Like a small bowl of petunias I watched the end of X-Men: Apocalypse at the cinema thinking, “Oh no, not again.” When I heard director Bryan Singer on the Apocalypse Blu-ray hinting strongly that the next X-Men film would be heading into space and the sinking feeling continued. Then over the weekend my fears took another step towards reality when the rumour mill went into overdrive about a film on Fox’s slate called X-Men: Supernova apparently having the working title “Dark Phoenix” (see here). So it’s looking more and more likely that the X-Men franchise – thanks to that handy timeline reboot at the end of Days Of Future Past – will be having another stab at the classic comic book storyline that X-Men: The Last Stand so spectacularly ballsed up once already.
Let me clarify one thing: I don’t have any problem per se with the X-Men films trying to get the Dark Phoenix saga right second time around. Hell, we’ve had two Spider-Man origin films inside ten years, and new cinematic takes on Batman’s beginnings seem to come out with increasing regularity. In fact, I’d love to see something on the big screen that’s a lot closer to the comic book storyline (which was genuinely epic and the only time a comic has ever made me cry) and Bryan Singer’s audio commentary comments reassure me that this time, that could be the case.
But I don’t want to see it done with a new version of Jean Grey who we’ve barely had time to get to know yet. Who we barely know as Jean Grey before she’s become Phoenix.
The reason the Dark Phoenix storyline was so powerful in the comics was because it took a long-running, much-loved character, gave her near infinite power which she initially used for good (loving the rush as she did so) until that old adage about “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” came into play. She went evil and destroyed an inhabited planet before Professor X managed to rein her back in again. But it was too late, because a council of aliens already demanded she be put on trial. When the Phoenix threatens to emerge again, Jean Grey kills herself to save the universe from its destructive power.
It was a story that took 38 issues to unfold, between X-Men #100 (1976) and X-Men #137 (1980). X-Men: The Last Stand tried to cram it into into one film; no wonder it felt somewhat short of epic. At least Famke Janssen has been playing Jean for two films beforehand so there was some sense that this terrifying thing to happen to an established character.
Poor old Sophie Turner barely had time to unpack her bags in X-Men: Apocalypse before she was going all flame on. The transformation seems to be happening with an unseemly haste. She’s been introduced purely to be Phoenix, never as Jean Grey. And that lessens the impact.
I’d much rather there was at least one more film in between where we could get to know this new Jean; in which we see her and Scott getting close; in which she’s a real heroine with a real character before she just becomes an embodiment of evil power. Let’s have a film first which isn’t about Phoenix, but which can end with Phoenix going evil, leading into the big Phoenix blockbuster for the film after. Sure, the cat’s already out of the bag (or bird’s out of the cage, maybe?) as regards her Phoenix powers, but in the comics there was a good three years’ worth of issues before Phoenix became the fully-fledged Dark Phoenix. That slow downward spiral was crucial to the grand operatic feel of the tale. The films always seem to reduce it to a three-minute pop song.
Who knows? Maybe Singer (who won’t be directing it but will still be guiding it) does have a two-film plan of action in mind. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.