When one thinks of the X-Men it’s hard to do so without also thinking of Chris Claremont. Which makes sense considering that Claremont is not only responsible for some of the greatest X-Men characters of all time, but stories the stories we celebrate the most. Characters like Rogue, Legion, Emma Frost, Kitty Pryde, Sabertooth, Mystique, all came from the pen of Chris Claremont. As have characters like Moria MacTaggert and Nimrod who are centerpieces to Jonathan Hickman’s current X-Men run. Stories like Days of Future Past and The Dark Phoenix Saga not only changed the game when they were released but also shaped the future of the X-Men. Dark Phoenix is the first X-Men comic I ever read and nothing has ever been the same since.
With Fox’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix being released digitally on September 3rd with 4K, UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD coming on September 17th, I had the privilege to speak with Chris Claremont about the film, its characters, and the process of his story going from page to screen.
Kevin Carey- Hey Chris, how are you?
Chris Claremont- I’m fine, how are you?
KC- Doing good. We’re here today to talk about Dark Phoenix which will be released digitally on September 3rd, and I’d like to ask you a few questions about the movie.
KC- Over the last couple of years some of your biggest X-Men stories like Days of Future Past and now Dark Phoenix have hit the movie screens. As a creator how does it feel to see these works presented to a new generation of X-Men fans?
CC- I think it’s totally cool. The thing in a way I’m proudest of is that the first X-Men movie in ’01 set the stage for everything that’s came since. I mean, the fact that the X-Men came out the door and had a 99 million dollar opening weekend. Against all expectations, I believe set the stage for Spider-Man a couple of years later and certainly for Iron Man.
CC- And we all know where that went. The fact that the X-Men saga has come to its hallmarks with both Days of Future Past, which I felt was a spectacular adaptation of the story, and now Dark Phoenix, the same, is brilliant.
KC- I couldn’t agree more with you. Especially with the 2001 X-Men movie. It really did open the door to the idea that superhero movies could be successful. Going into Dark Phoenix, I love the original comic. There is such a clear distinction between the Phoenix and Jean Grey. You write such strong female characters whether it’s Rogue, Kitty Pryde, or Emma Frost so was it important to you to make the distinction between Jean Grey and the Phoenix force?
CC- I’m not sure exactly what you mean because I have a very specific, and controversial vision of this whole thing that has nothing to do with a “Phoenix force”.
KC- By all means.
CC- My vision, for me as the writer, Jean is Phoenix and Phoenix is Jean.
KC- So you see them sort of a side A/side B type deal?
CC- I see them as there has always been a Jean Grey and there will always be a Phoenix. They’re one entity which can be controversial in a writers room.
KC- I understand what you’re saying. It’s very difficult to do pure adaptations from page to screen. Obviously there are going to be things that get left out to sort of modernize the story. For this adaptation of Dark Phoenix were there things you specifically thought needed to be kept in the film to keep the essence of your story?
CC- I think… not really.
I mean, Simon Kinberg and I have known each other for ten years and I knew he was going to bring his best game to the movie and I was willing to trust him to do it. By the same token when you look at Days of Future Past it’s fundamentally different from the comic because the comic is set in what was then 1974, the present day of the publication reality looking ahead to 2015. Whereas the movie is set in 2015 and looking back to 1970. So right off the bat, there are fundamental different adjustments that need to be made to fit that paradigm. In the comic Kitty Pryde can come back because she existed in the future. In the film she can’t because the crucial events in the past take place twenty years before she was born… it also doesn’t hurt that the person going back is Hugh Jackman.
KC- (laughs) Exactly.
CC- That’s a film reality but within the context of the story itself it made perfect sense. You had three characters in the future who can link with the past to help resolve the situation. Unfortunately, Magneto in the past is in a cell underneath the Pentagon. Charlie in the past is… cuckoo. So that leaves Logan. So there you go. I had no problem with that. Far more importantly, from my perspective, is that Bryan used the death of the X-Men in the future as the dramatic hallmark of the story.
KC- I one hundred percent agree with that.
