Asparagus Agonistes: Dark Phoenix (2019)

A little lesson in comic book nerdery (comic book nerds, feel free to skip over what you know.)

These are the D’Bari.

See the source image

They are a race of cute, peaceful ‘asparagus people’ from the D’Bari solar system. They are a part of the Shi’Ar Empire, an intergalactic star spanning imperium familiar to readers of X-Men, most notably because the wheelchair bound telepath who founded the X-Men, Charles Xavier, was the lover of the empire’s queen, Lilandr

Why do I start this blog post with this fact? Because about the only thing that made 2019’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix worth watching was the fact that SPOILER:

Jessica Chastain plays an evil, vengeful, killer shape-shifting asparagus woman. And that amuses me to no end.

What you may also need to know is that the X-Men’s only female member in the 1960’s, Jean Grey, is a mutant telepath/telekinetic. In the very early 1980s she made history by bonding with a cosmic force with the power to consume a star and tear planets asunder. This power drove Jean insane. It caused her to seek the Big O by consuming an entire star, and frying an entire planet full of those poor, cute asparagus people without so much as a damn.

Furthermore, as Empress of the Shi’Ar, Lilandra was forced to seek the destruction of Jean Grey (and yep, rightfully so.) After the ensuing battle, Ms. Grey, who manifested the full cosmic insanity of the Phoenix once more, committed suicide so that the universe was no longer at the mercy of her craving for power and ecstasy.

This may sound like a ridiculously convoluted space opera to some, but rest assured that the Dark Phoenix Saga was of the most groundbreaking, influential superhero stories ever told. It was a grand cosmic saga whereby a female superhero (then not so much rare but relegated to secondary character status) demonstrated the capacity to sacrifice herself so that the universe would live. Heroism write absurdly large, thanks to the pen of the X-Men’s ultimate master scribe, Chris Claremont, and the pencils of comic book legend John Byrne.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
Director: Simon Kinberg
Writer(s): Simon Kinberg, after Claremont, Byrne, Cockrum, Kirby and Lee
Notable Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain
Plot: Jean Grey begins to develop incredible powers that corrupt and turn her into a Dark Phoenix. Now the X-Men will have to decide if the life of a team member is worth more than all of humanity. (source: IMDb)

Commentary: Just shy of 20 years, the cycle of X-Men based movies that began in 2000 has now come to a close with X-Men: Dark Phoenix. It is a series that has suffered serious, convoluted continuity and alternate timeline issues; Dark Phoenix is the second attempt at adapting one of the greatest superhero epic storylines ever written. And just like the first time (X-Men: Last Stand), it is a failure.

However, it has killer asparagus people from outer space, so there’s that. The other things left to like are well executed fight scenes (despite one ridiculous instance of the X-Men trying to cross Central Park South), and the very wasted acting chops of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult.

Listen: the Dark Phoenix saga predicates on the weight of the characters’ emotions. Cyclops (here, by the mealy-mouthed and annoying Tye Sheridan, previously by the pretty and formidable James Marsden) and Jean have had a long time love fraught with conflict and drama for as long as the comics have been published. Wolverine also had feelings for Jean, which the latter tried to deny despite her urgent attraction to him (and in this, you cannot tell me that the legendary Hugh Jackman and Famke Janssen, in my opinion the Grace Kelly of sci-fi and superhero cinema, didn’t do a stellar job telegraphing.)

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