It's official; the next X-Men movie is entitled X-Men: Dark Phoenix, turning Sophie Turner's Jean Grey into a powerful, cosmic force. Recent comment have only added fuel to this cosmic fire, and fans are excited at the prospect of Fox revisiting this iconic story - many are hoping that this time they'll get it right. The thing is, I'm not so sure Fox would be wise to revisit the "Dark Phoenix Saga" just yet...
What was the Dark Phoenix Saga?
In 1976, legendary #XMen writer Chris Claremont had plans for Jean Grey. One of the original X-Men, Jean was often relegated to the role of love interest (seriously, even Charles Xavier had a crush on her!). Claremont, who enjoyed strong female characters, had other plans. As he explained at the time:
“Our intent was to create an X-Men analog, if you will, to Thor – someone who was essentially the first female cosmic hero. We thought at the time we could integrate her into the book as well as Thor had been integrated into the Avengers.”
In an event now known as the "Phoenix Saga", Jean was almost killed by solar energy - but emerged transformed, claiming a mantle of fire and life incarnate. As Phoenix, Jean soon proved her power; she literally saved the universe, waging war with a ruthless alien emperor.
By 1980, Claremont was leading things in another direction. He began weaving a dangerous narrative in which Phoenix was ruthlessly manipulated by the psychic Mastermind, ultimately leaving her completely out of control. In a shocking twist, the new Dark Phoenix turned on the X-Men and then headed into space - where she consumed an entire star, committing genocide as she did so as the system was inhabited.
Although Claremont had originally planned the so-called "Dark Phoenix Saga" to end with Jean being rendered powerless, Editor Jim Shooter wasn't at all comfortable with the idea of an act of genocide being hand-waved. After a lot of back-office politics, the decision was made, and the Dark Phoenix Saga ended with Jean Grey's death.
Ironically enough, the years haven't been kind to this story. Shooter insisted that Jean could only be resurrected if a way were found to absolve her of these horrendous crimes. Kurt Busiek found a solution, revealing that Jean had actually been replaced by the cosmic Phoenix Force. While she lay in a form of suspended animation, the Phoenix Force had taken her place, and it had been the Phoenix Force itself that was corrupted. Most fans nowadays assume that this retcon was always part of the story; it wasn't.
From this point on, Jean's story has been interwoven with that of the Phoenix Force. This was particularly the case with the Grant Morrison era, where Morrison essentially had Jean become one with the Force.
Problem Number One: We all know the story
Fans constantly complain that X-Men: The Last Stand lost the essence of the "Dark Phoenix Saga" - there's no cosmic force, no sense of Jean being replaced. Actually, the script is closer to the original than Kurt Busiek's retcon, which was really just an excuse to bring Jean Grey back.
But the key point is that this story was revolutionary. Claremont took a member of the original X-Men, amped up her power-level to an incredible degree, then turned her bad and had her commit suicide rather than fall to the lure of power once again. It's impossible to overestimate the emotional punch of this arc. That's why it's viewed as possibly the best X-Men story of all time.
That's pretty much impossible to replicate in the next X-Men film. The first problem we have is that everybody knows about this story. Even fans of the X-Men films have seen a (poor) version of it before. The emotional rollercoaster of the Dark Phoenix Saga simply can't be duplicated on the big screen.
Problem Number Two: We need time to get to know Sophie Turner
The next problem is that we're simply not familiar enough with Sophie Turner's Jean Grey. Yes, I know that she plays a major role in X-Men: Apocalypse, but that's not enough. In the comics, fans had been reading Jean Grey's adventures from 1963 through to 1976. They had a strong emotional connection with the character, and what happened to her was both shocking and heart-wrenching. If Fox are going to revisit the "Dark Phoenix Saga", then I think they need to play it very differently. Why not play the long game, and have Sophie Turner's Jean grow ever more powerful, until you finally unveil this arc? Give the viewers time to come to care about this latest incarnation of Jean Grey, so her corruption - and death - are massive emotional moments.
Problem Three: We don't need a franchise that feels tired and stale
Finally, revisiting this arc would just give casual viewers a sense that the X-Men franchise is tired and limited. The X-Men comics have enough iconic stories to inspire half a century or more of films, but to do the same story twice in the space of seven films (I'm not counting the spin-offs) would look like a franchise that was running out of steam.
I have no problem with Fox revisiting the "Dark Phoenix Saga". As a fan of the original story, I'd love to see a decent attempt at it - whether Fox go with the retconned version or not. But doing it this quickly would be a big mistake.