Let me forewarn you – the read ahead is pretty long, and it’s mostly because I am extremely passionate about my classic X-Men comics – and one of my all time favorite stories is the Dark Phoenix saga… and with news once again, that Fox’s next X-Men movie is called “Dark Phoenix”… I figured I’d take some time to share some thoughts…
THE DARK PHOENIX IN X-MEN MOVIES
Listen. We’ve seen it before. And we’re about to see it again. Jean Grey – unleashing the Phoenix Force… and Jean Grey losing control of the Phoenix Force. You might thing I am talking about the second X-Men movie where we see Jean Grey, played by Famke Janssen… and then how she loses control of the Phoenix Force in the third X-Men movie… that’s what you might be thinking right?
Well, how about the time, where the X-Men movie “rebooted” and then it was Jean Grey, portrayed by Sophie Turner, and during the battle against Apocalypse, we see a much more obvious release of the Phoenix Force (rather than the hint in Famke’s eyes, in the other X-Men movie). You might be saying, “But Tawmis, we don’t know that she loses control of the Phoenix Force!” And, I am here to say – but we do. Fox has officially named the next X-Men movie “Dark Phoenix.” So that should be a clear indication that it will revolve (once again) around Jean losing control of the Phoenix Force.
WHAT IS THE PHOENIX FORCE AND STORY OF JEAN GREY (IN COMICS?)
Is it that I hate the Dark Phoenix story? That’s actually the furthest from the truth. As a matter of fact, the entire build up to the story that leads to the shocking conclusion of the Dark Phoenix story is perhaps one of my all time favorite comic book stories ever.
So then, what’s my problem? Shouldn’t I be happy to see the Dark Phoenix – you know, again – on the big screen? You’re right. I should be happy. Should being the key word. So why am I not happy? Because both movies have gotten one very core thing wrong. (And maybe someone might say I am being too much of a “Comic Book Nerd” – but the one thing they got wrong would be like if they had changed the Ring in the Lord of the Rings movie into a necklace and called it Lord of the Necklace or something). Small, trivial changes, I don’t mind. They made tons of them in Lord of the Rings (and I loved the movie, and those books are sacred to me – don’t get me started on what they did with The Hobbit though… that is another story entirely…)
So what is that one nagging thing that has bothered me about both of these “Phoenix” stories that we’ve seen so far? It’s the fact, that for whatever reason, both times they have had Jean Grey being born with the Phoenix Force, and just explaining it away as some part of her mutant power rather than going into it being a cosmic being that entered Jean’s body (as originally written; many, many, many years later, they’d decide Phoenix took her place and put Jean in a cocoon at the bottom of the ocean in suspended animation – hey, it’s comics!) So originally – for those that don’t know – the story takes place where the X-Men are returning from space and their plane is falling apart; Jean is the only one who can hold it together with her telekinetic powers; after much fighting, the rest go back in the secure area. Jean successfully lands the plane into the bay, and while the rest of the X-Men surface, Jean seems to be missing, and finally surfaces.
This would result in Jean Grey leaving the X-Men (as a team member, but still in the book occasionally) for awhile until making her dramatic return in Uncanny X-Men #125. There isn’t too much here, other than the X-Men begin to notice a change in her.
It’s actually not until a little later when the X-Men begin to encounter a new group of villains that have dubbed themselves The Hellfire Club, with the Inner Circle being composed of mutants who sought to influence the world and dressed in 18th Century period clothing. One such member, who had the name of Jason Wyngarde, was an old X-Men villain named Mastermind who had used his own mutant powers of illusion control, to manipulate his own appearance. Jason Wyngarde took an interest in taking over and manipulating Jean Grey to turn on the X-Men, and ideally become his lover, and improve his ranking among the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club. Unfortunately, what Jason Wyngarde did not know is that it wasn’t just Jean Grey’s mind; it was that of the Phoenix Force which had bonded with Jean Grey.
