As the most iconic storyline from the X-Men pantheon, "The Dark Phoenix Saga" deserves a proper film adaptation. But 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand wasn't it, and now fans are hoping that 2018's X-Men: Dark Phoenix gets the story right.
With the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s never been a better time to explore the cosmic side of the X-Men universe. And yet, there’s equal reason to be wary. Dark Phoenix director Simon Kinberg wrote The Last Stand, after all, and the X-Men films have always been pretty hit and miss in terms of quality.
We're definitely hoping for another First Class or Days of Future Past, not another Apocalypse. So here's how the film can be listed alongside the greats:
Make Jean The Central Protagonist (And Use The Ensemble Wisely)
One of the biggest issues with The Last Stand and Apocalypse was that the cast became too big for its own good; the films didn’t have a single character to serve as the focal point. This is why they felt disjointed, tonally inconsistent, and overall just not very compelling — plus, The Last Stand made Famke Janssen's Jean Grey a secondary character in her own greatest story.
This is no doubt a tricky issue for the franchise to manage, due to the ensemble-driven nature of the source material, plus the relative popularity of different characters. The early X-Men films benefited from Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine (both well-loved and well-cast) to serve as the fulcrum. And even though Days of Future Past had the biggest cast to date (before Apocalypse), it still wisely prioritized Xavier, Magneto, Mystique, and Wolverine at its center.
It’s fine to have a large ensemble. That’s a big part of what X-Men is all about. At the same time, the films need to limit the number of protagonists in order to form an emotional core. Dark Phoenix is already shaping up to have a massive cast, making this more important than ever — it needs to be Jean's story, first and foremost.
Give Us New Material, Not The Greatest Hits
Apocalypse felt more like a "greatest hits" compilation than an actual story: a berserker Wolverine cameo that served little purpose, a rehash of Magneto going from destructive villain to redeemed hero, a Quicksilver sequence that lacked the novelty and surprise of the original, and then an unleashing of the Phoenix Force at the end. We'd seen it all before.
Easter Eggs and callbacks can be great, so long as they don't take a stranglehold on the film; they shouldn’t be the defining factors of the story. We need to see something totally new for the franchise; going into outer space would certainly accomplish it.
Give Mystique And Magneto A Rest
One of the more troubling rumors about this film is that Magneto may be establishing the mutant colony Genosha. The Last Stand struggled under the weight of trying to tell both "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and "The Cure," and so ended up doing justice to neither. Plus, Jennifer Lawrence is back — and even though the actress sells tickets, Mystique was never supposed to be the X-Men's main character.
At this juncture, the best way to use both Magneto and Mystique — and whatever storylines they anchor — is minimally, with their limited screen time perhaps setting up material for future films. Otherwise, we’ll probably get another The Last Stand. And nobody wants that.
Magneto is a fabulous villain. One of the very best around. What’s more, he’s been played by two exceptionally talented actors in Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender. Had Oscar Isaac's Apocalypse been equally compelling and well-drawn (the script's fault, not the actor's), no doubt Apocalypse would've been a better film. And yet, this franchise has relied on Magneto for far too long.
Reports indicate that Lilandra will play something of a villain. If so, that could make for a promising direction. All in all, X-Men: Dark Phoenix has a lot to live up to — but it has a solid cast and a lot of great material from the comics to work with. Hopefully in the end, the film will prove worthy of the story that it’s based upon.
What do you want to see in X-Men: Dark Phoenix? Share your thoughts in the comments below.