Raise your hand if Dark Phoenix extinguished your interest in Fox’s X-Men Universe.

Although the film studio tried to resurrect one of the most iconic comic book stories in X-Men lore, Dark Phoenix snuffed out another attempt to do the saga justice. The news that Marvel Studios would finally acquire the rights to the mutants was a welcome relief even for the biggest fans of the franchise.

While the anticipation for the evolution of the X-Men in the MCU is exciting, I can’t help but wonder where the story would have gone after Dark Phoenix, especially since Fox ended the series with so much intriguing potential to explore.

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Beware: Dark Phoenix spoilers ahead!

A Flicker of Hope for the Future

The ending of Dark Phoenix was anything but light.

One could be easily fooled into thinking it was a contented, though obviously somber, conclusion: the school was renamed in Mystique’s honor, a seemingly reformed Magneto was there to guide Xavier back into the light and the Phoenix Force (likely with Jean as the host body) was still alive.

Pull away from Paris, however, and it’s evident that the timeline was heading toward perhaps a darker future than what we were shown in X-Men: Days of Future Past. The White House severed ties with the X-Men and mutant internment facilities were opened to imprison any mutant “deemed a clear and present danger to humans.” It would likely only be a matter of time until the Sentinels reentered the picture, presumably with characters like Master Mold, Nimrod and Bastion leading the robotic force.

It’s also likely that a human adversary, perhaps in addition to the return of William Stryker and Bolivar Trask, would have entered into the fray as well; Graydon Creed and Cameron Hodge would have been excellent additions to this dark world. Combine that with the presence of otherworldly threats now that aliens are canon and you’ve got all odds against mutantkind.

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But the darkest shadow that the ending of Dark Phoenix cast is the one that lingers over the remaining X-Men. Sorrow now resides on Graymalkin Lane and the grief running rampant through the X-mansion would have changed the X-Men forever.

No Longer Xavier’s X-Men

The exit of Charles Xavier could not have come at a worse moment.

Beast lost Mystique just before securing their happy-ending. Scott Summers lost his lover, the woman who was there to console him after the death of Havok. Storm once again was forced to fight with and against her friends while the peaceful Nightcrawler was driven into a murderous rage facing off against the D’Bari. Who would these characters have turned to in their misery? Would a version of Dark Beast have become the team leader?

As the students continued to shepherd Xavier’s abandoned dream, what would have happened to their former mentor?

The reconciliation between Charles and Erik implied that they were either united in a similar ethical perspective or were willingly removing themselves from the conversation entirely. Both decisions would further sever the relationship with Beast and his students. The actions and underlying principles of Xavier ultimately resulted in the deaths of X-Men; moving forward, characters like Cyclops, Beast and Storm would likely oppose Xavier’s viewpoint, if for no other reason than to protect their own.

Who would be foolish enough to put their faith in Xavier’s hands when he consistently delivers grave consequences?

Aside from the schism within the story, Dark Phoenix created a number of voids that would inevitably need to be filled. An unused Cerebro would attract the likes of other powerful telepaths, good and evil. The U.S. government would likely revoke the rights to Magneto’s island. Would Charles and Erik find sanctuary elsewhere? With the capabilities to fly into space, Asteroid M would be a logical safe haven, though it would only be a matter of time before the Sh’iar Empire, the Brood or the Phalanx found them.

Fox’s True Phoenix Rising from the Ashes

If such granular speculation isn’t enough, there’s also tons of potential to explore in the broad strokes that Fox could paint after Dark Phoenix. Following the theme of decade-jumping between films, Fox could have landed in the early 2000s. Which global event would have set the scene, and which villain would have risen to power?

Y2K, genetic cloning and stem cell research, and the War on Terror could have introduced characters like Mister Sinister, the Mutant Liberation Front or the Freedom Force.

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Would the timeline eventually catch up to Deadpool and The New Mutants? Assuming that Jennifer Lawrence and Sophie Turner were absent, and that Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult would have had less impactful roles, which talented actors would have filled their shoes? The conclusion of Dark Phoenix left the series ripe for a refreshing evolution, and, dare I say it, could have actually helped the franchise rise from the ashes to usher in a return to form.

A Requiem for a What Could Have Been

Dark Phoenix may be regarded as one of the least appreciated entries in the series, but let’s not forget what’s come from Fox’s other missteps. X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine forced Fox to rethink their approach, ultimately providing an excellent reboot, two fantastic Wolverine films, two hilarious Deadpool adventures and the remarkable X-Men: Days of Future Past.

While many assume that Fox could not have recovered from back-to-back disappointments, I believe that the entries following Dark Phoenix had the potential to deliver the best chapters yet.

As Charles once said: “Countless choices define our fate. Each choice, each moment, a ripple in the river of time. Enough ripples and you change the tide. For the future is never truly set.”

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This article was originally published 8/13/20