WandaVision almost certainly means the MCU won’t adapt the X-Men Dark Phoenix storyline, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Beginning in 1976, the X-Men comics’ Dark Phoenix saga is one of Marvel’s finest moments. The arc sees Jean Grey, the powerful psychic apprentice of Charles Xavier, inherit the mysterious Phoenix force during a mission, only for this otherworldly energy to corrupt the superhero and create a tragic rift within the ranks of the X-Men. The material was adapted for film while the X-Men rights were held by Fox, but now Xavier’s School For the Gifted is firmly under Disney jurisdiction, and mutantkind is destined for the MCU sooner or later.
Right now, however, the Marvel universe has a more immediate threat to worry about. WandaVision is the MCU’s first foray into the Disney+ streaming arena, and as season 1 ups the intensity, it’s clear that Wanda Maximoff’s creepy sitcom is a runaway success (at least in the real world). Many, many questions still remain, but WandaVision viewers know that Scarlet Witch has hijacked an entire town with her magic abilities, turning their idyllic lives into a TV show, while SWORD haplessly attempt to resolve the situation from outside Wanda’s Westview barrier.
WandaVision could have huge ramifications upon the MCU landscape in terms of opening up the multiverse or introducing a new overarching villain like Mephisto, but the Disney+ show might also dictate which storylines can be adapted for the X-Men when Professor X and the gang finally arrive.
Disney+’s WandaVision isn’t based directly on a specific comic book, but while Westview is mostly new territory for Marvel, WandaVision clearly owes a debt of gratitude to the X-Men Dark Phoenix saga. Firstly, the two lead characters are closely comparable, with Wanda and Jean Grey both powerful female superheroes wielding abilities of a mental nature. Although Wanda’s magic isn’t the same as the mutant ESP Jean Grey utilizes, the two women are equally capable of levitating objects, casting illusions and prying into the minds of others, making their superpowers similar in practice, if not mythology. Scarlet Witch and Phoenix also share a penchant for the color red.
Aside from characters, WandaVision borrows heavily from the overarching story of the Dark Phoenix Saga too. In the X-Men tale, Jean Grey is already a powerful, potentially combustible hero that the other mutants have to keep a lid on, or else her abilities threaten to take over. After Jean is possessed by the strange Phoenix force, her psychic prowess multiplies and takes on a life of its own, corrupting Xavier’s once noble protege. Interestingly, it’s the “death” of Cyclops’ mental image that triggers Jean’s shift from regular Phoenix to the evil Dark Phoenix. With her control slipping and her morality compromised, Jean suddenly becomes an enemy to the X-Men (and her one true love, Cyclops), rather than an ally.
WandaVision picks up in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, with Wanda Maximoff grieving Vision’s death at the hands of Thanos. Much like Jean Grey, the Avengers have always handled Scarlet Witch carefully due to the hidden potential of her red magic, and also echoing Jean, it’s an outside influence that triggers Wanda’s descent. Although WandaVision hasn’t yet revealed the true origin of the Westview anomaly, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest someone or something is manipulating Wanda. As the Phoenix force did to Jean, this unknown quantity has afforded Wanda more power, but also seems to be compromising her ethics, as Scarlet Witch is cruelly pulling the strings of each and every resident in town. With her control slipping and her morality compromised, Wanda suddenly becomes an enemy to SWORD (and her one true love, Vision), rather than an ally.
When the MCU finally gets around to introducing the X-Men, the first order of business will be to integrate mutantkind into the existing movie universe, and introduce the various famous faces of Xavier’s School. Inevitably, there’ll be the core feud between Professor X and Magneto to set up, and Wolverine’s extensive backstory will take some explaining too. When the admin phase is complete, Kevin Feige will then find himself seeking X-Men comic stories worthy of bringing to the big screen, and as the most famous of the lot, the Dark Phoenix saga is always in contention. But WandaVision hits so many of the same beats, an MCU version of Jean Grey’s Phoenix story could only ever feel like a retread of Wanda Maximoff‘s solo series.
Jean Grey’s descent works so well in comic book form because readers are shocked to see a hero slip from grace so spectacularly due to their own awesome power. An MCU Dark Phoenix movie would risk falling flat because that shock factor has now been spent on Scarlet Witch. For the most part, Wanda maintains her happy-go-lucky sitcom facade, but the few scenes where she breaks character have generated a huge response from fans who are accustomed to rooting for Elizabeth Olsen’s character in the Avengers movies. Whether it’s Wanda’s sinister expression as she throws Monica Rambeau out of Westview, or the way she fearlessly faces down the entire complement of SWORD soldiers alone, Scarlet Witch’s corruption is enthralling to watch, and very reminiscent of the Dark Phoenix. The same tricks won’t be so enthralling if Marvel Studios repeat them with Jean Grey a few years down the line.
This is especially true now that WandaVision has proved so successful. With previous MCU TV shows (Agents of SHIELD, Daredevil, etc.), the Marvel movie series remained cautiously detached. Conversely, the new run of Disney+ material has rapidly become integral to MCU mythology, and cannot be ignored or replicated.
Fox made two separate efforts to bring Jean Grey’s Dark Phoenix story to the big screen. X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006 met with poor reviews upon release, almost derailing the franchise entirely. Dark Phoenix in 2019 suffered an even worse reception, ending Fox’s X-Men era with barely even a whimper, let along a bang. Marvel Studios would almost certainly do a better job of adapting that material, and some X-Men fans may be looking forward to getting a decent Dark Phoenix movie at the third time of asking, now that Marvel is back in control. The prospect is certainly enticing, but when it comes to superhero movies, Dark Phoenix is now damaged goods. Not only have audiences seen the same story play out twice already in live-action, but that tarnished legacy is baggage the MCU’s X-Men can do without.
Spider-Man is the only current MCU character with an extensive history at another studio, and since Tom Holland’s debut, Feige and co. have carefully avoided recreating the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield movies wherever possible. Peter Parker’s origin is skipped over entirely, famous villains such as Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus are yet to appear, and Peter’s connection to Iron Man adds a new (if somewhat divisive) dimension to MCU Spidey. A third Dark Phoenix movie was likely ruled out long before WandaVision happened, purely because Marvel Studios don’t have a habit of retelling other studios’ movies.
With this in mind, perhaps WandaVision is actually a stealthy MCU Dark Phoenix adaptation. Kevin Feige probably ruled out another Dark Phoenix movie as soon as Fox and Disney signed on the dotted line, but to avoid wasting perfectly good img material, the same basic story elements were transferred from Jean Grey to Wanda Maximoff. This allows the MCU to exploit the best elements of the Dark Phoenix storyline – the tragedy, the overwhelming power, the sinister hidden influence – in a completely different, almost unrecognizable, context. Fortunately, there are plenty of other thrilling X-Men comic adventures the MCU can adapt.