The X-Men movies are beloved because, for many people, they were our introduction to the superhero genre. And what an introduction — focusing on outcast mutants, the X-Men films have always had a strong theme of acceptance despite social tensions. These heroes aren't always celebrated, and their struggles to control their abilities make them very identifiable.
For me, that empathetic hero was Jean Grey. Arguably the most powerful of the X-Men, Jean is nevertheless hampered by the sheer power of her telekinesis and telepathy. This makes her journey all the more compelling, and those moments when she finally harnesses her powers are some of the movie's most triumphant. And yet, these scenes are few and far between.
As a viewer this is very aggravating, especially because Jean's moments of power are usually followed by some kind of downfall (in X2 she sacrifices herself, and Last Stand saw her turn mad for inexplicable reasons). Thankfully, X-Men: Apocalypse finally breaks from this tradition, giving us the Jean Grey we've always wanted.
Rising From The Ashes
The Jean we meet in Apocalypse clearly draws from Famke Jansen's excellent turn as the iconic mutant, but Sophie Turner's interpretation of the character is a good deal more strident and vocal, which is all to the good.
This slight characterization shift could be attributed to the Days of Future Past reset — in this version of the timeline, humans have known about mutants for 10 years. Crucially, it's Mystique's role as the president's savior which changed humanity's attitude towards mutants, while providing some much-needed heroic representation for the mutant community. Jean herself explains how this helped her gain confidence in her status as a mutant, in one of Apocalypse's most touching scenes.
All of this builds up to Jean finally finding the strength to realize her power in the battle against Apocalypse. In an epic sequence, Jean defeats the villain in on two battlegrounds at once — psychically assaulting Apocalypse telepathically, while using her telekinesis to tear the flesh from his bones in the real world. And it was awesome.
This was so, so satisfying to watch. Finally, Jean's immense power was actually used in a conflict! Although this glimpse of the Phoenix was fleeting, the entirety of X-Men: Apocalypse could be used as a prologue to that movie we've been asking for for years — the Dark Phoenix Saga.
A Dark Phoenix Film Is Inevitable
Early on in the film, Xavier discovers Jean in the midst of a horrific nightmare. This is assumed to be about Apocalypse's impending attack on humanity, but in retrospect it seems to be more about her transformation into the Dark Phoenix. And the dialogue in this scene also hints at this.
"There's this dark power inside me...I thought it was getting better but it's not. It's growing stronger and I'm afraid I might hurt someone."
In the comics, Jean becomes the Phoenix after bonding with the cosmic Phoenix Force, which helps her find the strength to harness her abilities.
This was an important shift in the comics, as previously Jean had been a tad ineffective. She was intended to be "the first female cosmic hero," and she took the X-Men to new heights. Unfortunately, she fell prey to a villain known as Mastermind, who manipulated her into going mad with power. Her reasons for her subsequent murderous rampage are not totally explained, and it's all chocked up to a cautionary tale about one person having too much power. Although Jean committed suicide at the conclusion of the Dark Phoenix Saga, she was later brought back as the hero we all know and love.
After all those hints in Apocalypse, this plotline would be perfect to explore in the next installment in the X-Men saga, as the freshly-trained team have to try and talk the Dark Phoenix down before she lays waste to the world.
And it already seems as though Fox is planning to use this plotline sometime soon — both Simon Kinberg and Bryan Singer have spoken about their desire to do the Dark Phoenix Saga right.
"I definitely would love to take another stab at the Dark Phoenix story."
However, there are some pitfalls they should avoid in this potential film, specifically those which Last Stand belly-flopped into. The Dark Phoenix is a really cool idea (any plot where a hero unleashes their power completely is), but there are a few essential elements to the story.
It's important for Jean to harness her abilities with help from the Phoenix Force, becoming the heroic Phoenix before her fall from grace. Clear motivations are another aspect which is crucial to this story, and the comics somewhat fell down on this too. The exciting thing about a potential Dark Phoenix movie is that this time the filmmakers have the chance to do it right and avoid any awkward messages about this being a punishment for Jean just being too powerful.
Above all else, Jean must remain a hero, and we should see her as such. As viewers we live through her, vicariously sharing her victories in battle and suffering her losses. This is Jean's story, and ultimately it's her triumph if she overcomes her own hubris. After years of being shunted to the background, this is Jean's time to rise from the ashes of her last stand. Her future is bright — and it's shaped like a Phoenix.
Do you want to see a Dark Phoenix Saga movie?
[Source: Entertainment Weekly]