Superhero comics are really soap operas with magical powers. Characters die without really being dead. Marriages rise and fall. Secret parents are revealed. Evil twins and clones show up on the regular. Alliances shift like sand dunes. And then the timelines are blown up as they become weighed down under the sheer amount of storytelling detritus. Which was fine when comics were just a niche hobby. But now caped crusaders are big business and with that comes a mainstream audience that doesn’t know why Thor’s new love interest currently seems to like girls or that Magneto’s daughter will be on Fox’s show The Gifted.
But nothing Hollywood has attempted yet holds a candle to the insanity that is the X-Men: Dark Phoenix saga. Fox recently announced it’s going ahead with a film version of the famous comic story. They even hinted that Jessica Chastain is in talks to play Lilandra Neramani, Empress of the Shi’ar. This alone indicates Fox learned their lesson by converting the Phoenix story into a terrestrial tale with 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. This time, things are going to get weird. So who is Lilandra? That’s a…complicated question.
Lilandra is the youngest child of the royal Shi’ar family, an alien race that spans an entire galaxy. When her elder brother D’Ken came to the throne, (after the eldest daughter, Deathbird*, was stripped of her title for matricide and sororicide) he quickly revealed himself to also be a jerkbag dictator. Lilandra pointed out to the High Council that her brother was a jerkbag dictator and was promptly arrested and sentenced to die. Luckily, she escaped and headed straight to Earth. As you do. On her way to Earth, she formed a psychic connection with Professor Charles Xavier, riddling him with dreams and visions of her arrival. The X-Men are pretty chill with helping an alien space princess reclaim her throne and Lilandra and Charles begin to fall in love. Shenanigans ensue when the Shi’ar Observer of Earth — because Earthlings must be carefully monitored in case we get riled up — tries to re-arrest Lilandra.
*Honestly, with a name like Deathbird, I don’t know what her parents were expecting.
You can’t have a superhero saga without a plot device for everyone to chase after. Sometimes it’s the Infinity Stones, sometimes it’s the Mother Box. In the case of Lilandra and the Shi’ar Empire, it’s a thing called the M’Kraan Crystal. It’s a pink crystal that is older than time and is only not currently destroying the universe because of gravitational fields put in place by an ancient, forgotten race. So of course jerkbag dictator D’Ken wants to use it to become more powerful than anyone can imagine. Lilandra — and every other sane creature in the universe — thinks that’s a bad idea. It is only with the help of the X-Men that the Shi’ar Empire is able to stop D’Ken from utilizing the crystal. The catch? The guardian of the M’Kraan Crystal is the Phoenix Force, a cosmic entity older than time that decides to adopt Jean Grey as its host body.
With the M’Kraan Crystal safely inert and the D’Ken dead from his machinations, Lilandra becomes the Empress of the Shi’ar Empire and Charles Xavier becomes her consort. Then along comes the Dark Phoenix and screws it all up. Basically, while Xavier was away from Earth, a villain known as Mastermind (because villains are nothing if not predictable) picks away at Jean Grey’s mind until the Phoenix Force inside her goes insane and become Dark Phoenix. This was not Mastermind’s plan, but that’s what you get when you poke ancient cosmic entities with a stick. In its rage, the Dark Phoenix traversed the galaxy and, once depleted of energy, ate a star to feel better. Even ancient cosmic entities eat their feelings. The problem? There was an inhabited Shi’ar planet circling that star, and now all those people are dead. Empress Lilandra then orders Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix executed for her crimes against the Shi’ar Empire.
After that, it’s a lot of politicking involving humans, the Shi’ar, the Kree, and the Skrull which basically comes down to “trial by combat” because Professor Xavier can’t give up one of his students to save the universe. Typical.
What does this mean for the Dark Phoenix movie? Other than the fact that is should clearly be more than one movie? Only that Fox casting Jessica Chastain as a space queen means they aren’t afraid to get weird. The X-Men are headed into a brave new world where they aren’t even close to the most powerful people on the block. Oh, and of course now the movie timeline is even more screwed than it already was. Ah well, who needs continuity when you have Charles falling in love with a space queen?