While superhero franchises are commonplace now, there was a time when the genre was still very much its its beginnings. It seemingly started with the X-Men franchise, which is still going strong to this day. Bryan Singer's 2000 classic was a major success, and was quickly followed up by a sequel, X2: X-Men United. X2 is still considered a high point of the overall franchise, as the characters established in the first film were given more room to grow and change. While much of the plot revolved around William Stryker's evil quest to eradicate mutants, it turns out that wasn't the original plan. It was actually going to be about the Dark Phoenix Saga, which was eventually pushed to the less than thrilling threequel. Ready Player One screenwriter Zack Pen just revealed this, saying:
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.'
Zack Penn has worked on a ton of major scripts in his long career, but now it looks like he's the one responsible for the Dark Phoenix plot line being pushed off until X-Men 3. It's unclear exactly if Penn was right, although X2 ended up being majorly successful with that mcguffin.
Penn's comments to THR, which he made known during the writing of X2, do have some merit to them. Concepts like cinematic universes and spinoffs were but a pipe dream at the time the sequel was released in 2003. Instead of introducing major concepts like cosmic space entities, the sequel instead told a much more capsulated story. William Stryker's evil plot in the present connected to Logan's past, and we saw as villains and heroes united in an attempt for survival.
While Zack Penn ultimately stopped working on X2 before it was released, he maintains the push against Dark Phoenix was his biggest contribution to the project, saying:
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... 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.
Ultimately, the Dark Phoenix plot line was explored in X-Men 3: The Last Stand, which is one of the franchise's weakest entries. Rather than bringing the cosmic entity into the narrative, they retconned a dark power from Jean's childhood. The word Phoenix was never even uttered, with Jean instead having some sort of psychic break and siding with Magneto and The Brotherhood for the majority of the film's runtime.
The X-Men franchise will have the chance to try again when X-Men: Dark Phoenix arrives in theaters February 15, 2019. It was recently pushed back, so it's unclear if there are some troubles happening with crafting that challenging and iconic comic book plot line for the silver screen. We'll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, check out our 2018 release list to plan your next trip to the movies.