Why “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” Definitely Shouldn’t Be “Grounded”

Matthew Loffhagen
20th Century Fox
(Photo: 20th Century Fox)

Do you ever get the sense that Fox doesn’t really know what to do with the “X-Men” Dark Phoenix saga?

First we got a mediocre “X-Men: The Last Stand”, which bored most of its audience when it first released in theaters. Now the studio is giving this movie premise another shot, but they don’t seem to have learned any lessons.

Longtime series producer Simon Kinberg has spoken about the upcoming “Dark Phoenix” movie, and his words don’t really inspire much confidence.

Said Kinberg, about the new film:

“It’s much more loyal to the original comic than ‘X-Men 3’, which told the Dark Phoenix story. It’s a movie that involves extraterrestrial characters, which is not something that we’ve done in the ‘X-Men’ franchise before, and is something that is a huge part of the Dark Phoenix saga in the comics.”

Well, great – if you’re going to do the Dark Phoenix saga, you need to embrace the high-flying, swashbuckling space opera elements of the “X-Men” comics. That makes sense.

But then, Kinberg added that this new movie is “a little less operatic” than previous “X-Men” films, and that “It’s more intense and it’s more real and grounded, and hopefully more relatable”.

What?! How does that make sense? How is a movie about a giant fiery space bird fighting with aliens and mutants going to feel grounded? Why are they not aiming for the biggest, boldest, most “operatic” possible movie out of a story that is, at its core, a space opera?!

Here’s a clip from the ‘90s “X-Men” cartoon in which the Phoenix first bursts forth in all her glory, after flying a rocket ships through New York. I don’t want any part of this to be “real and grounded”.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to relatable “X-Men” movies.

Personally, I’ve always liked the “X-Men” universe’s grounded approach to superheroes. I like that the early “X-Men” movies feel like they could take place in the real world, and I’m happy with the way mutants are used as metaphors for various marginalized minority groups.

I also think that when the series has, in the past, tried to get a little more colorful, it’s been poorly handled. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” jump to mind.

That said, here’s a clip from the “X-Men” cartoon in which Phoenix punches an alien into orbit in a giant fireball so she can save a dominatrix space queen.

Why is this not the movie that Fox is making?!

Why Fox wants Grounded Comic Book Movies

I think the problem is that the executives at Fox have mistakenly connected the amount of color within an “X-Men” movie with its general level of quality.

At this point, they probably think that making a bright, eccentric, operatic movie is tantamount to failure. Apparently nobody at the studio has seen “Guardians of the Galaxy”, and they’ve stuck their fingers in their ears for the past half-decade.

All of this would be fine, if the story of this new movie were in any way built around something that can be “grounded”. But this is a space opera featuring alien warships and giant fiery cosmic beings. No element of this should be grounded or subdued.

If Fox wanted to make another gritty, street-level “X-Men” movie, I’d be all for it – so long as they weren’t also trying to adapt this particular story.