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From the Vault: I Wish X-Men Was More Popular

I Hope They Remember You

WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS FOR ALL MOVIES IN THE FOX X-MEN FRANCHISE, most recently including DARK PHOENIX. If you prefer not to read, turn away now.

Remember when comic book movies were God awful? Shall I remind us of Daredevil (2003), Catwoman (2004), or Fantastic Four (2005)? Shall I take it a step further and remind us of Elektra (2005), Ghostrider (2007), and my personal pick for the undisputed worst one I have ever witnessed in my lifetime…Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003)? Despite the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in the 2010’s, we can’t deny that the medium as a whole has suffered its “dark ages”. However, even in that range, there were gems that critics, fans, and audiences paid good money to see multiple times. I’m talking about Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005), and when we have the conversation of early-mid 2000s comic book movies that paved the road, we absolutely have to include Fox’s X-Men Franchise.

It began in the year 2000. Y2K was proven wrong, America dealt with a controversial General Election which was eventually ruled in favor of the GOP (some things never change, huh?), Tiger Woods was still a relevant athlete, Eminem released “The Marshall Mathers LP” (which many listened to via Napster), Friends was still on the air…and Bryan Singer (big oof in 2019, I know) just directed X-Men.

The X-Men are known for being an ensemble, but they are typically led by Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto), portrayed by Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen respectively. Audiences were also introduced to Halle Berry’s Storm, Anna Paquin’s Rogue, and Hugh Jackman’s iconic Wolverine. The first movie received generally positive reviews, was followed by the critically acclaimed X2 (2003), and the infamously bad X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). Seeing as how the movies were indeed making money, and since Fox had the rights to the characters (a simpler time), going beyond the trilogy seemed to make the most sense. Unfortunately, this led to X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), a “laughably bad movie” river that critics on the internet ran dry within weeks of its release. I actually also got a chance to review the movie and pitch my idea for it on The Doctor Script Podcast, which you can find here.

I would definitely not be surprised if you read that last paragraph and forgot about the existence of half of those movies. This is mostly because the “modern” X-Men franchise took off after the original trilogy and Wolverine spin-off, when Matthew Vaughn directed the phenomenal X-Men: First Class (2011). The younger versions of Professor X and Magneto, masterfully portrayed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectively, kicked off more movies that eventually brought us to where we are today, the end of an era with Dark Phoenix absolutely bombing at the box office. As a fan of the franchise I saw the movie myself, and while I can’t say it was good, I don’t think it was unwatchable or terrible. I honestly just think the general audience forgot about or got bored of the X-Men. It’s pretty plain to see that the franchise wasn’t meticulously planned out like an MCU situation, and while there’s some semblance of a canon, audiences often find themselves having to overlook things and watch some of the later movies in a vacuum especially after the wildly successful branching-off of Logan and Deadpool.

Despite all of this, there was one part of Dark Phoenix that I noticed and actually wanted to explore, and that is what inspired this post. In a world where humanity was originally frightened and hostile towards mutants, Professor X has created a team that has become popular with the general public through acts of service, he even has a direct line to the White House that the President uses for emergencies. Raven, however, comments that a lot of this relationship for the mutants is giving and not getting anything in return, except for Xavier’s countless awards and accolades. Xavier retorts that this is the only way mutants will be accepted into society, and that messing with this relationship even once will result in mutants becoming public enemy number one again. Meanwhile, Magneto is far away in a government-approved shelter providing a home for lost mutants who would rather live isolationist lives.

In 2019’s political climate, where the treatment of minorities seems to be a constant talking point for elected officials, this aspect of the X-Men is absolutely perfect to explore. In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Marvel Comics architect Stan Lee used his medium of comic books to try and make a difference. He created the world of Wakanda, which almost everyone is familiar with today. “Those stories have room for everyone, regardless of their race, gender, religion, or color of their skin,” Lee said in this video published by Marvel in 2017. “The only things we don’t have room for are hatred, intolerance, and bigotry.” It is entirely true that the world of the X-Men was created to serve as a subtle nod to the struggles of minorities and to explain those struggles in the comic book medium (subtle in the sense that they replaced “minorities” with “mutants”).

