I love the X-Men. I watched the animated series as a kid in the 90s and when I first started picking up superhero comics, X-Men was the first team I fell in love with. At the risk of sounding a little bit pretentious, I’ll admit that I haven’t been completely satisfied with the film adaptations – sure, there are exceptions (Days of Future Past and Logan were phenomenal, and other films have their moments), but overall, I’ve felt that the big studios are trying to make a quick cash grab.
That’s why when the upcoming Dark Phoenix film was announced, I had to roll my eyes.
Jean Grey is one of my favorite superheroes, and the films have never really done her justice. X-Men: The Last Stand is notorious for its butchering of the Dark Phoenix Saga, and though I’m not a critic who insists that movie adaptations need to follow the source material to a T, the mishandling of the famous comic arc has been the subject of a number of feminist criticisms. Generally, the film is lambasted for making the Phoenix a part of Jean rather than the cosmic entity as portrayed in the comics. In The Last Stand, Professor X reveals that he had to suppress Jean’s innate power because it posed a threat – not just to humanity, but, implicitly, to the symbolic order in which men are the most powerful heroes.
Part of my fear with the upcoming Dark Phoenix film is that it will do the same. Entertainment Weekly revealed that the movie will feature a space journey in which a solar flare “awaken[s] a long-dormant power in Jean Grey.” iO9 comments: “What’s interesting here is that these details are implying that rather than being a cosmic force that encounters Jean (as in various iterations of the comics canon), the Phoenix is something that’s always been inside Jean, just waiting for the right trigger to appear.”
While a number of critics have unpacked the implications of trying to suppress innate female power in the X-Men films, I want to focus on something slightly different. The current X-Men franchise is repeating the sins of its past in not only changing the essence of the Phoenix Force, but in failing to set up the Dark Phoenix storyline by completely ignoring what made the original Dark Phoenix Saga so impactful in the first place: the preceding Phoenix Saga. In this post, I want to briefly discuss how ignoring the Phoenix Saga makes adaptations of the Dark Phoenix Saga more problematic, both on the level of narrative and the level of portraying female characters with cosmic power.