After X-Men: Apocalypse was released earlier this summer, fans found themselves with more questions than answers. Perhaps the most thrilling and awe-inducing moment of the film was Sophie Turner's Jean Grey releasing the Phoenix Force to take down an otherwise seemingly unstoppable foe. As a strong advocate of Jean Grey and the Phoenix stories, I was absolutely elated to see this scene unfold. Now that Phoenix has been reintroduced into the movie canon, many of us are wondering what is next for Jean Grey and if it will do justice to the character and stories we love.
Previously, On 'X-Men'
To understand what fans hope to see in future X-Men installments, we first have to look at what did and did not work before. "The Phoenix Saga" is a complicated story with great emotional depth. Despite the creative liberties that the live-action films have been known to take, Bryan Singer did well in laying the ground work for Jean's impending evolution both in X-Men and X2: X-Men United.
Fans with a keen eye noticed the moment in X-Men when Jean's power began its accelerated evolution just after she used her telekinesis like never before at the Statue of Liberty. She clearly experienced something unnoticed by her teammates, and it was something deep within her. These subtle hints and teasing at the famous story to come titillated fans and had us watching the development of X-Men: The Last stand with baited breath.
Bryan Singer, You Broke My Heart
On May 26, 2006, I sat in a movie theater, a child of the '90s X-Men era and Jean Grey's biggest fan. (Famke, I love you!) I was ready to see X-Men: The Last Stand, a film I had waited three years for. I had not yet forgiven Bryan Singer for leaving the film in favor of Superman Returns, but I was willing to give Brett Ratner a chance. I continued trying to give him that chance during that entire 1 hour and 44 minutes; I kept holding out hope that it would get better. After watching Ratner assassinate or handicap a number of characters, he put the final nail in the X3 coffin with an over-the-top battle that crescendoed with Jean's death. Since the last credit rolled that opening night, it felt unlikely that anyone would touch the X-Men films for a long time.
Many will admit that "The Phoenix Saga" is just too big to be done well in a live-action movie, especially one with multiple plot lines. There was hope that under Ratner, the story could still translate to film as nicely as Bryan Singer proved he could do in the previous films. Sadly, Jean, the most powerful mutant on the block, was sabotaged. Her lifeless character and abilities were dwarfed only by her aimless wandering and apparent lack of motivation. Her evolution from a two-dimensional co-leading lady in X-Men to the badass who saved the day in X2 had fans rooting for full-on Phoenix glory, and sadly, we got a shell of the woman we hoped for.
Fast forward eight years and I am in a movie theater watching X-Men: Days of Future Past, my heart racing as John Ottman's score faded away, leaving Logan to cross the room in silence as he spotted a woman with red hair. "Hey Logan," Jean said with a smile as she turned to him. The excitement in the theater was electric. Bryan Singer had not just made one of the most fantastic movies in the series, but he created and alternate timeline that washed away the atrocities of X3. We had Jean back, and that meant that we had a chance. Naturally, all eyes then turned to the casting and production process of X-Men: Apocalypse, a film that would show us our favorite X-Men when they were first getting started.
Like A Fire
I am the first to admit that I was unsure if Sophie Turner was the right choice to portray a young Jean Grey. I enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse and Turner acted the part well, but she never felt like Jean Grey. It may sound silly, especially when considering that the X-Men films aren't worried about consistency, but I just can't picture her growing up into the Jean we saw at the end of DOFP. Regardless, Singer was back at the helm of the last installment of the First Class trilogy and the film was already teasing at a Phoenix story.
All Is Revealed
As young Jean dreamt of a world in flames while the walls of her room began to bubble and burn, viewers wondered if we would see her evolved state in that very same film. In advance of the movie, it seemed that Phoenix would be the only one able to stop Apocalypse, and that is exactly what she did. What's more, she not only saved that day, but she did so briefly and without being dark or crazy. Singer really showed us that less is more sometimes. In the wake of Apocalypse's last words, "All is revealed," some have wagered that the impending apocalypse was actually Jean Grey, not Apocalypse himself.