This led to a battle with the X-Men fighting the Inner Circle and being soundly beaten; with only Wolverine managing to “escape” (and that’s only because Leland used his gravity manipulating to increase Wolverine’s density, crashing him through the floor and down into the sewers, where the Hellfire Club assumed that Wolverine had perished from being crushed to death).
Wolverine would, as noted, survive the encounter and immediately come back after the Hellfire Club with a vengeance, and in the process recusing his fellow X-Men members; but not before Mastermind had successfully manipulated Jean Grey enough to seize control of her mind.
The Phoenix Force seized control of Jean Grey, now twisted by Mastermind’s evil intentions and became the legendary Dark Phoenix in Uncanny X-Men #135. Now the X-Men found themselves fighting one of their own members; one of the original X-Men. One of the sweetest, kindest X-Men to have ever existed – Jean Grey. Storm referred to her as “Sister”, Wolverine had feelings for Jean Grey, Cyclops had been Jean’s main love interest from the very start, Nightcrawler was a devote Catholic, and Colossus had the gentle heart of a writer/painter. Going after Jean Grey, and trying to stop her by any means possible was something the X-Men were simply not equipped to do because their own feelings for the teammate superseded the consequences of letting the Dark Phoenix lose control.
The X-Men would call on their former member, Beast, to help them try and stop Dark Phoenix/Jean Grey. Beast had created a headband that should have nullified the Phoenix power; but not understanding the source of the power or the infinite power that the Phoenix contained; Jean Grey easily destroyed the device. We see Jean’s human side pop up from time to time, when she leaves and visits the home of her parents, and sees photos of them (and her sister). It’s Cyclops who comes to her – no longer attacking, but tries to appeal to Jean’s human side; and just as it seems like she is about to regain control, Professor Xavier arrives and attacks her mentally, which makes Jean lose control again. Professor Xavier and Jean lock into mental combat, and Professor Xavier is able to subdue and lock away the Phoenix Persona deep into Jean Grey’s mind. Though the X-Men are happy to see Jean back, it’s not long before they’re teleported away by the Shi’ar Empire and abducted.
The Shi’ar that the Phoenix Force is a massive power that can’t be contained, it’s destructive, etc – and in the end, it boils down to “Jean Grey must die.” Professor Xavier and the X-Men challenge the Shi’ar to a battle for Jean Grey’s life. So the X-Men are paired off against various members of the Shi’ar powerful force known as the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. While the X-Men fight valiantly for Jean Grey’s life, in the end, Jean Grey realizes that the Phoenix Force is still inside her, and that at any time, it could potentially break free and release the Dark Phoenix once again. Jean Grey sacrifices herself and dies, so that the Dark Phoenix will never be a problem again. (Well, that was a good plan, but many years later, Jean Grey, and the Phoenix Force would return countless times, to the point it’s nearly become a parody of the whole ‘The Phoenix will rise again!’ – but hey, it’s comics!)
HOW WOULD I DO THE DARK PHOENIX MOVIE?
All of that said – just how would I do the Dark Phoenix movie? I’d treat it as “the big movie” event. Similar to how the Disney/Marvel movies are building up to The Infinity War, I would begin building up The Dark Phoenix as the big movie that several movies lead up to.
First, if I had my way – and I was going to do this from scratch, I would introduce the first movie as The Starjammers. And you’re probably thinking, “Who the Hell are the Starjammers?” or if you know who they are, you might be thinking, “Who the Hell would watch a movie about the Starjammers?”
And those are very reasonable questions and concerns. But my counter argument to that is – before the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie came out, how many people were screaming, “Finally! A Guardians of the Galaxy movie!” As a matter of fact, most people – including many comic book readers were either saying, “Who the heck are the Guardians of the Galaxy?” and older fans might have been saying, “Those aren’t my versions of the Guardians of the Galaxy!”