We are unfortunately living in somewhat of a resurgence for outwardly bigoted behavior towards minorities. This includes unfair over-incarceration, outright murder by law enforcement, family separation laws, and attempts at banning entire countries from entering a nation that was built by immigrants (many of whom didn’t even come here by choice)…so literally everything Prince N’Jobu and Erik Killmonger were furious with in Black Panther. Make no mistake, my personal favorite and arguably most interesting part of any X-Men story is exploring this dynamic: The Government’s fear-mongering of mutants for political agendas, the mutant community’s inner-conflict on how to deal with their oppression, and the different methodology on how to achieve the same goal demonstrated by Professor X and Magneto.

Rumors are constantly spread about how Professor X was based on Martin Luther King Jr, making Magneto based on Malcolm X. While this has never been outright confirmed, the basic concept rings true. Professor X wants to work with humans and show that mutants have a lot to contribute to society. Magneto views this as being a glorified janitor for humanity’s screw-ups, and he doesn’t share the same hope that his counterpart does. This dynamic has a lot to say about the minority experience, and it is also a look into how modern day activists go about enacting social justice. Essentially, this single theme would enable a creator to bring audiences a movie that not only portrays the nuance of how minorities of various backgrounds feel (Professor X grew up quite privileged, whereas Magneto was a Holocaust survivor), but can also serve as an analysis of our modern protest culture and the political correctness movement itself.

Many are already aware that Fox no longer has the rights to these characters, as they have been bought by Disney to now fall under the MCU umbrella. While Marvel Studios has stated that fans will have to wait a while to see the X-Men on the big screen again, and while the purchase of Fox’s assets by Disney have caused a lot of unrest in the industry, I have high hopes that the same studio that brought us Black Panther and Captain Marvel can focus on this powerful dynamic between Charles and Erik. I will always fondly remember Stewart/McAvoy and McKellen/Fassbender as these characters, and I implore anyone reading this to take some time and do the same.

Of course, Marvel/Disney could always just choose to give us more of the Phoenix Force, more of Wolverine’s personal conflict, and more dick jokes with Deadpool. Or they could choose to use these characters to give us something real, thought provoking, and culturally relevant. One can only hope they give us the latter.

Recommended Viewing:

  1. X-Men: The Animated Series*
  2. X-Men: First Class
  3. X2
  4. X-Men: Evolution*
  5. X-Men: Days of Future Past

*Television series, available for purchase on Amazon Prime Video and iTunes.

From the Vault: Endgame & Game of Thrones-Using One to Explain Where the Other Went Wrong

Perfectly Balanced in the Worst Way Possible

WARNING – THIS POST CONTAINS HUGE SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: ENDGAME & THE THIRD EPISODE OF THE EIGHTH SEASON OF GAME OF THRONES. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED, PLEASE DO NOT CONTINUE READING WITHOUT HAVING SEEN THE ONE(S) YOU CARE ABOUT.

This weekend was always meant to be an anticipated and emotional one for nerds and fans of pop culture in general. On the silver screen, an unprecedented narrative across 22 films and 11 years was coming to an end. On television, viewers (including those who have waited since 2011) were finally going to see a built-up threat shrouded in mystery and mysticism become a tangible adversary for humanity. No one could deny the hype behind both Avengers: Endgame and The Long Night.

Despite being wildly different fictional universes that require different suspensions of disbelief, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and Game of Thrones (GoT) have more common ground than one would think. The obvious one being that both are based on source material from books. While Marvel Comics was founded in 1961, A Song of Ice and Fire’s first book, A Game of Thrones, was published in 1996.

The constant retcons in comics and the nature of comic writing as opposed to fantasy novel writing allowed the MCU some freedom to bring the story into a modern and more streamlined setting. They didn’t have to follow the source material page-for-page. They simply had to do the characters right and pay homage where it is due. As long as you’re doing that and still telling a good story and sticking to your theme, it’s completely okay to put a scene where an overweight Thor yells at some gen-Z degenerate who is bullying Korg on Fortnite. It makes more sense than what happened in The Long Night, at least.

Fantasy novels are different, especially when you’re trying to finish an uncompleted book series on television. You don’t have to include every single minute detail that an author will take the time to do, but you still have to commit to the main beats of the story and the theme. That’s where the issue with The Long Night lies.

