Episode 613: Charles, We’re Going to Lose Our Accreditation

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we tackle “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.”

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Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather overthink X-Men: Dark Phoenix, which is not actually an X-Men movie at all.

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6 Comments on “Episode 613: Charles, We’re Going to Lose Our Accreditation”

  1. Mark Lee OTI Staff #

    We didn’t have time to talk about this on the show but I’ve been thinking a lot about how 2019 was the end of the road for a lot of SF/F properties and the gilded age that made it all possible. A partial list:

    Game of Thrones
    Star Wars Skywalker Saga
    Fox’s X-Men run going back to 2000
    The infinity war arc for the MCU
    Even Watchmen had a new beginning and ending with the spectacular HBO standalone season

    It should have been no surprise that the most of these failed to stick the landing. This overflowing cup of world building, stakes-escalating effects extravaganzas proved to be too much at the end of the day. The excess was excessive. And so it was with American 21st century capitalism.

    The connection isn’t perfect but I think there’s some food for overthought here.


    • John C Member #

      That’s an interesting idea, especially in the case of Marvel, where we saw very much the same unbounded exponential growth in stakes that economists keep projecting for the economy. On one hand, it brings to mind how mind-numbingly large amounts of money billionaires are hoarding. But in parallel, I remember some Superman writer talking about how the maximum scope of destruction that registers emotionally is city-wide. Once your problem grows to include a few cities, the story repositions Superman (or any protagonist) high enough in the air where the individual victims are invisible, so the emotional stakes are reduced to just the hero/villain fight.

      And because of that, escalation hits a point of diminishing returns where, you could make the jump from “all of Colorado is at risk” to “the entire multiverse is at risk,” but that jump demands asking the question of why the threat is just being handled by the protagonists instead of literally everybody who might be affected, costumed or not, and why there are no after-effects. Likewise, we’re seeing now that the economy doesn’t work when you’re treating an underclass of laborers as a mass of interchangeable parts not worth paying a decent wage; in a crisis, they become much less faceless and their need to walk off the job becomes much more of a threat.


  2. John C Member #

    I might argue that “change her memories to remove her trauma, but don’t bother to remove her trauma, so now she feels broken” and “oppressed outcasts slaughter refugees because they’re ugly” seem emblematic of a lot of X-Men stories I’ve read over the years as a very casual reader. It’s one of the reason the franchise never quite landed with me, despite the fact that I usually enjoy nutty continuity as characterized by this:


    I’m kind of surprised that Picard got a seal of approval, in here, since it has a lot of the same flaws here, like the “OK, look, we all know how this plot goes and we all know that none of you are watching this for the plot” storytelling, where we actually spend more time talking about making pizza than the potential destruction of all life in the galaxy, not to mention completely forgetting what their central metaphors are halfway through and introducing or referencing dozens of side-plots that should be important, but then get immediately ignored.

    I’d actually like to see panel’s reactions to the show, since CBS is making it free. I thought it was a mess that didn’t seem to know what it wanted to do, but I’m also not nostalgic for The Next Generation, and maybe that’s what it was aimed for.


  3. Three Act Destructure #

    In the comics, the X-Men are very much “the one about social issues”. Often times to their detriment when the person writing them either doesn’t understand the topic that they’re discussing as deeply as they think they do or just has nothing interesting to say. The X-Men have a very Baby Boomer/second-wave feel to them that’s stuck around a lot longer than the Gen X stylistic anarchy that propelled them to success during the 90s.

    That means that they’re saddled with some outdated metaphorical baggage. No decent writer now would feel that they had to invent a whole fantasy societal class in order to talk about prejudice and few would be tone-deaf enough to believe that a single group could speak to the experiences of literally anyone not cis, white, hetero, male, Christian, suburban and living in America.

    (The Netflix movie “Bright” literally got in trouble for being an X-Men-type story.)

    As a result, they’ve spent the last twenty years in the comics struggling to find a center and the last five to ten being mostly about continuity struggles. Recently, one team of mutants was made up almost entirely of time travelers and alternate dimension versions of characters because… well, what kind of story are they supposed to be telling right now?

    I imagine that that’s part of the reason why the film franchise has had Dark Phoenix elements in at least four different movies as well. Never mind that a lady with powers being too emotional and unleashing in a way that harms others is its own kind of problematic. At some point, they might as well have just embraced the psycho-sexual bondage elements of the original story and dressed their Jean Grey up like this:



  4. Mark Lee OTI Staff #

    More or less by accident, I found out that Jean Grey’s character arc is a pretty decent fit with the hero’s journey when coming up with this piece for OverQuarantining It:


    With the obvious caveat that she’s not exactly the “hero” of this story. (More of an anti-hero? Heel turn? Not exactly sure what to call this.) But it’s worth bringing into the broader discussion of the X-Men, and it raises a potentially interesting question: do any of the X-Men have character arcs that closely fit a traditional hero’s journey story? I don’t have an exhaustive knowledge of these characters, but my guess is no, for two reasons: 1) the general angsty-ness of these stories don’t lend themselves well to clean moments of apotheosis, finding the boon, etc., and 2) the whole point of being a mutant is that you never really can be Master of Both Worlds; one of those worlds keeps rejecting you.


  5. John C Member #

    Depending on how literally you take the steps, they’re all pretty close, in that they all have some sort of awakening/exile, get a sign of more (via Cerebro), are offered the X-community, stumble into battle, often get tempted (Magneto), and sometimes get story arcs where they go home for a few days to heal wounds. One of the criticisms I’ve often had with trying to apply the Hero’s Journey to narratives is that almost anything really fits, whether it’s directly, metaphorically, or the character is “stuck in the second reel,” as the Remington Steele writers used to say.

    That said, Phoenix is probably the most straightforward analogy, and it wouldn’t be surprising to find out Chris Claremont plotted the story that way.

    Arguably, though, the individual X-Men probably stick closer to what’s increasingly being called the “Heroine’s Journey,” which is less-formalized, but tends to be presented as a cyclical plot of yearning for more (“the masculine”), finding a new community, defending the new community, and resolving the emotional conflicts they now feel living between the two communities.


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