In the sort of nerdy debate over who would win between the cosmic fury of the Phoenix Force and a cyborg warrior from Mars, you never thought the answer “whichever was backed by James Cameron” would be the deciding factor. And yet, here we potentially are?
The aggressively mediocre Dark Phoenix only did half of a Phoenix’s job at the box office this weekend. Sadly for Fox, it was the “going out in a sputter of flames” part and not the whole “rebirth” aspect of the mythical being, because it’s opened as the worst performing X-Men movie in the franchise’s entire history, pulling in just $33 million in the U.S. Even Apocalypse, which is straight up a bad movie compared to the middling nothingness of Dark Phoenix, did better. Even Last Stand did! And it was adapting the same storyline as this movie! It’s not great.
Amid the poor reviews and a general lack of wider public interest in the final voyage of Fox’s X-Franchise before the Disney buyout leads to the inevitable reboot of the characters under Marvel Studios’ auspices, a new report from the Hollywood Reporter attempts to pin down just what went wrong with the movie. Speaking to insiders at Fox, the trade alleges that it wasn’t the film’s extensive reshoots for the final act that were of concern, or even the critical drubbing Apocalypse faced. Allegedly, Simon Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix was instead to represent an antithesis to the Oscar-Isaac-as-Ivan-Ooze hysteria of that movie, and act as a quiet and personal character piece that didn’t lean on spectacle (and yet still adapted a storyline famous for being so spectacle-laden it shot the goddamn X-Men into space, but that’s neither here nor there).
But what might have ultimately undone Dark Phoenix? Having its released date shoved about. Originally scheduled for November 2018, and then pushed back to Valentine’s day this year, Dark Phoenix suddenly found itself launching as a summer blockbuster in the wake of another superheroic culmination of a saga decades in the making, Avengers: Endgame. And according to THR, part of the reason for that shuffle? Because James Cameron wanted a better release date for Alita: Battle Angel, Robert Rodriguez’s sci-fi manga adaptation and a project Cameron was deeply invested in:
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. [20th Century Fox CEO] Stacey Snider, according to this source, obliged, giving Alita the February date and moving Dark Phoenix to June. “Emma, Hutch and Simon begged her not do it,” says this source.
A distinctly muted, not-summer-block-buster-fare style movie suddenly finding itself in the summer release schedule was one problem, but Dark Phoenix faced another—the brewing Disney-Fox deal, in which many of Fox’s marketing employees would find themselves subject to the litany of job cuts made in the wake of the merger. Unsure futures and the shifting meant the movie’s ad campaign became a mess. Unable to make a convincing claim for just what the movie was meant to be, it meant expectations fizzled out fast—a particular damning alleged insider quote in the report claims the public was more aware of the existence of Rocketman, the studio’s Elton John biopic, than they were of Dark Phoenix—leading to this past weekend’s disastrous performance.
That might be it for the X-Saga at Fox (give or take whenever the hell New Mutants, another movie allegedly plagued with behind-the-scenes troubles, is ostensibly meant to come out), now that Disney has completed its acquisition. Presumably—hopefully—there’ll be better luck next time when Marvel Studios gets its hands on Charles Xavier and his friends.
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