WHY THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY MOVIE MATTERS…
That’s right – the Guardians of the Galaxy you see in the movie aren’t even close to the (previously) traditional Guardians of the Galaxy. That’s right – that over there, to the left – that was the Guardians of the Galaxy. Over the years from their first appearance, they would modernize their looks and add a few members to the roster – but even still, none of those characters that they added were members in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie – not a single one. The comic book version of the Guardians of the Galaxy came into existence in 1969. This version of the Guardians of the Galaxy entered the “regular Earth” though they were from a future/alternate reality. This version of the team would eventually go on to get their own series which ran for 62 issues.
The series brought about a lot of change and updates to the roster, with members coming and going; and still, not a single one of those members was from the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. In 2008, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (pretty much one of the greatest teams to work together), reworked the Guardians of the Galaxy concept – creating a team of misfits, that would go on to be the core of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie that we all know and love, with members such as Star-Lord, Rocket Racoon, Drax, Gamora, and of course, Groot. Yondu would appear in the movie (though as a “villain” … “anti-hero”…?), and he was the only character from the original Guardians of the Galaxy book (though not a member; though the second movie seems to have changed that from the looks of things).
Originally, Star-Lord was not the charming “space pirate” that we all know and love when he first appeared in 1976. Nor did he have the snazzy, red leather, trench coat that we all know and love to see him dance in. Nor did he have his cool mask that has become the iconic symbol that represents Star-Lord (as much, I dare say, as Captain America’s shield represents Cap, or that Mjölnir represents Thor!). Once again, this was through the creative process when Dan & Andy were doing the 2008 Guardians of the Galaxy – though, updated Star-Lord’s look, it wasn’t that what we see in the movie. And Rocket Racoon? Yeah, he shot guns; but he certainly wasn’t the fun, charming, hilarious, bomb-making Racoon we all know and love when he first appeared in 1976. As a matter of fact, when he first appeared his name was “Rocky.”
One of the most surprising and drastic changes came in the form of Groot. Groot – when he first appeared was this… giant… plant thing… from a place called “Planet X”… and he could actually talk (not just limited to “I am Groot” or “We are Groot”)… and he didn’t look anywhere near as cute and fun as we all know him from the movie. This was, once again, the creative works of Dan & Andy working on revamping the Guardians of the Galaxy and taking all of these misfit – and for the most part – very, very, very obscure characters from everywhere – and making them into what they are now.
LET’S MEET THE STARJAMMERS…
The Starjammers are, essentially, what the Guardians of the Galaxy comic became when Dan & Andy recreated the Guardians of the Galaxy book. You have Corsair, who is literally, the human space pirate, with his wit and charm – and was abducted and enslaved b the Shi’ar (much like Star-Lord was abducted in the movie). Then you have Hepzibah, who is the female bad ass (much like Gamora). You have Ch’od, the big green, hulking mass of muscle (much like Drax). You have Cr+eee (the white creature on Ch’od’s shoulder) who speaks in a squeaky language only Ch’od seems to understand (similar to the Groot/Rocket thing) and then there’s Raza (with the patch and long flowing hair), who is wise, speaks with using “Old English” (thee and thy), and reminds me of what they are going to make Mantis out to be in the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie. So the Starjammers are literally what the Guardians of the Galaxy became. And with a good writer for a script (I’m available Marvel, if you’re reading this!), Fox Studios could potentially land a successful movie that’s up there with Guardians of the Galaxy. (Now, more than ever would be the best time to try and pull this off; because with the recent success of Guardians of the Galaxy and the resurgence of Star Wars movies; space dramas are shoe in for success, if done right!)
