The X-Men are coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We don’t know how and we don’t know when, but it’s happening, and if Marvel Studios is smart, they’ll consider rebooting the most famous superhero team of all time by finally doing justice to a classic comic book story that’s evaded big budget adaptations for over a decade: the Dark Phoenix Saga.
Wait! Before you close this tab or consider chucking your phone out the window in disgust, please hear me out. I swear, I’m not just trolling. The truth is, the reasons 20th Century Fox’s two (two!) failed attempts to tell the story of Jean Grey’s transformation into a cosmic, sentient energy force were always doomed to fail are the same reasons the MCU is primed to get this story right.
What am I talking about? The two most important things when it comes to telling this story (and the reason the X-Men: The Animated Series version is still the definitive adaptation) are actually pretty simple:
1. You need to embrace that the Dark Phoenix Saga is an intergalactic adventure.
2. You can’t rush it. After 10 years and over 20 movies, Marvel is perfectly primed to finally get this story right.
If I already have you convinced, go ahead and sign my petition (just kidding, fan petitions are the worst), but if you’re still not sold, let’s go a little deeper.
How Marvel Studios Set the Stage for a Cosmic X-Men Space Opera
10 years ago, if I told you that the biggest movie of all time was a comic book adaptation about a team of superheroes collecting magic stones across space and time to defeat a giant purple alien you probably would have laughed me out of the room. Today, not only was Avengers: Endgame a commercial and critical success, but it’s just one of many cosmic Marvel movies already released (Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok) or coming soon (Eternals). There’s no longer any question as to whether fans will allow weird sci-fi in their superhero movies, which is good because that’s exactly what was missing from the last two Dark Phoenix movies.
The original comic book saga tells the story of an ancient alien being that inhabits Jean Grey’s body after coming into contact with her during a mission in outer space. The plot quickly unspools to reveal warring alien races and a crystal with the power to destroy the universe. By the end, the X-Men are fighting against a team of what’s basically the alien Avengers in an arena battle to save Jean Grey’s life. It’s total nonsense and totally awesome, with a heartbreaking finale.
But if you only saw this year’s Dark Phoenix or 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand you probably had no idea that this was supposed to be a cosmic space opera. That’s because Fox’s version of the X-Men never took the time to create an intergalactic setting for the story, instead bringing it back down to earth and ruining the plot in the process. With Marvel back in change of the X-Men, however, we finally have a chance to see the Dark Phoenix story told on the big screen as it’s always meant to be: a wild sci-fi epic that makes Thor: Ragnarok look as tame and grounded as Captain America: The First Avenger by comparison.
One Movie Just Isn’t Enough
The other big problem with making a Dark Phoenix movie is that it’s too big of a story to tell in just one movie. That’s clear in 2019’s Dark Phoenix, which devotes the entire plot to Jean Grey’s story and still feels rushed, and it’s doubly true for Last Stand, which crammed the entire thing into a movie that also featured separate plotlines about the discovery of a mutant cure and a conflict between Professor X and Magneto. By comparison, the excellent X-Men: The Animated Series spent eight episodes on the saga in the 1990s (and that was only after two full seasons and 28 episodes spent fleshing out the characters).
If Marvel wants to do this right, we need at least two movies if not three devoted to the Dark Phoenix story. That’s a big ask, but there’s an obvious solution: Disney+. The new streaming service, which launches this fall, will feature new shows set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and starring actors from the movies.
Onstage at Comic-Con 2019, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige described these shows as miniseries-style “events,” which sounds a bit like the animated eight-episode story arc that successfully adapted Dark Phoenix back in 1994.
By the late 2020s we could be already be familiar with the MCU’s versions of the X-Men thanks to a movie or two. Hopefully by then, the sour taste of 2019’s Dark Phoenix will have also faded, making it the perfect time to unleash a Dark Phoenix mini-series that could finally turn the original comic into a live-action story that doesn’t stink.
Is that too much to ask?
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