During a panel at New York Comic Con, screenwriter and producer Simon Kinberg explained how Marvel Studios’ dip into intergalactic fare set the stage for the latest X-Men cinematic installment, Dark Phoenix. Directed by Kinberg, the film will tackle one of the most famous stories from the X-Men’s extensive comic canon as it traces the rise and fall of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) as her immensely powerful alter-ego, the Phoenix.
The original comic book story by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, and John Byrne featured a distinct science fiction tone. After an accident in outer space exposed her to a strange flare of cosmic radiation, Jean’s powers increased exponentially, making her one of the most powerful beings on the planet. Despite Professor X’s best efforts, the power drove her insane and made her a target of a powerful extraterrestrial race, the Shi’ar Empire. The third film in the first X-Men series, X-Men: The Last Stand, adapted some of this storyline, but left out the space-related material, resulting in a less-than-satisfying adaptation of the beloved original.
According to Kinberg, two recent trends in Marvel movies had a significant impact on the culmination of the reboot series that began with X-Men: First Class. He cites Logan as an influence on the film’s dark dramatic themes, but also the success of the MCU’s cosmic films as preparation to expand the X-Men universe.
“What Marvel Studios has done in terms of making these movies extraterrestrial, taking them into space with Guardians [of the Galaxy], with Thor: Ragnarok, with the Avengers movies, allowed for us to tell the Dark Phoenix story not just in the dramatic, grounded emotional ways that we’re talking about… but to also go to outer space, to have alien characters.”
Fox also premiered some new footage of Dark Phoenix at NYCC, which backs up Kinberg’s description. Most likely coming early in the film, the scenes show the X-Men attempting to rescue a group of astronauts whose shuttle has gone out of control. While the attempt is mostly successful, it results in Jean’s exposure to cosmic radiation, following the similar setup from Claremont’s comics.
That’s a reassuring sign after the all-around disappointment of X-Men: The Last Stand. Adventures in outer space have been part of the X-Men’s repertoire for decades, and it’s about time that the films started to reflect that. So far there’s been no confirmation of whether the Shi’ar will appear in the story. It’s possible that the as-yet-unnamed character played by Jessica Chastain will fill that role, but Kinberg has only hinted that she’s not “from our planet.”
With the upcoming move to Marvel Studios, this is likely to be the X-Men’s swan song at Fox (excepting perhaps the more removed The New Mutants). Despite delays that pushed the premiere back to next year, Kinberg seems confident that they’ve finally brought one of the definitive X-Men stories to the big screen in the manner it deserves. Time will tell if they’ve got it right this time.