To listen to people who worked closely on Dark Phoenix, such as writer/director Simon Kinberg and VFX supervisor Greg Butler, there was a point during the film’s production when the vision for the final product included all of the cosmic pyrotechnics and epic space battles people associate with the “Dark Phoenix Saga” from Marvel’s comics.
By the time Dark Phoenix crash-landed into cinemas earlier this year, the vast majority of those narrative and aesthetic elements had been stripped away in order to make room for a more “grounded” and “realistic” feeling X-drama, despite the fact that, Logan notwithstanding, that was never the X-film franchise’s strong suit.
Dark Phoenix didn’t end up being the box office success anyone wanted (including Fox and Disney), and it was a far cry from the cinematic adaptation Jean Grey’s biggest storyline deserves.
But one of the few truly excellent things to come out of the entire endeavour is Houston Sharp’s Dark Phoenix concept art for the film’s final battle sequence, which was originally meant to take place in space rather than just on Earth.
Simon Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix will go down in history as one of the most perplexing of Fox’s X-Men films. It was a movie that didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be — or even who the X-Men are, frankly. One minute, the X-Men are jetting off into space to have a literally out-of-this-world adventure that brings them face to face with aliens, and the next, you’ve got Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey crying in a rainy alleyway.
What’s most striking about Sharp’s work is how much of the Phoenix you can actually see in it — not just the huge firebird (though there is plenty of that), but rather what Jean as the Phoenix in all her terrifying might could have looked like on the big screen.
Here, Jean’s face isn’t just cracked as if it was made of porcelain; the Phoenix’s energy is pouring out of her, giving her that signature “fire incarnate” vibe the Phoenix loves to go on about in the comics.
What’s more, she’s also rocking a version of her classic green suit, but you can easily see how quickly the Phoenix energy emanating from Jean would give the outfit an overall red and black look, nodding at the Phoenix’s infamous transformation into her Dark Persona.
You can also see a bit of the thinking that went into Jean’s final confrontation with aliens in one of Sharp’s test animations that focuses on Jean being swarmed by an entire fleet of ships while she’s flying through the vacuum of space.
While Jean appears to be bottled up in an egg-like cocoon, the ships ambush her, and though you can’t quite see what would have happened next, it isn’t hard to imagine sitting in a movie theatre and watching Jean go full-Phoenix (or Captain Marvel, if you’re into that sorta thing) and absolutely wrecking a bunch of invaders who have no idea the trouble they’ve walked into.
While Sharp’s art is a glimpse of what might have been, you can also sort of understand why these ideas didn’t end up being used, given the kind of story that Dark Phoenix ended up being.
Jean-bathed-in-cosmic flames looks cool, yeah, but leading with the larger-than-life Phoenix would have meant having to figure out a way to balance out all that action with enough humanity and space for actors to actually interact, in order for the movie not to feel like one big CGI spectacle.
Those are the sorts of things Marvel Studios will have to take into consideration if and when it ever ends up deciding to touch the “Dark Phoenix Saga” again in the future. But for the time being, we highly suggest you go and check out the rest of Sharp’s work.