LET’S BEGIN MAKING THE DARK PHOENIX TRILOGY…
So, after explaining all that (I am extremely passionate about my X-Men, especially when it comes to the Dark Phoenix!) – I would begin the movie with the Starjammers as the first movie. This is the movie that sets everything up. I’d possibly start it with the Starjammers have stolen something from the Shi’ar Empire. (I could get really long winded about how great the Shi’ar Empire is – but to sum it up, they’re one of the most powerful space fairing races out there, with a massive empire, ruling over a great majority of planets out there!) So the Shi’ar Empire is chasing down the Starjammers to recover this “relic” that the Starjammers have acquired. Do a few scenes where the Starjammers are trying to pawn off the relic, but the Shi’ar keep arriving (possibly showing off some of the members of the Imperial Guard – who are the Shi’ar’s version of ‘super heroes’ loyal to the throne of the Shi’ar Empire). The Shi’ar keep applying too much pressure, so by the end of the Starjammers movie Corsair says he knows the perfect, backwards planet to hide the relic on; Earth (his home planet).
The second movie would be called something like X-Men: Rise of the Phoenix. It would essentially deal with the X-Men going to investigate the unusual UFO sighting (which is actually the Starjammers). The Starjammers and X-Men would fight it out initially (the Starjammers possibly mistaking the powered X-Men as members of the Imperial Guard, since when Corsair was abducted from Earth, there were no known mutants to exist; while Professor Xavier and Magneto were both mutants with powers by this time; this was not widely known to the general public). The X-Men and Starjammers would continue the fight until the arrival of the Shi’ar and their Imperial Guard; when the Starjammers realize the X-Men are not members of the Imperial Guard. Teaming up against the massive force of the Imperial Guard; Jean Grey scans the mind of one of the Imperial Guard or even perhaps D’Ken, leader of the Shi’ar Empire at the time), and learns that the relic that the Starjammers stole holds incredible power. Jean locates the relic, and realizing that they have no hope of defeating the Imperial Guard opens the relic, unleashing the Phoenix Force which bonds with her and gives the X-Men the upper hand. The movie ends with the defeat of the Imperial Guard, due to Jean Grey merging with the Phoenix!
The third movie would be called X-Men: Birth of the Dark Phoenix or simply X-Men: Dark Phoenix. This is where things hit the fan. The Shi’ar call down on the rest of the Imperial Guard, including Gladiator. The Starjammers and X-Men try to fight them, but they’re hopelessly out numbered, out gunned, and over powered. The X-Men and Starjammers must admit defeat. D’Ken claims that Jean Grey must die, because the Phoenix Force can not be contained in a mortal without eventually corrupting them; having proof before and showing the X-Men what happened the last time the Phoenix Force took on a mortal’s form and all the trouble they had capturing it into the relic. The X-Men challenge the Shi’ar Imperial Guard to a challenge (similar to what we see in Uncanny X-Men #137) in order to save Jean Grey’s life. The Starjammers also agree to join in the fight; and so – they do the individual fights, and despite the heroes looking like they’re going to win, in the end, Jean Grey sacrifices herself – seemingly destroying herself which allows the Shi’ar to recapture the Phoenix Force back into the relic. Movie ends with the X-Men burying Jean Grey on Earth.
So while, not even my version of the Dark Phoenix saga is completely true to what happens in the comic; I realize there’s a lot of comic book history that that simply can’t be shoved into a movie; so I would truncate it down to the parts I thought were important; and that is, simply acknowledging and explaining that the Phoenix Force is a cosmic being – not simply Jean Grey’s “mutant ability” as it has been portrayed in the previous versions of the X-Men movies. I think starting the movie with the Starjammers is a very reasonable idea. I think the introduction of the Shi’ar Empire is also reasonable. Fox Studios seems to have a problem with just wanting to go straight for the payload, rather than giving us some foreplay to build up to the story that most X-Men fans love and adore and hail, one of the best X-Men story arcs – if not one of the best comic book story arcs.
And naturally, with Jean having bonded with the Phoenix Force, they could even go on to make other movies, that deal with Jean being resurrected by the residue of the Phoenix Force (the Phoenix always rises from the ashes) – and then, maybe at that point, explain that Jean’s powers are now enhanced; her mind opened by the cosmic being to the true potential of her telepathy and telekinesis.
So there you have it. How, if given the chance, I would have done the Dark Phoenix Saga.