As the ashes settle on “Avengers Endgame”, cinema’s comic book audience can now rise from their reclining chairs, wipe the popcorn from their laps, the tears from their eyes and prepare to go again with the release of the X-Men movie, “Dark Phoenix”.
The last account of the lives of the X-Men came in 2017 with the demise of one of comic books’ most lauded characters. “Logan” was a film so unlike most superhero movies that it almost wasn’t one at all. The writers and the director tried to do something that on paper should not have worked; to bring a sense of genuine vulnerability to two characters who had grown old, striped of their powers and their humanity, facing the end in a much more relatable way than Thor and Co did in their epic conclusion.
As Charles Xavier faced the indignity of dementia, a decline all the more poignant given how powerful this mind once was, supported by a Wolverine who had lost his invulnerability, we weren’t witnessing another example of Superman reluctantly but consciously handing over his cape. For Professor X and Wolverine there was no going back, there was no cycle or re-birth. “Logan” was the end of the line for one of the most powerful minds and one of the resilient bodies in comic book history. The understatement of the drama and the set plays made us look inward and provided us with something that you rarely see in a comic book movie; space to think and to reflect. It was brave film-making in a time where audiences crave bigger, more explosive action. The sort of action that places not just the fate of the individual at crisis point but of every single thing we either have or have not had the imagination to conjure.
With “Dark Phoenix” the X-Men franchise will find itself back on the familiarly bombastic path of bigger and louder, cataclysm threatening with every twist and turn. Sophie Turner Steps out of one mega-franchise and straight into another, the former Queen of the North leaving Westeros behind to fill the boots of Jean Grey, one of Marvel’s most powerful characters. “Dark Phoenix” will need to end with some form of seismic shift in the X-Men landscape because that’s what any phoenix brings. Expect sacrifices, expect the start of something new, you might even have to expect to be a little underwhelmed. If you are familiar with the X-Men films to date there are a lot of timelines that need to be tightroped, whether the writers will manage that without falling off the side remains to be seen. There are rumours circulating that “Dark Phoenix” is little more than an antacid, neutralising previously established plot strands in order to reboot the series without having to resort to actually shaking the etcher sketch. I am making a few leaps of faith with my predictions but I do believe that what comes after “Dark Phoenix” may well prove to be more interesting than the film itself.
A Brief History of the Phoenix
This is, of course, not the first time that a phoenix has been used a film or in literature as a central metaphor. Even the state of Phoenix was given that name because it was born out of the ashes of a former lost civilisation. Yet, the myth itself is a tough bird to nail down. We all know what they are (or how they have been imagined) and we all know what they symbolise. But the precise origin of the phoenix is hard to identify. In 1850 Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson penned a short piece on the fire bird that highlights this particular difficulty:
”In the Garden of Paradise, beneath the Tree of Knowledge, bloomed a rose bush. Here, in the first rose, a bird was born. His flight was like the flashing of light, his plumage was beauteous, and his song ravishing. But when Eve plucked the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, when she and Adam were driven from Paradise, there fell from the flaming sword of the cherub a spark into the nest of the bird, which blazed up forthwith. The bird perished in the flames; but from the red egg in the nest there fluttered aloft a new one—the one solitary Phoenix bird. The fable tells that he dwells in Arabia, and that every hundred years, he burns himself to death in his nest; but each time a new Phoenix, the only one in the world, rises up from the red egg.”
Anderson is suggesting that the phoenix has its roots planted in Christian lore. However, he also points a finger in the direction of Persia. If you were to do some reading you would find claims from multiple cultures, with the Greeks spearheading things. Yet, as with so much of anything contemporary that has one foot rooted in the past we find ourselves hurtling back thousands of years towards Ancient Egypt. It might have been a word coined by Greeks but a few would argue that the concept originates with the Egyptians.
In the 5th century BC Herodotus wrote the following:
“[The Egyptians] have also another sacred bird called the phoenix which I myself have never seen, except in pictures. Indeed it is a great rarity, even in Egypt, only coming there (according to the accounts of the people of Heliopolis) once in five hundred years, when the old phoenix dies. Its size and appearance, if it is like the pictures, are as follow:– The plumage is partly red, partly golden, while the general make and size are almost exactly that of the eagle. They tell a story of what this bird does, which does not seem to me to be credible: that he comes all the way from Arabia, and brings the parent bird, all plastered over with myrrh, to the temple of the Sun, and there buries the body. In order to bring him, they say, he first forms a ball of myrrh as big as he finds that he can carry; then he hollows out the ball, and puts his parent inside, after which he covers over the opening with fresh myrrh, and the ball is then of exactly the same weight as at first; so he brings it to Egypt, plastered over as I have said, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun. Such is the story they tell of the doings of this bird.”
