This year has been an interesting one for Fox’s X-Men films. Deadpool 2, The New Mutants and Dark Phoenix were all set to release this year before things happened and now only the Merc with a Mouth will show up in 2018 (twice actually). The Disney-Fox deal has loomed large and there have been a lot of questions about the future of our favorite mutants. This past week, we finally got some clues about what that future might look like, at least as far as Fox sees things absent a finalized Disney deal. We learned more about Dark Phoenix and got the first poster and trailer for the film and we also got some insight about the long in-development Gambit movie. Yet, rather than renewing our enthusiasm about Fox’s X-Men films, this latest news just makes me more ready than ever for the MCU to work its magic with the mutants.
Despite some truly great superhero movies, including X2, X-Men: First Class and Logan, 20th Century Fox’s X-Men movies haven’t all been successes, and fans have been particularly harsh towards a few of them. Perhaps the one that receives the most flack, and arguably the worst offender as far as the disparity between hopes and reality, is 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. That film dropped the ball in its adaptation of the Dark Phoenix Saga, which is not only one of the most iconic X-Men arcs, but one of the most iconic stories in all of comics full-stop.
Which brings us to Dark Phoenix. Thanks to the timeline shenanigans of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the upcoming film represents a mulligan, a rare opportunity at a do-over to get things right and do the story justice. Which is what makes the Dark Phoenix trailer all the more heartbreaking. The Dark Phoenix trailer certainly teased an emotionally intense film, but you know what it didn’t do? It didn’t show us that this would be the Dark Phoenix Saga movie we’ve been waiting for, and worse yet, it looked far too familiar to X-Men: The Last Stand.
CinemaBlend’s own Matt Wood made a list of the 6 things we wanted to see in the first trailer for Dark Phoenix, and let’s just say that the trailer didn’t get a passing grade by that metric. This is just the first trailer, but there was barely any space stuff and no Shi’ar. Even if Jessica Chastain’s character is an amalgamation of Lilandra and another character, it just seems unlikely at this point that the integral cosmic elements of the classic story will be in this movie, at least not in the way X-Men fans want them to be. Dark Phoenix just looks like another instance of Jean Grey having a repressed (or alien) personality inside of her that Xavier does questionable things to contain.
Right now this movie just feels small. That could be merely the marketing and maybe this movie will be truly cosmic like the comics, but that’s not what it’s being sold as to audiences. Well, not yet anyway, and that’s a problem. This is all before we even get into the fact that we were just introduced to this new Jean Grey in X-Men: Apocalypse. This film is putting Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey at the center of the story and asking the audience to invest in her when we just met her. That’s why the Dark Phoenix Saga is something that you build to over time, so that Jean is a tenured and beloved member of the team before the tragic arc.
The Dark Phoenix Saga could have been a massive two-film event on the scale of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4, split between Phoenix and Dark Phoenix, and I have to think if the MCU had the X-Men, it would be. Instead, it looks like we are getting another watered-down, pale imitation of that iconic tale that looks to be doing the same thing as X-Men: The Last Stand did and failed at. Maybe the film getting delayed again will change what it is and my opinion of it, but this many delays and what I’ve seen so far do not inspire confidence.
If that all wasn’t disappointing enough, there’s Gambit. This movie may never see the light of day considering that the Disney-Fox deal should go through sometime next year, but just to remind us why it shouldn’t, Simon Kinberg updated the fans about this perpetually delayed project. Talking about the film, the Dark Phoenix director said that Gambit being a hustler and womanizer lends itself to the film having a romantic/sex comedy vibe. Now, there is nothing wrong with romantic comedies, and Gambit’s flirtation with the ladies is definitely a hallmark of the character. Also, it’s not like I think they want to make How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. It’s just that while Gambit should be a ladies man and a lothario in the movie, it should not have the tone of a romantic comedy. I think that puts too much weight on that one aspect of the character’s personality and reeks of trying to make Gambit just like the first Deadpool.
Now to be fair, there is no guarantee that any of the problems I have with the direction of Fox’s X-Verse will be fixed under the Marvel Studios banner. The Marvel Cinematic Universe films don’t do panel for panel adaptations, so even an MCU Phoenix Saga wouldn’t be exact. What the MCU does do, though, is maintain the spirit of a storyline and the characters. You didn’t hear a lot of complaints that Captain America: Civil War wasn’t the same Civil War as in the comics. We may not have gotten a pure Planet Hulk movie, but did we see Hulk throw down in a gladiator ring? You’re damn right we did. I’m also pretty confident that Marvel would have made Apocalypse look like Apocalypse and not Ivan Ooze. Marvel simply gets these characters and what makes people love them, and isn’t afraid to trust the audience.
I could be wrong. Dark Phoenix could live up to the source material and be an epic that ranks among the best superhero movies ever. The X-Men in the MCU could be a total bust. But there’s a reason that comic book movie fans are so excited about the Disney-Fox deal, and it’s not just about seeing Wolverine in the Avengers. It’s about seeing the X-Men and their stories done right. Fans wouldn’t feel that way unless they felt that wasn’t the case presently. Marvel has earned the audience’s trust so completely that it’s not even a question of whether the MCU could deliver on the X-Men.
We’ve already seen what magic Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios can do with Spider-Man and how easily they fixed what another studio was screwing up. This latest X-Men news is just further reason to be excited for them to do the same with the X-Men. 20th Century Fox ushered in the superhero movie age with 2000’s X-Men, gave us the big screen Wolverine for all time and proved the box office potential of an R-rated superhero. That can never be erased, but it is clear now that it is time for the X-Men to come home and the MCU to work its magic.