WANDAVISION is our best live-action DARK PHOENIX so far

WandaVision blew us all away and is for sure the strangest the MCU has ever gotten in 12 years. But it also proves something many Marvel fans have long suspected. X-Men’s classic comic book The Dark Phoenix Saga plays out far better at storytelling in long form than in a single film.

“But wait!” You are probably saying right now. “Isn’t WandaVision based on Marvel Comics’ House of M?” Well it is. At least partially. But we believe The Dark Phoenix Saga owes it as much, if not more, to it. And it proves why this Marvel mutant classic should only be adapted in an expanded, serialized manner – never as a single film.

Marvel Comics

The Dark Phoenix Saga is the seminal story that catapulted the X-Men to Marvel’s number 1 seller for decades. It told the story of how the telepathic and telekinetic Jean Gray, who wielded the cosmic powers of the phoenix, lost mental control of their power and almost destroyed the world. It ended in Jean’s shocking death, a blow that rocked the team for years.

Ever since X-Men hit theaters in 2000, fans have been actively hoping The Dark Phoenix Saga would adapt. There were two attempts – first in X-Men 2006: The Last Stand and later in Dark Phoenix 2019, which left fans and critics cold. Meanwhile, the MCU tries a very similar story with Wanda Maximoff in WandaVision, and people are eating it up. What is the difference? Why does one work and not the other?

The original Jean Gray comic saga was played for many years. A four-year span spanned her huge Marvel Girl to Phoenix performance upgrade between Uncanny X-Men # 101 and Uncanny X-Men # 137. Readers slowly began to see Jean deal with levels of power they did not fully understand until they finally did Lost control of her, much to the danger of the universe.

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Marvel Comics

The X-Men movies never bothered with this slow build-up. Partly because they just didn’t have time; Jean’s character introduction comes in X-Men, but we don’t see her battle with her powers until X2. Even then, it is mostly only hinted at until the movie’s climax is reached. When she fills up Dark Phoenix in the third film, everything is very much out of the left field. Additionally, both films suggest that Jean only lost control because Charles Xavier stifled her powers at a young age. But that always sounds like a somewhat hollow reason.

The only non-comic media outlets that told this story well were the ’90s X-Men: The Animated Series. The cartoon tells a much shorter version of the story with a five-part arc that is simply titled “The Phoenix Saga”. The audience witnesses Jean’s original heroic self before she begins to lose control of these powers. It didn’t play out like the comics for years – just months. But for a Saturday morning cartoon of the time, it was certainly ambitious and more satisfying than the later live-action versions.

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20th Century Films / Marvel Studios

But it looks different with Wanda than with Jean on the screen. Given all of the trauma Wanda has endured in the MCU’s last five films, it makes perfect sense how she could lose control of her now. None of the Fox X-Men films did the heavy lifting to make a dark phoenix plausible. Meanwhile, Kevin Feige has slowly been doing all of the character work on Wanda to make it all feel deserved.

WandaVision just doesn’t work the same without the years of construction in the MCU. We saw Wanda and her brother Pietro as lab rats in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, then as the new villains / heroes in Age of Ultron. Wanda’s powers grew over the course of the next two films to the point where she almost reached his bum to Thanos in Avengers: Endgame. This slow and steady development makes us see Wanda as a tragic figure and fear her power in a way that the X-Men films with Jean never could. They just didn’t have time for it.

Of course, WandaVision is not over yet. We can still learn that there is another great evil that pulls all strings. But even if that is the case, it’s pretty clear that Wanda’s powers (and her collective trauma) fuel everything. Jean Gray is also being manipulated by the Hellfire Club into becoming Dark Phoenix in the comics, but it’s her powers that did all the damage. We have an assumption that this will be similar with WandaVision.

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Marvel Studios

Obviously, House of M from the comics centered around Wanda, and it’s a huge influence here too. But while Wanda’s powers were at the center of that 2005 comic book event, this story wasn’t actually about Scarlet Witch – especially not in the way The Dark Phoenix Saga was really focused on Jean Gray. It was much more about the Marvel universe in general. Ultimately, the story of writer Chris Claremont seems to have more of an impact on Wanda’s MCU story.

You can’t help but believe that this has always been Marvel Studios’ plan. Wanda’s powers in the MCU aren’t initially like her powers in the comics; Telepathy and telekinesis are traditional powers for Jean Gray, not the Scarlet Witch. We’d bet that no matter how it goes, WandaVision will be another live-action adaptation of Dark Phoenix in the MCU discussion. Because WandaVision is already the ultimate on-screen version of this legendary X-Men story. Even if they had to do this in secret.

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