A Song of Ice and Fire is fundamentally a story about how war, petty political squabbles amongst noble houses, and monarchs who put their needs above the realm ultimately plunge said realm into an endless cycle of chaos and innocent lives being taken. The final test is a supernatural threat that gives humanity a choice between unity and death. If you recall the first few pages/episodes of the story in a specific chapter/scene from Daenerys Targaryen’s point of view:

“‘The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends,’ Ser Jorah told her. ‘It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace.’ He gave a shrug. ‘They never are.’”
– George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones (1996), Daenerys (III)

For my Parks & Recreation fans out there, also recall when Ser Ben Lighstorm Ben Wyatt was being the lovable nerd he is, and responded to being teased about his love of GoT by saying “It’s about telling real life stories in a fantasy setting”. As funny as that moment was, he was spot on.

GRRM’s story has often been proclaimed as an allegory for our real-life socio-political environment. While ours has gotten insane as of late, which allows people to often force metaphors that were not originally intended (i.e. Trump = Joffrey), GRRM absolutely meant the threat of the White Walkers to be an allegory for climate change and has confirmed this. Surprise, environmental issues aren’t a new concern, we’re just dealing with it very poorly. Hell, President Jimmy Carter was haunted by the energy crisis much like Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was haunted by the Long Night, both trying to lay some groundwork so that future leaders can lead the fight (History and ASOIAF buffs can nitpick that, but I hope that made sense as a very general metaphor).

The point being, there is a supernatural threat that can’t be beaten by humanity being divided and by conventional means. On top of that, you better believe that the threat does not discriminate the way we do…it’s coming for all of us.

So what’s the point then? Look, when I digest fiction I look for three main things: storytelling, themes, and characters. Despite my nitpicks in Avengers: Endgame, after this weekend it became clear to me that the minds behind the MCU cared about those things and meticulously planned out everything they could. The minds behind GoT absolutely did not care.

The MCU also chose to go this route of storytelling due to what they did with Thanos. Tony Stark developed a severe anxiety disorder and PTSD after the Battle of New York. The main reason? He saw what was coming. He went into the wormhole to stop a nuke from hitting NY, he defeated the Chitauri and realized immediately that this wasn’t the end. Due to his fears of “we’re too late” and “what are we supposed to do about that?”, he created Ultron which ended up being an issue for the Avengers in and of itself. We see our heroes make mistakes all throughout the saga (there are so many characters, so let’s just focus on the two pivotal ones): Steve Rogers and Tony Stark broke apart the Avengers and they were spread too thin when Thanos himself arrived. The Russo brothers themselves have confirmed that the main reason the Avengers lost in Infinity War was because they were divided after Civil War. We saw a petty political squabble break apart our chances. We saw Tony jumping the gun without properly explaining himself. We saw Steve not thinking big enough to foresee the threat. Most importantly? We saw the Avengers lose.

In Endgame, they got a second chance (friendly reminder that in real life, we don’t get quantum realm shenanigans to go back in time and fix our mistakes). Not only did our heroes use this second chance, but they all overcame what was bigger than themselves. Tony Stark, a man who was criticized as only fighting for himself, truly thought about all of humanity and sacrificed his life to save billions. Steve Rogers, a man who was criticized as a self-righteous prick who forces fights because he can’t live without war, let go of his “soldier” persona and embraced simply being a good man. They let go of their personal baggage, stopped fighting each other, and succeeded against a world-ending threat in Thanos.

So why the long face when talking about The Long Night? To reiterate, A Song of Ice and Fire is fundamentally a story about how war, petty political squabbles amongst noble houses, and monarchs who put their needs above the realm ultimately plunge said realm into an endless cycle of chaos and innocent lives being taken. The final test is a supernatural threat that gives humanity a choice between unity and death…

…Except that supernatural threat now feels like a minor inconvenience, the people who put their needs above the realm are now in the right, and we’re back to war and petty political squabbles that are going to take more innocent lives. It’s an objectively terrible way to end the story.

With the Night King defeated in one episode, now we are left with Cersei Lannister and Euron Greyjoy being the biggest threats to the realm. Cersei’s incredibly selfish and stupid plan of denying the long night, waiting until the rest of the world dealt with it, and then plunging the realm into war again seems all but certain. Where is the breaking of the wheel? Where is the great supernatural threat of the White Walkers? What was the point of Jon Snow and Bran Stark’s arcs? What was the point of the Children of the Forest? So Old Nan really WAS just full of it, huh?

It’s almost insulting from a narrative standpoint. In the world the show-runners have created, the Long Night will go down in history as another “fairy tale the Northerners made up”, grumpkins and snarks as it was once said by Tyrion Lannister. This feels like the only people who won were the ones denying the threat. It serves as validation for people that put their inane drama over a united and cooperative human race. Not only is that not what GRRM presumably intended, but that also isn’t a world that I—and many people who are much better human beings than I—want to live in.

