Dark Phoenix is a sad end to the X-Men franchise v.1, and it is bombing horribly at the box office, estimated to lose at least $100 million. Its $32 million opening weekend is the worst in the franchise’s history, and it’s not going to get any better, as it experienced a 68% Sunday-Monday drop this week, which is a REALLY bad sign for the second weekend. Dark Phoenix is DOA.
Naturally, everyone is performing an autopsy, trying to figure out What Went Wrong. That’s a pretty long list, starting with “These movies have never been good”, but it turns out that Dark Phoenix had a LOT of behind-the-scenes drama that did not help the situation. We knew there was some turmoil, because we knew there were reshoots happening and then there was a debate about how extensive, or not extensive, those reshoots actually were (“nothing to see here” almost always means there is something to see). We definitely knew something was up with Dark Phoenix, and now that the movie is out and all contractual obligations have ended, we’re getting a clearer picture of what happened.
It turns out, these movies have never been good because the people responsible for making them have never learned anything from their (repeated) mistakes. (Honestly, Logan looks like a miracle in hindsight.) After X-Men: Apocalypse bombed, the folks at Fox tried to figure out why, and decided that Apocalypses was just too big, and their next X-movie should be smaller in scale. This is the lesson they learned from X-Men: Apocalypse, one of the worst X-movies - not that the story made no sense and the characters were boring. I have always wondered why these X-movies are so full of random mutants we are given no reason to care about, and now I know. Because no one ever learned that filling your movie with random mutants isn’t helping if you can’t turn them into meaningful characters. They just kept chucking C and D-list mutants at the movies, like that would help anything, when the problem all along was building up characters people love. These people literally learned nothing.
Further proof in the “learned nothing” hypothesis is that Dark Phoenix was put in the hands of Simon Kinberg, a writer on previous X-movies, including Apocalypse and X-Men: The Last Stand, two of the worst X-movies and also, The Last Stand was the X-movie that previously f-cked up the Dark Phoenix story, back when Famke Janssen played Jean Grey. Kinberg was given the directing gig because he stepped in when Bryan Singer flaked out on Days of Future Past and Apocalypse—WHY WAS FOX STILL HIRING HIM—and the cast liked Kinberg. I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice guy, but frankly, if you’re examining why a movie failed, and trying to course-correct for the next one, a good starting place would be to disqualify anyone involved with the failure from moving forward with the new one. Get some fresh blood in there and look for new ideas. But no, Fox hired the dude who already whiffed on Dark Phoenix once to give it another shot.
But Dark Phoenix was also f-cked because of timing. The whole third act was reshot, changing it from a space battle to a train battle, and it’s clear something happened with Jessica Chastain’s character, too. There was a big to-do made about her casting, her character kept tightly under wraps, with clear hints she was playing Someone Important. When I saw the movie, I assumed her character, a shape-shifting alien, was supposed to be a Skrull, and they changed it because of Captain Marvel. Now Dark Phoenix star Tye Sheridan confirms that, telling a podcast the movie was supposed to reveal Skrulls on Earth, with Chastain as their leader. I think Captain Marvel got in the way of a lot of stuff in Dark Phoenix, including how Jean’s Phoenix power looks.
It’s just so frustrating that the X-movies have some of the best ensembles in contemporary cinema, and yet they just got worse and worse through the decade, totally wasting all that talent. Making movies is hard, making good movies is even harder, and there were a lot of smart people working on these movies. It’s not like they TRIED to do this. But Dark Phoenix reveals a group of people almost determined not to see the problem was story and character all along, but to think about their movies in terms of “less explosions/more explosions”. That’s the whole problem with blockbuster films, right there. You can’t start with the spectacle. You have to start with the story. In all these reports about What Went Wrong with Dark Phoenix, I’m not hearing anything about the story or the characters. That tells me more than any gossipy story about James Cameron demanding to take over Dark Phoenix’s February release date ever could.