This weekend, X-Men: Dark Phoenix made history- the lowest opening weekend of any X-Men movie. The paltry 33 million domestic take signals a potential 100 million dollar loss for the studios, and ends the series with a bigger train wreck than its trailer promised. However, the flop shouldn’t have been surprising to the studios, and wasn’t surprising to movie nerds who read the signs.
They Hoped Nobody Remembered X-Men 3
X-Men: The Last Stand was about Dark Phoenix, and it was bad. It wasn’t even a divisive film that split the fan base like The Last Jedi– if anything, it united everyone in their hatred. X3 is a miserable husk of a movie. Favorite characters were killed off early, carelessly, or just brushed aside (sorry, Mystique). The fact that it was a sequel to X-Men United (still regarded as one of the top X-Men movies) added an extra dose of salt to the disappointment wound. For me, I remember getting physically angry, which isn’t quite worth the ticket price. If I’m still rolling my eyes year later, imagine how uninterested other fans were when the studio announced they were going to tell that one story you hated, again.
Nothing was building to another Dark Phoenix story
But really, nothing was leading up to another Dark Phoenix tale. If anything, Days of Future Past made a big ol’ deal about how they were now rewriting their own future. I know, there was a Phoenix moment in the awful X-Men: Apocalypse, but even that setup for Jean going crazy seems to be set aside for a random space encounter shown in the trailers. Going back to a story we already heard in this series is a baffling choice to make for a finale.
Simon Kinberg may be a lovely human soul, but he still was the screenwriter for X-Men: The Last Stand. Since that aforementioned film was a not great version of the Dark Phoenix story, it’s bizarre he was chosen to write the same story again, AND now this time he gets even more control as director. Huh. That’s like rebuilding the Titanic ship with the same engineers, but this time with even fewer lifeboats. Honestly, even if The Last Stand had been amazing (it wasn’t), wouldn’t a different storyteller need to be chosen to make the movie feel fresh? Or was this an intentional statement about the death of creativity in films?
Reputation and Critics
Okay, I enjoy a good X-Men movie, but any fan will tell you the movie journey hasn’t been without moments of heartache and heartburn. X-Men: Apocalypse was the latest reminder that comic book movies can be pretty awful, and it also happened to be the last X-Men film we saw before Dark Phoenix came out. A frankly dismal Rotten Tomatoes score moving from 17% to 23% was all that cautious and/or bitter fans needed to stay at home and re-watch Logan.
Like it or hate it, the X-Men series deserved a better ending than this. Heck, Days of Future Past would have been a wildly appropriate and satisfying end, with both the original and newer cast members coming together for a finale story. Instead, the money-hungry studio brought back a phoenix that should have stayed dead, only to see it burst into flames and crash through the sky one last, disappointing time.