Warning: SPOILERS for Dark Phoenix ahead.
Dark Phoenix ends the entire Fox X-Men saga on a hopeful but ambiguous note about the future of the mutants, but one that feels rather incomplete. Writer-director Simon Kinberg's second stab at adapting The Dark Phoenix Saga comics story fittingly centers on Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), who is imbued with the Phoenix Force while the X-Men are on a rescue mission in outer space. Bursting with newfound power, the psychic walls Professor X (James McAvoy) placed in Jean's mind when she was a girl come crashing down. The confused and enraged Jean transforms into the Dark Phoenix, who lashes out and kills Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) when the X-Men try to bring her back home.
The death of Mystique fractures the X-Men, with Magneto leading a reformed Brotherhood - including Beast - to kill Jean. Worse still, a shapeshifting alien named Vuk (Jessica Chastain) finds Jean and manipulates her in order to gain control over the Phoenix Force; the cosmic power destroyed the homeworld of her race, the D'Bari, and Vuk wants to use the Phoenix Force to turn Earth into their new homeworld.
In Dark Phoenix's finale, the X-Men are captured following a skirmish in New York City and transported on a military train. Vuk and the D'Bari attack, but the X-Men and the Brotherhood break free to fight the aliens. Finally, Jean revives herself and defeats the D'Bari with her powers and flying Vuk into orbit and evolves into a new, fiery phoenix form, killing the alien leader.
But that's not all that happens at the end of Dark Phoenix. The transformed Phoenix then remains in space to seek her destiny while the X-Men pick up the pieces and are forced to evolve as well. And, were it not for the Fox-Disney deal, that could have led to another X-Men movie.
Dark Phoenix's Ending Changes What The X-Men Are
In Dark Phoenix, Charles Xavier's dream of humans no longer hating and fearing mutants is finally fulfilled - but at a cost. Set in 1992, nine years after they saved the world in X-Men: Apocalypse, the X-Men begin Dark Phoenix as world-famous superheroes. Professor X even has an X-Phone that's a direct line to the President of the United States. However, as Mystique points out, Xavier achieved his dream by placing the X-Men at the beck and call of the humans, risking their lives in order to earn favor. Yet Professor X is also right when he counters that mutants are only "one bad day" from being hated and feared by humans again. His fears come to pass when Jean transforms into Dark Phoenix and rampages; she attacks police offers and publicly kills Mystique before destroying military helicopters in Genosha. As a result of Jean's actions, Professor X's influence with the President is immediately cut off and mutants become public enemies once more.
The X-Men undergo big changes at the end of Dark Phoenix. Professor X is forced to admit that he was the villain all along because of his naive (but well-intentioned) manipulation of Jean when she was young; the bald psychic realizes he's indirectly responsible for the damage and deaths she caused. In turn, Xavier leaves the X-Men and retires from his career as a teacher and mutant leader. However, Magneto finds Charles in Paris and offers his oldest friend a new home (presumably in Genosha), just as Xavier offered him a home at the Xavier School when they originally met in X-Men: First Class.
As for the X-Men, they've also had to evolve, starting with Xavier's school, which remains open and has been renamed the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning (which is a nod to the school's revamp in the Marvel Comics series Wolverine and the X-Men). Beast is the new headmaster and the senior X-Men like Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) have become teachers. It's not clear if the political situation for the mutants has improved after Jean's transformation but the students seem safe and happy at the Jean Grey School. At the very least, the X-Men did save the world from an alien invasion, although they may no longer be the superheroes Xavier envisioned.
Jean remains in space as the Phoenix and is glimpsed flying through the skies at the very end of Dark Phoenix; her transformation into a different level of existence thematically circles back to the voiceover by Patrick Stewart's Professor X in the first X-Men movie: "Mutation. It's the key to our evolution." Just as mutants are the next stage of the human race's evolution, as the Phoenix, Jean has evolved beyond a mutant. The fact that Dark Phoenix's ending is very different from the comics and the way X-Men: The Last Stand concluded is, at least, a virtue.
Dark Phoenix's Ending Connects To Days of Future Past - But Leaves A Big Gap
Dark Phoenix's ending creates big changes to the X-Men movie timeline and its connection to the future seen in X-Men: Days of Future Past. When Wolverine's time travel gambit proved successful, the apocalyptic future of the 2020s where mutants were hunted to extinction by the Sentinels was rewritten, with Logan waking up in the X-Mansion populated by students and reuniting with Professor X, Scott and Jean.
However, as Dark Phoenix ends, there's a lot to still happen. Some aspects of the ending line up pretty neatly: Alexandra Shipp's Storm and Nicholas Hoult's Beast are teachers in 1992, just as the Halle Berry and Kelsey Grammer vintages are in the new 2023. But in order for the rest of the X-Men to resemble what Wolverine remembers at the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past, Professor X has to return to become headmaster and the school has to be renamed back the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters once more. More pressingly, Jean has to return to Earth and reunite with Cyclops. And, of course, Wolverine needs to re-enter the picture. He was last seen at escaping the Weapon X facility in X-Men: Apocalypse, and will presumably enter the bigger picture in a similar way to in X-Men, bringing Rogue (seen alive and well in Days of Future Past) with him. While the events of the original X-Men trilogy can't all happen, something similar will surely take place to ingratiate Logan at the school.
Dark Phoenix leaves a roughly 20-year gap until Days of Future Past for these fixes to occur so that the timeline synchs up. But, perhaps more importantly, Dark Phoenix's happy ending at the Jean Grey School thematically reflects the halcyon days at the Xavier School that Wolverine encountered at the end of Days of Future Past - which fans can now consider as the true endpoint of Fox's X-Men saga in the timeline (Logan's bleak alternate future notwithstanding).
Were There Plans For Another X-Men Movie After Dark Phoenix?
Dark Phoenix was the victim of a great deal of on-set rewriting, reshoots where the ending was changed because the original finale resembled another superhero movie's, and the reality that it would be the last film of the 19-year-old franchise after Disney bought Fox. The X-Men will inevitably be rebooted into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although that isn't expected to happen until after MCU Phase 4. Regardless, Dark Phoenix will be the last X-Men film until the mutants' rebirth in the MCU.
However, Dark Phoenix's ambiguous but hopeful ending suggests that before Marvel bought Fox, it wasn't originally intended as the finale of the saga. The young cast like Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, and Alexandra Shipp were signed for X-Men: Apocalypse with an eye on them headlining their own series of X-Men films; in that case, Dark Phoenix would have been the second chapter, severing ties with most of the cast of X-Men: First Class and allowing the younger cast to fully inherit the franchise. Jennifer Lawrence was already done with the X-Men and only returned for Dark Phoenix because her friend Simon Kinberg was directing; meanwhile, Dark Phoenix also "retired" James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor X and Magneto.
If Disney hadn't bought Fox, Dark Phoenix's ending suggests a continuation where the X-Men could still try to bring Jean back to Earth or follow her further into space, with or without Professor X and Magneto participating, which would create a potential new scenario. But it's a set up for a sequel that is unlikely to ever happen. Instead, Dark Phoenix's ending appears to close the circle of the saga so that it could conceivably line up with the original X-Men movie.
- X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) release date: Jun 07, 2019
- New Mutants (2020) release date: Apr 03, 2020