?). Thirdly, the Disney/Marvel films didn’t have a strong female protagonist until 2019 (X-men, released in 2000, and X-Men: First Class, released in 2011, both feature strong female leads). Lastly, the Disney/Marvel films conform to the same basic rubric every time without any variation.

Clearly the real loss is that the options for even semi-intelligent blockbusters have just shrunk some more.