We may finally have some details on X-Men: Dark Phoenix, but it's hard to not say the film looks a little bit worrying. 2018 is a red letter year for the X-Men franchise. After successfully rebuilding excitement for the long-in-the-tooth series (seventeen years, still vaguely in the same continuity) with the one-two R-rated tap of Deadpool and Logan, they're upping their output to three movies a year and look set to become the more ambitious alternative to Marvel: in February there's horror New Mutants, then balls-to-the-wall comedy Deadpool 2 in June, with it all coming to a close in November with main series entry X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
In theory, the latter should be the most exciting of the set. The other two are basically genre exercises: this is the big, central movie, featuring the classic characters who've been cinematic staples since X-Men all the way back in 2000. And it's doing an exciting story. The story, in fact. There are few arcs in comics more lauded that The Dark Phoenix Saga; when it comes to X-Men there's really only Days of Future Past for competition and that was already turned into a (very good) film. It's the story that made Jean Grey and showed the extent of the Merry Mutants concept. In fact, it's one so important that they're doing it again after fudging it in X-Men: The Last Stand (we'll get back to that).
Related: First X-Men: Dark Phoenix Images
And yet we're yet to really get anything beyond promise. So far, the entire project has been so muted, with none of the careful hype build-ups we saw for Deadpool, Logan or even New Mutants. Its title and content was kept a mystery despite the expected source and the fact producer Simon Kinberg would direct (again, we'll come back to) was barely confirmed before shooting began. And the production felt weird by modern standards, with little-to-no-celebration of its start, continuation (there were no major set visits for press) or end. It's muted in a way we haven't seen from Fox since Fantastic Four - and we all know how that turned out. That alone isn't cause for worry, of course, but it sets a mood of cautiousness.
The Marketing Has Started With A Whimper (This Page)
The Marketing Has Started With A Whimper
Now the hype machine is kicking into gear almost eleven months in advance with an EW cover story that, while giving us information, is ultimately underwhelming. If you're going to play up secrecy and then have a major reveal, you need that reveal to be a home run. This isn't that. Not that Dark Phoenix sounds bad in the write-up, it just compounds a feeling that's been brewing. We're in a superhero golden age, and yet the red bird feels like a throwback.
The main takeaways from the reveal are a reaffirmation some things we knew - this definitely is the Phoenix Saga again, the X-Men will go into space, Jessica Chastain is a villain - and a few more overt hooks: Professor X is egotistical after the X-Men become celebrities and there's a massive twist, possibly linked to the death of a key character. So we have a bunch of clarifications that are less interesting than their initial suggestion, and some very blatant hooks that feel inorganic (do we really need another prequel film where Professor X isn't himself?).
We'll get to the stuff we know later as it plays into a bigger problem, but for now let's focus on that twist. Even though it's allegedly partway through the story (so not an ending spoiler and possibly something we'll have explored in later advertising), that's the sort of thing that shouldn't be stated so far in advance; everyone involved with Star Wars: The Last Jedi has tried to play down the nature of a reveal of Rey's parentage, yet here's Dark Phoenix confirming a "franchise-changing" one over a year in advance. Obviously it's only been stated to drum up hype, but in reality all that really is guarantee someone will guess it and everyone will be inevitably disappointed. It feels artificial, done to get people excited for this current film by what it could mean for the future; a tactic that far too many wannabe shared universes have fumbled.
Add to that the images are either anticlimactic (the CGI in the space moment leaves a lot to be desired) or again teasing something they shouldn't (we have the X-Men at a funeral, signaling a death for presumably a one-shot minor character) and you can feel the PR strings. But marketing does not a movie make. Although, when it's superheroes, a good source should.
- New Mutants (2020) release date: Apr 03, 2020
- Deadpool 2 (2018) release date: May 18, 2018
- X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) release date: Jun 07, 2019
- Gambit (2020) release date: Mar 13, 2020