Rage Against: X-Men – Dark Phoenix (2019)

Dark Phoenix is not quite the coda to the X-Men franchise that you might have expected going in.

For quite some time now, general feeling among a large swathe of the movie going audience invested in comic book cinema has been the belief that Dark Phoenix would be a significant let down. Despite the critical successes, even taking into account their flaws, of X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse was a strong case of diminishing returns (critically and financially as it turns out) which took a lot of air out of the X-Men balloon when it came to enthusiasm for the next generation of the franchise – having established new versions of Jean Grey, Cyclops, Storm etc… to help presumably carry the X-Men saga into a new era. With Bryan Singer no longer involved in the production due to the allegations against him, and long-term writer Simon Kinberg making his directorial debut, plus the usual report of reshoots of the final act and the film’s release being pushed back over half a year, the omens for Dark Phoenix outdoing Apocalypse and providing a satisfying end to this iteration of the saga were low. Perhaps the biggest surprise about Dark Phoenix, in which case, is that it *is* a better film than Apocalypse and just about accomplishes what it sets out to do.

Let me state this clearly for the record: Dark Phoenix is not a great X-Men film, or comic-book movie in general. When up against the heights of the medium, be it the Marvel Cinematic Universe at its peak or The Dark Knight trilogy, Dark Phoenix cannot compete. It is at times noisy. It can be unintentionally funny in how overwrought the central story finds itself. It suffers from some of the worst villains in the entirety of comic book cinema. It ignores elements of its own continuity and numerous character arcs for expediency. Plus it lacks a great deal of depth when it comes to the underpinnings geopolitical and social aspects that made the X-Men films more than just effects-driven spectacles. It focuses so tightly on one character journey in particular that much of the saga’s entertaining subtext is rejected. Yet despite all of this, it is not incoherent. It is a better adaptation of ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’, the 1980 comic story from Chris Claremont and John Byrne, than X-Men: The Last Stand gave us. It does manage to give key characters Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, as well as Jean Grey of course, dramatic through-lines which tether to the core narrative in a satisfying way.

And, perhaps as best it could, Dark Phoenix gives a level of closure to the X-Men franchise that we can probably live with.

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Love, Simon (2018)

What you make of Love, Simon, and undoubtedly what you take from it, could well depend on your identified sexuality. It shouldn’t, but it doesn’t quite feel we’re at the point yet where gender fluidity and honesty about our sexual preferences is not important. Greg Berlanti’s film, in fact, is all about the fact it still matters.

Love, Simon has been intentionally, specifically crafted to evoke movies and decades past. Adapted from the novel ‘Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli, Berlanti’s film wears its inspirations on its sleeve – principally John Hughes, maestro of the 1980’s teen angst comedy, who managed to fuse the colour and vibrancy of that decade with the love-lorn sense of existential trauma about what it means to be young and trying to figure out who you are in that world. The 80’s and 90’s seemed perfectly placed for those kinds of pictures, whether The Breakfast Club or St. Elmo’s Fire, even Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (even if that’s built around more of a narrative gambit), through to films such as Empire Records or the early American Pie films. They may differ in style and tone but all share that same common element of DNA: teenagers figuring out where they fit in.

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