X-Men: Too early for the Dark Phoenix?
Dark Phoenix is due to come out in a few days here in the UK, and I couldn't be more... apprehensive about it. I want it to be good; I really do! But in the end, I know I'll be disappointed. I love the X-men with a passion; they're probably my favourite superhero team, but the films have been a constant source of frustration for me. I talked about my love for the X-men in my review of Deadpool 2 (i.e. the best X-men film), so I won't delve too deeply into it here. A lot of people love the X-men because it taught them that it's ok to be weird! You can still find friends and a family who will accept you for who you are.
So why exactly am I not teeming with excitement about Dark Phoenix? Simply put, it's far too soon to attempt another Dark Phoenix film.
The Phoenix Saga was a huge X-men storyline that was released over numerous issues starting in 1976 and finally concluding in 1980. It tells the tale of the slow corruption of Jean Grey, telepath extraordinaire, and her eventual transformation into the Dark Phoenix. During a good chunk of that time, The Phoenix was actually good! It was only after a few years that the Dark Phoenix appeared. But yet again, Fox is trying to stuff four years worth of story into two hours.
So what exactly does the Dark Phoenix film need to cover?
It comes down to three main points:
The relationship between Jean Grey and the rest of the X-men (especially Cyclops)
The slow corruption of Jean Grey
The Cosmic universe
Love is in the air
The relationship between Scott Summers (AKA Cyclops) and Jean Grey is a complicated one. At times it's incredibly beautiful and powerful, and at others, it's frustrating and confusing. Mostly because Scott is a bit of a dick.
As it stands, we have had one film in which to explore the relationships between the new iterations of these characters: X-men Apocalypse. One. Film. A film in which we don't get the slightest hint of chemistry between Scott Summers (played by Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (played by Sophie Turner).
We see no internal conflict within Scott as he struggles to let Jean get close out of fear he may end up hurting her. We don't see the anxious longing that Jean feels for Scott, if only he weren't so distant and reserved. How could he possibly feel anything for her? We don't get to see their relationship develop at all.
It seems we never will because there's a nine-year time-skip between Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix and now Scott and Jean are a couple. Cool, I guess. I suppose this could work if they spend a good amount of time demonstrating this relationship in the film, and allowing us to connect with them. But will it really show the extent of their feelings for each other? Not only that, will we see the strength of the friendship between Jean and the rest of the X-men?
BUT WAIT! What about the first three films! Famke Jansen was totally Jean Grey in those films and she was all up in Scott's face with smooches and such. Yeah, alright simmer down optimistic-Mike. I suppose we do have the older versions of the characters who sort of had a believable romance. However, I always felt that Wolverine had better chemistry with Jean than Scott did. In fact, when Jean dies in X-men 2 (spoilers I guess), I was more empathetic towards Wolverine's grief than Scott's. But ok, let's say they had an intensely Shakespearean romance in the first films. These are new iterations of the characters, played by completely different actors with completely different personalities. Imagine comparing Christian Bale's Batman to George Clooney's Batman (no George, I will never let you forget). The only thing they have in common is the name Batman (and chiselled good looks).
Honestly, I don't really care about these versions of the characters. Apocalypse was mostly focussed on Mystique and Magneto, so I never developed a strong connection to young Scott and Jean. I don't feel as though I've spent enough time with these characters to truly care about them. I have no emotional connection to them going into Dark Phoenix. Maybe that's the fault of my cold, unfeeling heart. Or maybe it's because Apocalypse looks like a Power Rangers villain...
Think about Logan. Hugh Jackman appeared as Wolverine in eight films before Logan! That's eight films where the audience can form a connection with the character. Now think about the ending of Logan and how emotional it felt. That's what we should be feeling when watching Dark Phoenix. We should be in as much emotional turmoil as Scott Summers. But it won't happen. We don't know these characters well enough.
The Strange Case of Jean Grey and Dark Phoenix
In the comics, the Phoenix Force is an immensely powerful Cosmic Entity. It isn't Jean Grey's final form, it's an entirely separate being. Jean Grey's transformation is far more complicated than “she likes the power, so I guess she's bad now”. Throughout the comics, she is being emotionally and mentally manipulated by a sick bastard called Jason Wyngarde, a mutant who can create incredibly realistic illusions. This is a huge factor in Jean's eventual metamorphosis into the Dark Phoenix. That's not to say this is the only way she can succumb to the power of the Phoenix, the point is, it took time. It didn't happen at the drop of a hat, and Jean is inherently a good person. She was mentally broken by Wyngarde, and her psyche grasped onto the one thing within reach - the dark power of the Phoenix.
One thing that Dark Phoenix has maybe gotten right is the inclusion of the Cosmic Universe. Now that Guardians of the Galaxy has proved to Hollywood that audiences will enjoy trippy space adventures with superheroes, Dark Phoenix will see the characters spend at least some time in space. I'm almost certain we won't see the inclusion of the Shi'ar (an alien race of humanoid bird-people... yep), or the M'Kraan Crystal (a big ol' crystal inside of which is the centre of all matter and antimatter of every reality in existence – perhaps a bit much for a two hour film). Both are key parts of the comics, but both can be justifiably omitted from a live action film. However, I'm glad that we will get to see at least some crazy space action! Oh, also at one point in the comics Jean flies into space and drains the energy of a distant star, destroying an entire planet of aliens in the process. Too dark?
If the Phoenix Saga is ever to see justice on the big screen then it needs to be larger than one film. It should be the X-men's equivalent of Avengers Infinity War. One film is simply not enough to tell this incredible story. But, I hope Dark Phoenix proves me wrong. I really do.