HERO NATION INDEX: ‘Dark Phoenix,’ ‘Swamp Thing,’ Anton Yelchin, ‘Terminator’

It says Dark Phoenix on all the theater marquees but the latest installment in the hot mess of Hollywood superhero franchises should have been called X-Men: The Second Last Stand.

I had hoped that Simon Kinsberg’s directorial debut would reclaim the Dark Phoenix mythology that had been squandered by Brett Ratner’s relentlessly irksome X-Men: The Last Stand back in 2006 but instead the new chapter doubled-down on Ratner’s failings. The only good news is that the keys to this well-dented Hollywood vehicle (as well as the dead-battery Fantastic Four franchise and the turbo-charged Deadpool series) will be handed to Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios in short order. Publicly, Feige has shown only the most casual interest in driving away with these pre-owned properties but I suspect he is far more excited than he’s comfortable letting on.

If you missed it earlier I was one of the rare souls who was actually sincerely optimistic about the film’s potential to be a surprising success. (I had seen it happen before, after all, when Matthew Vaughn delivered the terrific X-Men: First Class despite impossible time limits and towering doubts.) Maybe it was  as simple as wishful thinking, since I was one of the impassioned young readers in the 1980s who made The Uncanny X-Men the bestseller in Marvel’s monthly publishing line. But the WonderCon footage looked sharper and smarter than I anticipated and I went with it. But, of course, one high-adrenaline action sequence doesn’t make a great film. I should have learned that lesson with the sublimely executed airplane-in-the-stadium scene from Superman Returns or the terrifically tense opening sequence of Cowboys & Aliens.

What of Fox’s X-Men legacy? It will be remembered as the career launchpad for Hugh Jackman and for the early infusion of genre credibility that the first two X-films (Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000 and his X2: X-Men United in 2003) brought to superhero sector at a time when it was still defined by stinkers like Joel Schumacher’s odious Batman & Robin. The X-future, meanwhile, will be bigger and better with Marvel Studios. The wounds of this past weekend won’t heal as quickly as Wolverine but they won’t leave any permanent scars, either.

‘TREK’ STAR REMEMBERED: It was three years ago this month that Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin died at the age of 27 in a horrific car crash.  I met Yelchin several times and found him to be a fascinating guy and much-beloved by his Starfleet colleagues. Many of them (including J.J. Abrams, Chris Pine,Simon Pegg, and Zachary Quinto) are in Love, Antosha, the documentary feature about Yelchin’s life that premiered to much acclaim at Sundance. Check out the trailer and you’ll see why.

BEYOND STARFLEET: Yelchin is best known for portraying USS Enterprise crew member Pavel Chekhov in three Star Trek films but the actor also played a key role in a different sci-fi universe with a long history of feature films. Can you name that other role and identify the sci-fi film? Find the answer below…

DRAINED SWAMP: If Swamp Thing executive producer James Wan genuinely isn’t sure why the DC Universe original series got cancelled six days after its premiere it suggests to me that the decision was probably made at an elevated corporate level and by people who haven’t been dealing directly with the production. That’s probably not good news for the DC Universe streaming service. DC Universe was announced in April 2017 and launched  as a play for uber-fans of the DC brand who would want not just new live-action original programs (like Swamp Thing, Titans, Doom Patrol, and the upcoming Stargirl) but also value a library of vintage DC films and DC television shows as well as access to DC digital comics and special merch offers. (The deep-dive experience didn’t include, however, the most popular DC adaptations already on TV: Arrow , The Flash, Supergirl, or the just-concluded Gotham, to name a few.)

In the nine months since DC Universe was launched its future has been reframed by two new marketplace realities: AT&T’s completed acquisition of Time Warner and Disney’s “all-in” announcement regarding its major streaming ambitions for the Disney+ launch in November. WarnerMedia has been re-evaluating all of its digital pursuits in recent months and, by all indications, is ramping toward a streaming bid that (like Disney+) makes maximum use of its content pipeline. That high-priority process will probably be revealed as the corporate culprit responsible for uprooting Wan’s promising horror series and for whatever happens next to the rest of the DC Universe.

INFINITE POSSIBILITY: If DC Universe is withdrawing from the original programming business it’s a shame because its shows (especially the gloriously nutty Doom Patrol) had plenty of promise. Maybe Swamp Thing will get a chance live beyond his Season One finale (which will be available Aug. 2) with a guest appearance on one of its sister shows, but if not I have an out-of-the-box suggestion: Include the show’s characters (which include Madame Xanadu, Blue Devil, and the Floronic Man) in the CW’s upcoming “Crisis on Infinite Earths” mega-crossover, which will feature the largest assembly of superheroes in the history of live-action television.

All of the CW’s “Arrowverse” shows (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, and newcomer Batwoman) will be uniting in December and January for the crossover. Each of those shows is produced under the banner of Greg Berlanti, the most prolific working producer in television today – and Berlanti, as an executive producer of Titans, is also an invested party in the DC Universe roster.

“Crisis on Infinite Earths” is the ideal way to shut down any universe, really, since its an adaptation of the namesake Reagan Era epic that was engineered as a “fresh start” downsizing of the overcrowded DC Comics mythology that jettisoned hundreds of outdated and redundant characters and decades of canon. The CW version of “Crisis” will already include the swan song of Arrow, which will have notched eight seasons when its finale arrives in December as a Crisis installment. Maybe DC’s marksman can share his  final fade-out with DC’s muck-man, making green the new black? No, you’re right, probably not.

BEYOND STARFLEET, PART 2: in addition to his tour of duty Starfleet as Chekhov, the talented Anton Yelchin also enlisted in the resistance against Skynet by portraying Kyle Reese in Terminator: Salvation. The 2009 entry in the killer-robot franchise also featured Christian Bale, Helena Bonham Carter, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, and Michael Ironside.

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