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Warning: SPOILERS for Dark Phoenix are ahead!
In its nearly two decades of existence, the X-Men franchise was full of highs and lows, and one of the offenders in the latter category was the lack of continuity. From multiple versions of the same character existing within these movies to certain events and twists going unexplained, this mutant-filled series was never one to follow a straight and cohesive narrative path.
One attempt to rectify this problem came in 2014 with X-Men: Days of Future Past, which saw Wolverine traveling back to 1973 and changing the franchise’s timeline. Granted, there were still some continuity issues to follow, but at least in this revised timeline, rather than being hunted by Sentinels, things were peaceful for the X-Men in 2023. Unfortunately, with the way the recently-released Dark Phoenix concludes, it’s incredibly difficult to line up how events go from that ending to the brighter Days of Future Past future (for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Logan takes place in a separate timeline).
In the revised X-Men timeline that came to be at the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past, Xavier’s School of Gifted Youngsters is still running, with Storm, Beast, Kitty Pryde and Colossus all teaching young mutants, and Wolverine learning that he’s a history instructor. Professor X is still the headmaster of the school, and the biggest surprise was that Cyclops and Jean Grey were still alive.
Now let’s cut to Dark Phoenix, which ended with Jean Grey taking Vuk, the leader of the D’Bari, into space and killing the alien as she reabsorbed the stolen Phoenix force. Then, with her full potential unleashed, Jean disappeared into a fiery blaze of glory, although a flaming phoenix appeared in the sky in the movie’s final minute.
In the aftermath of the X-Men’s conflict with Jean and the D’Bari aboard the Mutant Containment Unit train, Professor X’s school was renamed the Jean Grey School for Gifted Youngsters, and Charles himself finally retired from fighting for mutant rights and joined his old friend Erik Lensherr, a.k.a. Magneto, for a game of chess in France. Back at the school, Hank McCoy, a.k.a Beast, took over as headmaster, a role he more than deserves after all those years spent by Xavier’s side.
Obviously a changed timeline meant that events will not unfold the same way. That was immediately obvious with Cyclops and Jean Grey being back at the end of Days of Future Past, and obviously Dark Phoenix’s mere existence reaffirms that, as Jean Grey’s corruption this time around is much different than what happened in X-Men: The Last Stand.
Nevertheless, even with these changed events, logically speaking, it’s incredibly difficult to believe that with the way Dark Phoenix ends, we’re still on the path to that future shown at the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past. The renaming of the school isn’t an issue since the outside of the building in 2023 was never shown, and neither is Beast and Storm still teaching there. No, the problem is where Professor X and Jean Grey are left at the end of Dark Phoenix.
Let’s start with Jean. It’s clear when Dark Phoenix wraps up that her fellow X-Men believe she’s dead, but the sighting of that flaming phoenix is a not-so-subtle indicator she’s still alive. And that’s par for the course when it comes to comic book storytelling; most of the time, the characters never stay permanently dead.
But how specifically does Jean find her way back into the X-Men’s lives? Was her reemergence intended to be another big event or does she just come back to the X-Mansion, say, “Hey, guys, I’m back and definitely not feeling murder-y anymore” and everything goes back to normal? There’s a lot left to the imagination that frankly would
As far as Professor X is concerned, the fact that he retired from working towards improving mutants’ lives flies in the face of him still teaching at the now-Jean Grey School for Gifted Youngsters in Days of Future Past. Why should we see Xavier’s decision to step down after acknowledging all the mistakes he’d made as character growth when we know he’ll eventually be back to his usual routine. Assuming that Wolverine still joins the X-Men in this revised timeline around the same time he did in the original timeline (i.e. circa 2000), then that means Xavier will be back to overseeing the team of mutant superheroes within 10 years or so.
Admittedly, a lot can happen in three decades. Maybe Professor X decided retirement wasn’t for him and he decided to return to working towards bettering life for mutants. And I could believe that… if we actually saw that happen.
The same goes for Jean Grey; it’d be easier to swallow her rejoining the X-Men if we saw more of her redemptive arc. Yes, she did save her teammates at the end of Dark Phoenix, but she’s still a long way off towards resuming anything close to a normal life, especially if she’s dealing with the Phoenix Force.
All this leads me to believe that, despite what Simon Kinberg and others have said about how Dark Phoenix was always intended to be the end of the X-Men franchise (not accounting for The New Mutants, which is still scheduled for release), it was initially planned for the movie to get a sequel, one where Jean’s Phoenix arc would have been properly concluded and Professor X would have returned to action. However, once Disney’s purchase of Fox was finalized, those plans were thrown out the window since Marvel is expected to reboot that property to fit within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Which leaves us here, where one has to do a lot of mental legwork to lay out how the new X-Men timeline can progress from Dark Phoenix to the future in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Despite Dark Phoenix being an incredibly rough watch, I would have welcomed a follow-up where all the pieces were properly in place for that future we saw in 2014. On the other hand, maybe it would have been better if this franchise had just ended on a high note with Days of Future Past.