The world has changed a lot since Fox launched the X-Men franchise back in 2000. Back then, the popular view of superhero movies was that they had to ditch their campy, larger-than-life roots; after all, wasn't that how DC had killed their Batman franchise with 1997's Batman and Robin? Twenty years later, of course, we're now used to far more comic-book-accurate treatments — and Fox looks set to revisit a paste mistake retelling the story of the "Dark Phoenix Saga." Will it be comic-book-accurate? And if so, why has Fox decided to stick with the crazier elements of this iconic comic book storyline?
The "Dark Phoenix Saga"
Chris Claremont and John Byrne were a legendary comic book team, and they were responsible for many of the X-Men's greatest moments. In many ways, the "Dark Phoenix Saga" — which ran from Uncanny X-Men #129-138 back in 1980 — was their greatest moment. Claremont had radically transformed Jean Grey's power levels, transforming her from your basic telepath and telekinetic to a cosmic powerhouse! Their goal was to give the X-Men a sort of "Thor analogue," allowing the franchise to step into whole new territory.
Gradually, though, the creative team began to switch things up; they revealed that the power of the Phoenix was beyond control, and they launched a subtle plot in which Jean was corrupted by the psychic influence of Emma Frost and Mastermind. Soon, the schizoid entity broke loose, Jean Grey became Dark Phoenix, and she launched herself on a cosmic rampage!
Terrified after Dark Phoenix literally consumed an entire star, committing an act of genocide, an alien race known as the Shi'ar sentenced Jean to death. It all led to a fateful battle on the surface of the moon, with the X-Men battling for Jean's life. Ultimately, Jean chose to commit suicide rather than risk unleashing the evil of Dark Phoenix once again.
It's the high point of the Claremont / Byrne years, and for many X-Men fans, it's literally viewed as the ultimate X-Men story. But this is actually the second time Fox has attempted to make the "Dark Phoenix Saga" work...
The First Attempt: Brett Ratner's 'X-Men: The Last Stand'
In 2006, Fox released Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand — and it was hardly a critical or popular success. In a strange twist, the much-loved "Dark Phoenix Saga" became something of a B-plot, second to an arc centered around a supposed "mutant cure." With James Marsden keen to move on to Superman Returns, the script featured Cyclops killed off in short order, with Famke Janssen's Jean Grey instead getting hot and heavy with Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. The famous suicide, which shone such a brilliant light on Jean's character, was swapped out for Wolverine killing the woman he was infatuated by.
Ratner portrayed the Dark Phoenix as a sort of "schizoid entity," true to Claremont's original intentions, and ignored layers of cosmic science-fiction that Marvel has subsequently retconned on to the concept. Unfortunately, he also removed all the science-fiction elements that Claremont and Byrne used so effectively in the comics. The cosmic element was erased; the Shi'ar, the space pirates known as the Starjammers, and the horrific act of genocide simply didn't happen. Fox simply didn't dare shift to such a cosmic scale, feeling viewers couldn't handle it.
Will 'X-Men: Dark Phoenix' Be More Comic-Book-Accurate?
All signs are that Fox has learned some pretty important lessons from the failure of X-Men: The Last Stand. The title alone is an important statement; this time round, the "Dark Phoenix Saga" won't be relegated to the B-plot. In fact, it's pretty clear that last year's #XMenApocalypse was designed to serve as an extended introduction to next year's X-epic; as I discussed at the time, an "apocalypse" is a "revelation," the unveiling of a secret. Apocalypse ended with the revelation of Jean Grey's true power, in a scene that gave us a glimpse of the Phoenix in all its (pretty comic-book-accurate) glory.
Even more excitingly, last year Bryan Singer revealed that Fox was strongly considering adding a cosmic element to the franchise.
"But we’ve also introduced the tenants of time travel, which already exists in the comic book. Also I imagine – and this is the first time I’ve actually answered the question this way – but another thing that’s been introduced in the comics is a big alien, interstellar tenant within the X-Men universe that hasn’t been explored. And to me, that might be kind of fun because I’m a huge Star Wars and Star Trek fan, and exploring the X-Men universe and being able to utilize that would be exciting, visually."
It seems that X-Men: Dark Phoenix may be rather more comic-book-accurate — so what's changed for Fox?
The Success Of 'Guardians Of The Galaxy'
Last year's X-Men: Apocalypse already showed hints of a major change in approach over at Fox. The success of the #MCU had proven that comic book adaptations could actually be rather more faithful to the original source material than studios previously thought. That's why we got rather more accurate depictions of Olivia Munn's Psylocke and Alexandra Shipp's Storm, for example, and actually ended the film with the X-Men in costumes rather than black leather.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix, however, could be a step beyond anything we've seen before. And precedent can undoubtedly be found in the success of 2014's #GuardiansOfTheGalaxy. This was widely viewed as Marvel's riskiest movie to date; I mean, it was a movie starring a talking raccoon and a walking tree! Guardians of the Galaxy took everything that fans loved about Marvel to the next level, embracing all the Kirby-esque craziness a comic book fan could ever desire. And it worked.
Now, three years later, we're eagerly awaiting the sequel. Although first reviews of #GuardiansOfTheGalaxy2 have been mixed, the film is still projected to make a phenomenal $160 million in its opening weekend, cracking the all-time Top 10 in cinema history. It's clear that superhero fans are more than willing to embrace the crazy, cosmic side of superhero comics — and that makes a comic-book-accurate "Dark Phoenix Saga" a far more attractive prospect.
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All in all, early signs point to X-Men: Dark Phoenix being a far more comic-book-accurate version of the "Dark Phoenix Saga" than X-Men: The Last Stand. This time round, the story of Sophie Turner's Jean Grey is taking center-stage — and she may be stepping out into the stars. If that's the case, fans will be left thrilled with excitement! And the amusing twist? We'll have the Guardians of the Galaxy to thank...
Do you think 'X-Men: Dark Phoenix' should be comic-book-accurate?
(Poll Image Credit: 20th Century Fox)