The X-Men Franchise is Doing ‘Dark Phoenix’ in November 2018

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Sophie Turner is what was, what is, what will be in the ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ sequel.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Over the weekend 20th Century Fox announced a slew of 2018 release dates: New Mutants on April 13, Deadpool 2 on June 1, and Dark Phoenix on November 2. Saturday cartoons and movie news. Wasn’t the weekend grand? Let’s fight the urge to speculate wildly about Deadpool 2 and instead speculate wildly about the X-Men: Apocalypse sequel, Dark Phoenix.

Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) will reprise her role as Jean Grey which makes sense given that X-Men: Apocalypse showed off her Phoenix-y powers to defeat the big baddie. The interesting, potentially bad thing about this is that the current X-Men: Apocalypse continuity envisions The Phoenix Force as being an already existing part of Jean. There is a bittersweet quality to this because it is both interesting and worrisome.

The interesting aspect is that Turner has a great acting opportunity. We’ve seen in X-Men: Apocalypse that Fox is willing to play fast and loose with the source material to give a female star more to do. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is just blue Katniss Everdeen because if you pay for an Oscar-winning actress to be in your superhero movie, it’s in your best interest to get your money’s worth. Turner’s already got experience showing a character grow from wilting flower to talented power player. We’ve already seen Jean use her Phoenix-like powers to save her friends at the climax of X-Men: Apocalypse. Further, she’s shown her Phoenix-ed out facial expression can be pretty menacing.

Now the worrisome aspect, the X-Men movies have been lackluster. Fox hasn’t perfected the art of the team up movie. To be fair, X-Men: Apocalypse was incredibly overcrowded but so was Age of Ultron and Civil War. The best move would be to scale down to a personal story between the core members of the existing team. Turner as the emotional core could work. The only problem is there is an uphill battle to build the narrative infrastructure to make the Dark Phoenix Saga land.

A narrative that retcons runs the risk of losing some character building background. Also, it misses out on a big theme in Jean’s history, The Phoenix Force. The Phoenix Force is meant to protect life. Specifically, through the protection of a crystal whose continued existence is the only thing between a giant multidimensional Ctrl + Alt + Delete and the world’s continued existence. For example, when it cracks we get some Doctor Who level time craziness that would make Memento look linear.

Retconning is an atrocious idea. Like, so bad. But Jean Grey’s relationship with The Phoenix Force leading up to the Dark Phoenix Saga is worth noting. Initially, and in multiple tellings, Jean interacted with the Phoenix Force following the death of her childhood friend Anne. However, Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men run 96–100 — a Jean Grey-aissance of sorts — has her interact poignantly with the Phoenix Force during a mission with the X-Men. After some drama in a space station, Jean tries desperately to save her friends as their ship gets bombarded with solar radiation. At the brink of death but fighting it by sheer force of will, Jean reaches out and strikes a deal with the Phoenix Force to give up a part of herself in return for everyone’s lives. The X-Men’s ship then crashes into the ocean, and Jean emerges from the water reborn as Phoenix. Thereby, reaching a level so badass that she has the power to nickname herself.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Since Jean is now “one with force and the force is with her,” her powers get a godlike boost. When Jean returns to earth she is able to consciously suppress the force enough to go on with her life. However, that doesn’t last long, and soon she becomes overwhelmed by her power after saving Cyclops when he goes head to head, literally, with Mastermind — all this after some Hellfire Club shenanigans. No spoilers, but if you’ve seen X-Men: The Last Stand, you’ve gotten a peek at this story already. However unsatisfying it was to watch.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is important both commercially and narratively. Dark Phoenix is a benchmark; a touchstone that you have to partake in when burning your way through X-Men continuity. To understand later X-Men storylines you need to have some understanding of Jean Grey’s history. Personally, and controversially, I liken it to The Killing Joke’s place within Batman’s continuity. It’s a similar story to the Dark Phoenix Saga in that what Chris Claremont did was build Jean’s thematic place within the X-Men universe. The same way that Moore set the thematic tone for later Joker stories. Every writer after Claremont assumes Dark Phoenix Saga’s mythos, spirit, or that its central events transpired. With just cause, Chris Claremont did great working moving Jean from being the B-member token girl of the team to an Omega level mutant powerhouse. In early continuity, Jean Grey could only mentally lift something her weight and lower. Any bigger and the other X-Men would have to help her (I know!). Dark Phoenix is an important story and it deserves a good film. Only time will tell if it will get it.

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