Herodutus’s description of what he found during his studies is consistent with the image of the phoenix that we have today. However, like all of the best myths, the phoenix has been adopted by multiple cultures because nothing elicits a symbol of hope quite like it.
As Hans Christian Anderson goes on to state in his piece “The Phoenix Bird”, once the phoenix was part of humanity’s consciousness cultures from all over the world found a place for it in their writings
“But the Phoenix is not the bird of Arabia alone. He wings his way in the glimmer of the Northern Lights over the plains of Lapland, and hops among the yellow flowers in the short Greenland summer. Beneath the copper mountains of Fablun, and England’s coal mines, he flies, in the shape of a dusty moth, over the hymnbook that rests on the knees of the pious miner. On a lotus leaf he floats down the sacred waters of the Ganges, and the eye of the Hindoo maid gleams bright when she beholds him.”
Afterall it is what the bird symbolises that draws us to it. The ancient cyclical nature of the bird, making it the perfect metaphor for coming back from the brink. As it rises from its own ashes there is a link to us learning from our mistakes, drawing ourselves up from our lowest ebb.
The Phoenix and Evolution
One of the most significant works of literature to include the phoenix as central metaphor is Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”:
“There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. He must have been the first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we’ll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember every generation.”
Bradbury explains that the knowledge we gain through books allows humanity to evolve with each generation. He sees each new generation as a cycle of re-birth with one attribute that sets us apart from the myth. Unlike the fire bird we can carry forward what we learn from one generation to the next and part of our growth must the acquisition of knowledge and never forgetting the mistakes that each generation makes. Bradbury compares the human evolution to that of a form of re-birth or reincarnation, where each cycle is met with improvements. For him the destruction of knowledge would lead to humanity devolving and as such any attempts by authorities to control it would lead to the demise of our species.
For “Dark Phoenix” to be a success it must carry the knowledge and the weight of the franchise that proceeds it. What came before it cannot be forgotten and that tightrope must be walked. If it can do al of that successfully then the future of the franchise could be a bright one.
Phoenix and Slots
The use of the phoenix in slots machines is one that makes sense. What do we hold more closely than hope when we spin those reels? What to we cling to more than the hope of a few quid blossoming into new life? And let’s not forget how bloody cool the thing looks too.
As ever, all our games will have scored at least a 7 out of 10 and all will have something to do with the phoenix, from the title of a game to a symbol used in it. There will be 5 games in total, which will not be placed in any particular order.
Fire N’ Fortune
We don’t get very many 2By2 games on our lists but this one is fully deserving of its place. Before the game even starts the loading screen is that of a huge fiery phoenix, resplendent in blazing plumage, at which point you know this game meets the brief. Along with your wilds and your free spins, what you get here is a stunning looking game, one that really sells the image of the phoenix in all its glory. The game is set in what appears to be Ancient Greece, with two mountains framing the game in the background.
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From Ancient Greece we find ourselves heading west towards Mexico and the Aztec Empire. Play n’ Go’s Phoenix Reborn places the phoenix inside a North American pyramid is what is the most recent game on our list. The game is played out over a large grid that allows for some expanded symbols. You get wilds and free spins that can be triggered and of course, you get your phoenix, lighting up the reels.
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Eastern Emeralds takes us to yet another part of the world as we find ourselves somewhere in Eastern Asia. This game looks fantastic and is one of those slots game that has levels with the bonus feature, with each traversed level bringing an increased multiplier. In this instance the phoenix makes its appearance through the bonus symbol. There isn’t much more bonus action on the go here but it is there, which means the brief has been met.
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And our globe trotting does not end there. One consistency here is that we are sticking with Quickspin for this game but that we are now entering Ancient Egypt for a nice little change of scenery. The game looks fantastic and is again played out over a much larger grid than normal. The grid can expand and the number of win ways can increase as it does so. The game also comes with wilds, free spins and re-spins, but eh star of the show are the expanding reels.
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The final game isn’t even set on Earth. Well, at least not an Earth that I am familiar with. Cloud Quest is a science fiction/fantasy/anime/ sort of a game. It is an all singing, all dancing slots game that is not for the faint of heart. You get a whole host of different features along with a bonus game and a wild symbol that is, as you might have guessed, a phoenix.
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