Comics on Film: Taking Another Crack at the X-Men's Phoenix

Comics on Film: Taking Another Crack at the X-Men's Phoenix

Sep 22, 2017

As the longest-running single superhero movie series in the modern era of the genre that's gone without a full-on reboot, the X-Men film series is one of the strangest narrative beasts in current movie theaters. From 2000-2012, every X-Men movie released in that period of time shared a single continuity that, at times, didn't seem like it concerned itself with much.

Next November, the series is set to make a return in the form of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, a film that acts as a direct sequel to the events of last year's X-Men: Apocalypse. The title likely holds a special meaning for comic book fans, signifying that the film will be taking a crack at the timeless and beloved story, "The Dark Phoenix Saga," written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne (with art duties also handled by Byrne) from 1980. Interestingly, though, this will actually stand as the second effort the series has made to acknowledge that original story.

So why take another crack at it?

How We Got Here

The original two X-Men films directed by Bryan Singer in 2000 and 2003 basically catapulted us into the "Golden Age" of superhero cinema we enjoy today, where every major moviegoing season usually has some kind of comics-based offering for audiences to go and see. The end of Singer's second film ended with a strong hint at the series' future involving Jean Grey's evolution into the Phoenix, but he instead opted to go to Warner Bros. instead to create what would become Superman Returns.

By 2006's third  X-Men entry from new drector Brett Ratner, the series started to show signs of creative strain. 2009's first solo Wolverine film starring Hugh Jackman also failed to impress critics and audiences, but 2011's X-Men: First Class picked things up with both and helped set the series on a more correct course. Then came Bryan Singer's directorial return to the franchise with 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past: the closest the series has ever gotten to a reboot, it unified the longstanding cast of Singer's original film with the acclaimed cast of First Class, telling an era-spanning tale that helped to "correct" the continuity issues that the series had developed while also telling a damn good story in its own right.

It was followed upon last year with X-Men: Apocalypse, another period film set in the 1980s that feature new, younger actors taking up the roles of iconic cinematic teammembers Cyclops, Storm, and Jean Grey. Unfortunately, Apocalypse did not continue the creative momentum the series regained with Days of Future Past and was a relative dud with critics, and also stands as the third domestically lowest-grossing X-Men film, standing at eighth place out of 10 released films thus far (including last year's Deadpool).

Still, the series is soldiering on with much of the cast established in the primary roles from First Class on through Apocalypse, and if nothing else it makes sense that Bryan Singer is finally going to get the chance to tell his version of the Dark Phoenix Saga that we almost got as his third X-Men film, before he decided to head off to make a Superman movie. However, Singer's involvement in Dark Phoenix will be as a producer, since the man directing it is longtime series writer Simon Kinberg. This is where things get a little...sticky.

The New Way, Same as the Old Way?

Simon Kinberg has carved an impressive and laudable writing and producing career in the movie business, having become associated with a plethora of niche genres and franchises while also making a positive difference in many of his efforts. He received a "thanks" credit on both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One due to his efforts as a creative consultant, while also serving as a writer on the fun TV series Star Wars: Rebels. He's served as a producer on the likes of Ridley Scott's The Martian, and co-wrote the first Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes film.

He's also been associated with the 20th Century Fox X-Men film series for over a decade, being the primary credited writer on the awesome Days of Future Past, while also helping to produce DeadpoolLogan, and the acclaimed TV series Legion. He also, frankly has a few dark spots on his resume, including being one of the primary writers of 2015's disastrous Fantastic Four film, in addition to the lackluster Apocalypse film. Still, this certainly doesn't mean he can't tell a great X-Men story in his new position.

Where things get weird, though, is that Kinberg, along with screenwriter Zak Penn, co-wrote 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, the last noted effort to tell a cinematic story inspired by the Dark Phoenix Saga, which was less-than-impressive for a legion of fans and critics. With Kinberg now given more complete control over the new film, will that make a significant amount of difference?

According to the man himself, yes.

In an early 2017 interview with THR, Kinberg spoke directly about the fact that he was associated with The Last Stand, and stated that an effort would be made to "make up" for that film's failings. He said,

"I'm a huge fan of The Dark Phoenix story, and I felt like there was a lot that we didn't do in X-Men: The Last Stand, which was based on the Phoenix story..If we were so lucky to get another chance, we would do [things] differently."

Kinberg should also get credit for recognizing that things went off the rails with the 2006 film since he actually did something about it in the writing for Days of Future Past. Still, there's a reasonable argument to be made on the other side that may ask if the versatile writer, producer and now director has enough distance from the X-Men film series to offer a fresh perspective in his directorial debut. He certainly has excelled in many things he's done thus far, so it may not be safe to bet against him. We'll find out when X-Men: Dark Phoenix hits theaters on November 2, 2018.

What do you think? Are you looking forward to the series' second attempt to tell The Dark Phoenix Saga? What would you like from the upcoming film? Leave a comment below, and we'll return for a new Comics on Film next week.


Chris Clow is a comic book expert and former retailer, and a writer with work having appeared in the Huffington Post, Fandango and others. He also hosts the podcasts GeekPulse Radio and Comics on Consoles. You can find his weekly Comics on Film column every week here at Movies.com, and you can follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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