CC- But by the same token the realities that Simon dealt with in Dark Phoenix were you’re looking at a twist on the past that in a sense was the frame of Days of Future Past. How does that bind together into resolving the Dark Phoenix story? So he made edits to the comic book reality but that’s necessary. Just as Game of Thrones played around with some of the realities of George Martin’s original manuscript. That’s what you do when you’re making a film. You can’t fit everything in no matter how many hundred hours you have available to you. If you’ve only got a hundred eighteen minutes you have to be totally on your game and totally focused. And Simon was as both a writer and a director.
KC- Did Simon confer with you during the writing aspect of the film?
CC- What world do you live in? I would assume from his perspective that he’s too busy trying to get the machine up and running. Yes, I was available. Yes, anytime he had a question or a concern or something he wanted to throw by me, of course, I’d take the call. He’s good enough, professional enough, and surrounded by, if you look at the credits, by one spectacular production team. So those are the people you go to as a director if you have a question. The writer of the source material is responsible for the source material you are adapting. If you’re doing your job as a screenwriter you’ve got everything right off the bat. As far as I can see from watching the film as audience he had it right off the bat.
KC- The film did a really good job of highlighting the importance of Jean’s relationship with Charles… or Charlie as you called him, which I like.
CC- Well, I’ve known him for a while.
KC- (laughs) I can imagine. The Charles Xavier role for Jean Grey, would you say it’s more important then her relationship with Cyclops?
CC- … I think they’re parallel. I think there’s always somewhat of a rivalry between the “father figure” and the “boyfriend”. You love one one way you love the other the other way. One is the person who frames your life the other is the person you intend to spend your life with happily… one hopes. It’s different but as Mystique said, Charles has a whole lot of baggage and he has a whole lot of mistakes to atone for. Not the least of which being how he mucked up with Mystique. You have to factor the time shift between Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix which is roughly ten years. A lot of stuff has been happening in that time. Being the film audience and not the comic book audience, we have no idea what it is. Clearly it’s taken a toll. I guess the person who most epitomizes the toll it has taken is Hank McCoy, who loves Mystique passionately, and has since the moment they met. But has also seen Charles at his best and at his worst and is not afraid to call him on it.
I think if there was anything I could wish for looking at the film, I’d take another hour just to play with all the character conflicts within the film. Of Hank’s love for Mystique. Of Hank’s passionate disagreements with Charlie. Of all of them trying to cope with Jean and Jean trying to cope with what’s happening to herself. You have to bear in mind she’s still functionally a very young woman. Think of her in Sansa terms, she’s back at King’s Landing and suddenly in King’s Landing she has the power of the dragons but she doesn’t know how to do it. There’s a line where the Hound says “you should have stayed with me, I could’ve kept you safe”, and she looks back at him and says “if I stayed with you none of us would have survived to be here.”
The thing with Jean is she’s exactly at the same point. She has all this power and all this ability but there’s no instruction book. There’s no moral compass to go with it. She’s being teased and tempted by the Davari. She’s being chased by her own guilt. Magneto has thrown her out because she killed Mystique. Hank hates her because she killed Mystique. She hates herself because she killed Mystique. Her anchors, her moral compasses, are all out of whack. Her anchors have failed. She is not locked into anything. She doesn’t know what’s happening except that if she continues down this road she will do something even more unforgivable then she’s already done. She has to find a way to resolve this. She has to make a choice. That’s the essence of the story. That’s the essence of the comic story. That’s the essence of Simon’s film story.
In a perfect world, yes I’d love to expand this to three hours like Infinity War. Not because I want more punch and hits but because I want the audience to fall even more deeply and passionately in love with the characters. Because this is a love story. Not so much between Jean and Scott but between the audience and Jean. It’s about a young woman trying to do the right thing but she has no idea how to control the roller coaster she’s on. There’s no one who can show her. Charlie isn’t good enough with all his power. She has no one to depend on but herself and in the end, she in the film as in the comic has to make a moral choice… and she does.
KC- Thank you for taking the time and it was a pleasure talking with you.
CC- Thank you.
A big thank you to Chris Claremont for taking the time to discuss Dark Phoenix with us. It was an honor to pick his brain on all things X-Men for a bit. Don’t forget that you can buy X-Men Dark Phoenix on digital today and 4K, UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD coming on September 17th.