Are audiences suffering a superhero hangover? Do we need a break from comic book characters on the big screen? Indeed, recently we’ve heard that Solo’s poor box office could be attributed to “industry fatigue”. Is Dark Phoenix now suffering from the same fate?
Disney CEO Bob Iger said it was a mistake to release Solo so close to The Last Jedi (just six months part). “Industry fatigue” is what some industry commentators described it as. I prefer superhero hangover. As much as Avengers: Endgame satisfied expectations – a thrilling finale to a epic multi-film, multi-character, multi-generational story – indulging in too much of something is like overdosing on chocolate: eventually you feel a bit sick, a bit bloated, a bit tired of the same flavour.
Perhaps Dark Phoenix is suffering from our desire for something different? It achieved the lowest opening day for an X-Men movie in the history of the franchise. $14 million might seem like a lot of money but it isn’t when the amount of cash spent on advertising is taken into account alongside the fact the first X-Men movie scored $20 million on its opening day. What went wrong with Simon Kinberg’s film? Are audiences suffering from “superhero hangover”?
Or is that X-Men: Dark Phoenix is just rubbish? It’s difficult to find a positive review from major critics with the film listed as “rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes and scoring an unimpressive 6.0 on IMDB (compared to X-Men (2000) at 7.5, X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) at 8.0, and X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) at 7.0). Brian Tallerico on RogerEbert.com called it a “joyless, lifeless, boring affair that repeats ideas from better X-films and feels more like an obligatory reunion cash grab than a deeply considered goodbye to iconic characters.”
But Tallerico’s views were echoed by just about everybody. Richard Roeper, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times said the film didn’t live up to the standards Marvel has achieved. Indeed, “The final battle takes place aboard a moving train that feels like it’s headed nowhere. At this point, it’s a perfect metaphor for the “X-Men” series,” said Adam Graham of the Detroit News.
Critics in the UK weren’t any kinder. The Guardian’s Wendy Ide said writer-director Simon Kinberg had botched it big time, adding that X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a “painfully laboured, creaking jalopy of a superhero flick”.
So, Dark Phoenix is just bad then?
Well, Fox argue the problem was the release date. It was supposed to be released in November 2018 before being pushed back to February 2019. However, it ended up coming post-Avengers: Endgame after, if rumours are to be believed, James Cameron wanted a better release date for Alita: Battle Angel. 20th Century Fox CEO Stacey Snider agreed, giving Alita the February slot and pushing X-Men: Dark Phoenix behind Avengers: Endgame.
So it’s James Cameron’s fault actually. Well, no, it’s still a superhero hangover.
As Endgame broke all the records with almost everyone who went to the cinema in April 2019 having watched the movie, Dark Phoenix was lacking the summer spectacle it was now required to have. The critical backlash to X-Men: Apocalypse prompted Kinberg to opt for a slightly different approach, centred around character and stripping back some of the grandiose action of previous entries (something praised in The Verge’s review). That left a film people weren’t expecting. And perhaps a film, at least right now, people don’t want.
The breathing room between Spider-Man: Far From Home and Avengers: Endgame will help the Marvel movie alleviate this hangover (as well as benefiting from being a chronological continuation of the story from Endgame’s much-loved finale). X-Men: Dark Phoenix is, as Men in Black International and Toy Story 4 arrive, likely to fall away quietly burning a hefty hole in Fox’s pocket (to the tune of around $100 million).