X-Men: Dark Phoenix was supposed to be a great film. A film that would bring to a close 20 years of stories in an emotional and epic way. It was supposed to right the wrongs of Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand and do justice to one of the most popular comic book stories of all time: The Dark Phoenix Saga. It has a great cast of gifted actors in James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult and Sophie Turner. Prior to the film’s release, director Simon Kinberg boldly compared the film to The Dark Knight and Logan.
But man, in reality, the movie was anything but that. Dark Phoenix received the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score in the franchise — an embarrassing 23%. Even X-Men Origins: Wolverine managed to score 37%. But this wasn’t one of those movies where critics crap all over the movie while producers laugh their way to the bank and fill their swimming pools with ‘dolla dolla bill y’all’. Dark Phoenix opened in North America to a disastrous $US 32 million, the franchises lowest opening weekend. Even after taking non-North American box office numbers into consideration, Dark Phoenix merely grossed $US 136 million globally, the second worst in the franchise.
But what caused the film to become such a disaster? THR spoke to a bunch of insiders at Fox and broke down what exactly went wrong with the film. It’s an extremely detailed write-up, but here, I’ll touch on some of the more baffling stories that were brought up.
Apparently, Fox led by Stacey Snider and Emma Watts alongside producers Simon Kinberg and Hutch Parker had learned the “wrong lessons from the disappointing Apocalypse.” The execs believed that there was no franchise fatigue and that Apocalypse‘s failure was due to “an excessive amount of explosions and scale. We were wrong.” The execs also went on to compare the franchise with the likes of James Bond and Star Wars, claiming that even those franchises had ups and dows. The exec later brings up Fast and Furious, which reinvented itself with new concepts and new cast.
But was Apocalypse‘s (and by extension Dark Phoenix‘s) failure really due to franchise fatigue, though? After all, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has already churned out 22 movies in 10 years and they’re still running like a 21-year-old athlete juiced with steroids. The problem is, the X-Men franchise as a whole has given us very little reason to care about it. Over the years the timeline and continuity have become so muddled and discombobulated, thinking about it will give you a migraine. Days of Future Past was not only a great movie but also successfully reset and refreshed the timeline, only for everything to be undone again in Apocalypse.
The insiders and execs also bring up troubled reshoots and the film’s release date constantly being pushed back.
Shooting began at the end of June 2017 and wrapped in October of that year…. Due to a cast that included in-demand actors such as Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jessica Chastain and Nicholas Hoult, the reshoots didn’t occur until October 2018. What followed, according to several sources, was two weeks of principal shooting and three weeks of second unit, happening concurrently.
At first, the movie had a release date of Nov. 2, 2018. With more work needed on the movie, it was pushed to Feb. 14, 2019. Then, with marketing already underway, Fox pushed the release date to June 3, 2019.
However, insiders tell THR that the move was to placate James Cameron, Fox’s most important filmmaker, and his concerns for his movie, Alita: Battle Angel. According to one source, Cameron felt Alita would lose horribly when facing a December opening weekend that included Aquaman and Bumblebee, with Mary Poppins Returns opening up two days earlier. He wanted his expensive movie shifted.
But what I find most interesting in the THR piece is this particular excerpt:
Part of the reasoning was that Dark Phoenix was not designed to be a summer movie, says the Fox insider. In some ways, it was designed to be an anti-Apocalypse, to have less spectacle and scale. Big for the off-season, too small for summer, says this person.
While I do agree that Dark Phoenix most likely would’ve fared better had it been released outside the crowded summer period, saying the movie “was not designed to be a summer movie” is simply not true. For all the words thrown around prior to the film’s release like “darkness,” “emotional,” “dramatic” and for all its comparisons with Logan and The Dark Knight, X-Men: Dark Phoenix was pretty much just a standard summer movie. Yes, it’s grim and has deep ideas, but the film is so rushed and writing so mediocre that none of those ideas actually translated to the profound film Kinberg and gang thought they had made. Forget Logan and The Dark Knight, Dark Phoenix is Batman V Superman.