I’m no film student, and I’m no writer, but I don’t like to complain without providing solutions. A part of me genuinely thinks that this season would have been better if this episode was an incredibly tough battle where the living came out on top by being better tacticians (i.e. flanking with the Dothraki, Jon Snow using Ghost to scope the landscape just like Robb Stark used to do with Grey Wind, actually making use of a famously tough castle to breach, etc). You can still have fan-service moments like Arya Stark solo killing a Walker, Jon Snow running at a horde of wights with Ghost beside him and Rhaegal above him, Theon Greyjoy going out in a blaze of glory, and Lyanna Mormont defeating a giant. The end would be Bran Stark, who has warged into his ravens, realizing that the Night King totally skipped over Winterfell and went straight for King’s Landing. The ones who denied the threat are now suffering it, and the army of the living has to make one last stand despite their numbers being heavily depleted. That finale is where you would have your prophecies pay off, aka Valonqar and Azor Ahai, because this is still a fantasy story and the books deserve that homage.

One can only hope that the books handle everything a lot better (or, you know, ever even finish). As for the show’s message? Suffer more, common folk. The lords and ladies will continue to play the game of thrones and get us all killed, even after being threatened by an eternal winter.

I suppose Jon Snow isn’t the only one who knows nothing.

From the Vault: So Low-A Box Office Story

I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This

Let’s wind our clocks back to December 17th, 2015. This was the day that I, and fans everywhere, would finally see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which would soon become the highest grossing domestic film of all time (not adjusted for inflation). As of this piece being written, the top 10 in that list also includes Star Wars: The Last Jedi at #8, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at #10. All three of these films were distributed by Disney after their acquisition of Lucasfilm and its assets in 2012. It was safe to say that, at least in terms of revenue and popularity, all was well.

So what the hell could’ve possibly happened for it to end up like this?:

Capture

If you haven’t heard by now, Solo: A Star Wars Story was a huge box-office bomb. Even if you want to say that the movie has barely been out for a month, Look at those opening weekend numbers! It performed so poorly that Disney and Lucasfilm have, allegedly, put all other anthology films on hold. This includes, most notably: the slated Boba Fett film (set to be directed by James Mangold who helmed Logan, a fantastic film which I’ve reviewed here), and the highly anticipated (depending on the involvement of Ewan McGregor) Kenobi film.

I will repeat the question: What the hell happened?

Many have tried to answer it with some of the lazy criticisms you would expect: about the actor playing Han, about the directors quitting, about how “they’re doing it like Marvel”, etc….but it can’t be that simple. You mean to tell me even with Donald Glover and Emilia Clarke doing TONS of press beforehand, after post-red carpet reviews seemed vaguely positive, and after the Tomato-meter never went rotten, that a STAR WARS MOVIE would open this badly on Memorial Day Weekend? Before continuing, I’d like to take this time to briefly summarize my thoughts on the movie.

It was very okay. I think it was fun, had cool elements, and nothing stood out as glaringly negative, but it held no importance. I KNOW this story because I’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back more times than I can count. We know Han was a smuggler, we know how Han meets Lando, we know he is the way he is because he was betrayed, we know he won the Millennium Falcon from Lando in a game of sabacc. Any of the extra stuff (i.e. how Han got his dice or his blaster)…I didn’t really need. If I DIDN’T use my moviepass and actually paid full price for a ticket, I would’ve had some buyer’s remorse. I think if this movie was instead released as animation or a book, it would’ve been more appropriate, had more room to expand, and maybe even more praised.

Regardless of how I feel, this is still a Star Wars movie and those numbers are preposterous. So, once again, what the hell happened? We can look at this from a few angles:

THE LACK OF A TARGET AUDIENCE

When discussing Star Wars in any capacity, I believe it is fundamental to acknowledge the generational aspect of the franchise. By that, I mean the idea of “what was YOUR Star Wars“, a concept often used in discussing the 007 franchise or various Batman actors. Presumably: The Original Trilogy (OT) was first enjoyed by younger Boomers and mostly Gen-Xers, The Prequel Trilogy (PT) was prominent when Millennials like myself were growing up, and the Sequel Trilogy (ST) has found their solid fan base in Gen-Z.  It also should be noted that everyone eventually becomes very familiar with the OT, as it objectively contains the quintessential installments of the franchise. Millennials went to Blockbuster (RIP) to rent the older films on VHS (also RIP). Gen-Zers have their Gen-X parents showing them the OT to catch them up, as the ST contains the 3 main characters from the OT anyway.

