X-Men screenwriter says we could've seen the Dark Phoenix saga a lot earlier

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Mar 29, 2018, 5:45 PM EDT

With X-Men: Dark Phoenix coming out in a little less than a year, a screenwriter on one of the best X-Men movies of all time has revealed that the classic storyline could have hit movie screens much, much earlier.

And when we say earlier, we mean even before 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, the much-maligned third entry in the live-action franchise that tried to shoehorn a half-baked version of the Phoenix saga into the second half of that already plot-and-character-cluttered movie.

According to Ready Player One screenwriter Zak Penn, who worked on 2003's X2, the story of Jean Grey's (then played by Famke Janssen) transformation into the dangerously all-powerful superbeing known as the Phoenix was being seriously considered for that now-classic second film in the series. Grey's evolution into the Phoenix is hinted at in the movie's final shot, but as Penn told The Hollywood Reporter:

"On X2, part of how I ended up getting the job on it was that originally that was going to be the Phoenix story. I just said...'You've built up this real universe and you should establish it more before you go into Phoenix.'"

Penn convinced director Bryan Singer that it was too early to dive into a story that took the X-Men into space and introduced alien races like the Kree and the Shi'ar, instead penning a treatment based on the 1982 storyline God Loves, Man Kills, in which the X-Men and Magneto have to team up to stop William Stryker from carrying out his plan to eradicate every mutant on Earth. Penn recalled:

"It was too soon to go into the Phoenix story and it was too soon to get cosmic. I would say that's probably the biggest contribution I made was pushing it in that direction. There are a bunch of scenes I wrote that are still in there. I don't remember what movie I left to do while they were making X-Men 2, but that was kind of the story of my life. I would come in and do something and then leave."

Was Penn right in his assessment that it was too early to go cosmic with the X-Men? It's difficult to say. Marvel Studios introduced audiences to places like Asgard and the Nine Realms just four movies in, but perhaps a film like Thor would have suffered if it had not been preceded by the (somewhat) more grounded Iron Man movies.

In any case, X2 turned out to be one of the best comics-based movies ever made (a claim it still holds to this day), and while X-Men: The Last Stand botched the Dark Phoenix story — and didn't even touch on the cosmic elements of it — the franchise now has a chance to get the story right next February with X-Men: Dark Phoenix, as long as those reshoots work out okay.