At this point, it seems likely that there will be another X-Men movie that focuses on "The Phoenix Saga." With that in mind, here is a wish list of preferences we have for a future Phoenix retelling:
Don't Jump Right To Dark Phoenix
Unfortunately, X3 rushed right into "The Dark Phoenix Saga," a story which sees Jean giving in to her overwhelming new power, eventually leading her to insanity and death. In truth, Jean embodied the power of the Phoenix for a while before things turned ugly. This was part of what made seeing the Phoenix in Apocalypse such a delight for many fans: Singer didn't skip right to the Dark Phoenix part. Sophie Turner has discussed this in an interview with USA Today:
It’s kind of set up for it in ('Apocalypse') — you see hints of Phoenix. And it’s really exciting that we’re kind of exploring this good Phoenix at the moment and we’re not doing the Dark Phoenix. There are so many ways we can go with the character, and with these super-strong powers that she has, they should make a Dark Phoenix saga. (But) let’s hope I’ll be a good superhero for a while.
Use The Phoenix Force
In X3, the narrative surrounding the Jean's new power offers that the Phoenix is a split personality that developed within Jean as a result of Professor X creating physic barriers in her mind to control her immense power. This did not please fans as it completely disregarded the Phoenix as it is in the comic books: A cosmic entity that bound itself to Jean and gifted her with its powers. Should another film focus on the Phoenix, it seems unlikely that the story will stay true to the comics in this way. I say this because, in Apocalypse, Jean is clearly manifesting the power of the Phoenix from within; there is no external entity our source, so far as we know. That being said, we all welcome a little retcon or whatever Singer et al could do within reason to stay true to the source material in a sequel.
Continue To Keep It Real While Forging Ahead
I have always admired the way that Singer kept the X-Men films grounded in reality, allowing the impossible to exist alongside the world we know. From the costumes to the stories, this trend was implemented again in First Class and DOFP, with the latter seeing the biggest leap into the sci-fi aspects of the X-Men. Apocalypse was by far the furthest away from the precedent of realism and believability set in X-Men. The franchise is clearly taking steps towards an ever-expanding universe capable of more directly adapting comic book stories. Should anyone decide to continue exploring a Phoenix story, it is not unreasonable for them to do so in a manner more aligned with the source material, while also staying true to the realistic nature of the film series.
Explore The Universe
There is no way around the fact that the story of Jean Grey and the Phoenix is an intergalactic one with a large cast of humans, mutants, and aliens. The aforementioned style of keeping the X-Men real and believable does not mean it is impossible to explore outer space and alien races. Singer went on record discussing with Fandango the possibility of the X-Men in space, saying:
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.
Taking the X-Men into orbit would certainly need to be handled with finesse, but introducing the Shi'ar Empire has the potential to be done without being a jarring experience for viewers. The Phoenix story is inherently out of this world, and the last attempt to keep it Earth-bound resulted in failure. There is hope among us that the creative team will explore the larger universe that fans know the X-Men to be a part of.
One Small Step For Man, One Giant Leap For The X-Men
As of now, all is pretty quiet on the X-film front. Related films and shows are in the works, including the final installment of the Wolverine movies and the X-Men spin-off show Legion. Just prior to the US theatrical release of Apocalypse, writer and producer Simon Kinberg confirmed in an interview with Independent that the next film will continue the series' progression through the decades:
The next one is set in the '90s, following on from 'X-Men: First Class' (set in the '60s) 'X-Men: Days Of Future Past' ('70s), and 'X-Men: Apocalypse' (8'0s).
Unfortunately, Kinberg did not specify whether he was referring to the upcoming New Mutants film or another X-Men film featuring the established cast.
The end of Apocalypse has all signs pointing towards "The Phoenix Saga" (dark or otherwise) being the next major film plot for an X-Men installment independent of the still loosely defined New Mutants film. Will we see Scott, Jean, Storm, and the new class of X-Men in space? Will Professor X meet his soulmate, Lilandra of the Shi'ar Empire? Will it be the true Phoenix Saga or will it jump right to the darker side of the story? Only time will tell. Rest assured that, in the meantime, fans who believe in the possibility of a properly executed Phoenix Saga are champing at the bit and ready to provide the fanbase necessary for cinematic success. Just don't screw us over again.
Go behind the scenes of X-Men: Apocalypse and see what went into making the X-Men come to life in the video below:
What is on Your X-Men wish list? Tell us in the comments what you hope to see next!