Rogue One had the appeal to all fans: it promised that we would see a major point in the Rebellion’s effort that wasn’t expanded on yet. We know the Rebellion got the Death Star plans, but we had so many questions. What was the war like before that? Where was most of the fighting taking place? Why was there such a convenient hole in the Empire’s space station? Who stole the plans? Rogue One answered all of these questions and more, and since the characters didn’t have as much depth as the ones in the saga films, we could focus more on the conflict at hand and connect it to the OT easily.

A Kenobi film with Ewan McGregor would bring out the Millennial audience in full force. It could also bring out the other crowds because whatever Obi-Wan was doing between the PT and OT isn’t common knowledge (it is briefly touched on in the Star Wars Rebels animated show).

Similarly, the OT crowd will live and die as Boba Fett fans. When you ask me, the dude had roughly five lines and fell into the Sarlacc pit like an idiot. He could’ve been replaced by a talking flying bantha for all I care. However, a Boba Fett film still appeals to various markets because the OT crowd will be nostalgic and the PT/ST crowd will see something new.

So who was Solo meant for? They alienated the OT crowd who wont accept anyone but Harrison Ford as the character, the PT crowd doesn’t feel much nostalgia towards Han, and the ST crowd knows Han as old, defeated, and more of a plot device than a main character. On top of all of that, they made a movie that all three crowds already know the main events of. It only adds irony to the fact that Han’s son is now famous for his “Let the past die” line.

MISLEADING MARKETING

This disappointed me like crazy, and I know it all too well (remember when we thought Joker was going to be the primary antagonist of Suicide Squad?). The public was meant to believe that this movie was going to center on Han, Qi’ra, and Lando, with a lot of screen time for Chewbacca. Instead, it was more about Han and Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), and the others just felt like part of the larger setting for Han to be himself and be “mentored” by Tobias.

Word eventually got out that Glover and Emilia weren’t that prominent in the film, most likely Because of The Internet. The problem with that is that they were the “aces” the project had. I myself went on opening weekend almost entirely out of support for Glover, and when Lando had one cool scene, about 7 other lines of dialogue, and ends up being the biggest loser in the end, it pissed me off.

Qi’ra was just reduced to “Han’s girl”, despite being a new character with more backstory than Lando, Chewbacca, or Tobias. However all of this resulted in a few moments where the audience is forced to connect extremely vague dots, and the last time we see her on screen just ends up more confusing than anything. I suppose they weren’t in it for your character development, Princess Khaleesi.

BACKLASH AND FATIGUE 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since December 2017, you probably know that The Last Jedi was an extremely divisive movie. I’m not going to get into it because it isn’t even fun to talk about anymore, and fans have gotten toxic to the point of negatively impacting those who worked on the film (a topic further discussed in this episode of the “Overrated” Podcast).

The point here to be noted is that the ST films were slated for the Decembers of 2015, 2017, and 2019, giving fans ample time to digest each one and properly anticipate another. While the MCU releases films only months apart, it changes its setting, characters, and conflicts with every movie and simply connects them to each other, Star Wars has always been more of a “previously in our story…” type of deal. Many fans were opposed to the idea of anthology films such as Rogue One in the first place.

Regardless, Rogue One came out in December 2016, a year after The Force Awakens and a year before The Last Jedi. Solo came out in May 2018, and the fans are STILL processing The Last Jedi. I don’t understand why anyone thought it was a good idea to release Solo at that time, especially with trouble behind the scenes, and the clash against both Infinity War and Deadpool 2. Delaying Solo until December 2018 would’ve made perfect sense to me.

A MISSING SENSE OF WONDER

For most people, Star Wars has always been about the characters, the idea of the Force, the larger conflict, and the vastness of the Galaxy. Han himself barely got any development throughout this film, I can’t even exactly point to what he learned or if there was a major change in personality. So when a Star Wars film ignores characterization, has no mention of the Force, doesn’t connect to a larger theme or conflict, and barely explores the planets it takes place on…well, you get the idea.

The point is: Maybe someone should’ve told them the odds on this one.