The most iconic X-Men story from Marvel’s comics is the Dark Phoenix Saga, so there’s little wonder why it was a part of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand and why we got another take on the tale in the new film Dark Phoenix. But unfortunately the Phoenix fails to rise from the ashes in this new effort and in fact makes many of the same mistakes that made the last one a dud. Even though this was supposed to be Fox’s do-over on Jean Grey’s big story, they once again misplayed their hand, leaving us with a frustrating case of history repeating itself.

It’s worth pointing out how The Last Stand was co-written by Simon Kinberg (along with Zak Penn), and this time Kinberg not only wrote the film but directed it. Kinberg has spoken about how he regrets cramming the Dark Phoenix storyline into The Last Stand and making it the B-plot to the Cure storyline, and how he planned on getting Dark Phoenix right this time by focusing the movie solely on Jean’s harrowing journey. Yet with 13 years to reflect on what went wrong the first time, Kinberg still made many of the same mistakes.

Warning: full spoilers for Dark Phoenix ahead!


Misunderstanding the Dark Phoenix Saga Comic

Both The Last Stand and Dark Phoenix demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of why comic readers were so enthralled with the story in the first place. Both films rush to turn Jean Grey into the Dark Phoenix and immediately show its corrupting influence on her. But if you look at the comics, the Dark Phoenix Saga is actually two parts — the eight-issue “Phoenix Saga” which sees Jean bond with the Phoenix Force and use her newfound power as a hero, and then the 10-issue “Dark Phoenix Saga” where Jean is corrupted by the Phoenix, becomes a force of destruction, and ultimately perishes. The glaring difference is the comics show Jean using the power of the Phoenix for good and give us some insight on how hosting a cosmic being is affecting her mindset. Only after we’ve seen the good that Jean can do as the Phoenix do we then get the downfall, which is what makes the whole tragedy so compelling. But the movies give us the fall without the rise.

Dark Phoenix X-Men Movie Photos

Jean Is AFK Half the Movie

As we mentioned up top, The Last Stand tried to include two major X-Men storylines but wound up doing justice to neither. With the Cure drama often taking center stage, that left Jean to stand idly by while other events unfolded. Nothing like having one of the most powerful and pivotal characters looking completely checked out for half the movie! And even when the spotlight was on Jean, it mostly involved other heroes and villains talking at her as she tried to deal with the overwhelming power inside of her.

Pretty much the same thing happened throughout Dark Phoenix. The most egregious example was during the fight sequence in New York City. Jean essentially stood there as Jessica Chastain’s Vuk gabbed at her, and then Magneto and Charles made appearances to shout some stuff in her direction. To give Dark Phoenix some credit, Jean did lift her hand a couple times throughout this sequence, so it was a <em>bit</em> different.

Another Red Trench Coat

To show Jean’s transformation into life and death incarnate, The Last Stand put her in… a gaudy red trench coat. It was a far cry from the iconic Dark Phoenix costume from the comics, so the new film had the chance to rectify that error. Obviously the movies would never give Jean a red and yellow bodysuit with a winged chest emblem and matching sash, but there was the chance to offer her a cool look evoking the signature Dark Phoenix style. Yet she somehow wound up in another red trench coat. Is there just a store fully stocked with these things should any mutants happen to fall to the Dark Side?

Given how negatively The Last Stand was received, one would think they’d avoid making any direct parallels in Dark Phoenix, but they actually <em>reused</em> one of the most lamented visual elements.

Just to offer our two cents on how they could have executed the Dark Phoenix costume — how about when Jean absorbs the Phoenix Force in space, the fiery entity burns her X-Men costume so the blue turns black and the yellow “X” frays so it bears a striking resemblance to a yellow bird spreading its wings.

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Ignoring Previous Phoenix Set-up

One of the most confusing aspects of Dark Phoenix is how it completely ignores the work done to set up the Phoenix Force in the previous installment, X-Men: Apocalypse. You’ll recall that Jean fully transformed into the fiery Phoenix bird to vanquish blue Oscar Issac, but in Dark Phoenix that’s never mentioned and she apparently becomes the Phoenix for the first time, again, in this movie. That’s painfully reminiscent of how the power of the Phoenix was shown to be emerging from within Jean throughout X2: X-Men United until it finally manifested in that emotional climax, only for The Last Stand to simply pretend that never happened.

Which leads to our next point…

Lobotomizing Jean Grey

The source of Jean Grey’s emotional instability in both Dark Phoenix and The Last Stand is essentially Professor X’s fault because he tried to “help” Jean by tampering with her mind at a young age. Xavier had good but ultimately misguided intentions — since when has burying something until it explodes ever been healthy? He’s clearly not a professor of psychology!

Curiously, the first leg of Dark Phoenix made it seem like it was going to be more faithful to the comics and not go the same route as the Last Stand, but even though Jean absorbed the Phoenix out in space like in the comics, her emotional breakdown still came about because of what Xavier did to her when she was a child.

Xavier messing with Jean’s mind is a twist wholly created by the movies, so it’s not like they keep using it to stay loyal to the comics. That’s why it’s all the more problematic that the movies went back to it yet again. The Phoenix Saga has always been about Jean coming into an unimaginable amount of power and how it affects her, but the Xavier twist makes the story more about his hubris and turns Jean into a forcibly lobotomized victim. Yet another instance of reusing lambasted elements of The Last Stand in Dark Phoenix for no particular reason.


For more on the movie, check out our explainer on the aliens from Dark Phoenix.

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Joshua is Senior Features Editor at IGN. If Pokemon, Green Lantern, or Game of Thrones are frequently used words in your vocabulary, you’ll want to follow him on Twitter @JoshuaYehl and IGN.



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