This is the end. Nineteen years in the making. During that entire time, we’ve clamored for a proper telling of “The Dark Phoenix Saga” comic book storyline and producer/writer/director Simon Kinberg finally promises to deliver the goods with his directorial debut. After multiple delays and a lot of handwringing regarding the Walt Disney Co./21st Century Fox merger, the ultimate adaptation is upon us. Will it be worth the wait, or is it just the last torturous entry we must endure before Kevin Feige gives these characters a proper reboot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? That question makes Dark Phoenix one of the most interesting films of the year.
The X-Men: Apocalypse cast returns, jumping from the ’80s to the ’90s and continuing to muck about with the continuity established in the original 2000 film. Don’t get hung up on it; time was altered, dimensions crossed, blah, blah, blah. What’s important is that Sophie Turner is back as Jean Grey, struggling to maintain her nearly infinite power and succumbing to its horrendous possibilities. Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) find themselves on opposite sides again, fighting each other over the fate of their pupil. Then there is Jessica Chastain as a third teacher looking to take advantage of Jean Grey’s Phoenix Force.
The latest trailer gives us our best look yet at how Kinberg will incorporate the source material’s space adventure into the somewhat grounded tone established by the other X-movies. Click below and cross your fingers that the filmmaker will grant all your fannish delights.
Well, that’s not exactly the comic book, but that’s okay. All of our favorite superhero movies play it fast and loose with the material. Kinberg seems to be sticking pretty close to his original idea of the Phoenix Force from X-Men: The Last Stand. This Force is not the god-being, but a reawakening of Jean’s true potential psychically jailed by Charles Xavier when she was a child. Although, maybe not. There are hints of an external creature driving Jean down darker avenues. So, let’s dig in.
We open on a birds-eye-view of an emotionally brutalized Jean Grey. Collapsed in an alleyway, the rain pours down. Fearful, soaked, and shivering, she speaks aloud, “Why did you make me do that?” Who is she talking to? Herself, or a parasitic cosmic presence hiding within? In the comic books, the Phoenix was a god-like alien monster that made a home inside Jean Grey. As host, she went mad and turned not only on the X-Men but the entire universe. Previous films suggested that the Phoenix Force is simply Jean’s powers unchecked. At the end of X-Men: Apocalypse we witnessed a brief glimpse of this potential devastation as she squared down against the big bad blue villain played by Oscar Isaac.
As we saw in the previous trailer, the X-Men (sporting new uniforms based on the designs from the Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely story arc of the early 2000s) confront Jean in a suburban street. Is this the same neighborhood where Jean’s folks live? She does have a fairly rocky relationship with them already, and there are no better subjects to face a Dark Phoenix temper tantrum. Mystique is the brave soul elected to bring her off the ledge. She says, “I’m not giving up on you, Jean.” Jean, back in the alleyway responds, “She was my friend.” Uh-oh.
“You’re my family Jean,” Mystique continues. “No matter what.” STOP! Jean strikes out in fear and anger. Mystique is propelled backward, and we can only assume that she does not land softly. Where were you on that one, Quicksilver?
Here is our first look of Jessica Chastain’s mysterious villain character. While it is hard to tell exactly where this scene is located, wherever it is, terrible bloodshed has occurred. The couch behind Chastain is covered in the red stuff, and it appears to have been torn to tatters as well. Chastain rearranges the matter around Jean, a window to space appears, and she tells her, “Look.”
We still do not know who or what Chastain’s character is, but rumors have swirled around a gender-flipped Mr. Sinister (just another X-baddie with an obsession around Cyclops and Jean) to a diabolical alien. IMDb only offers the blank credit of “Smith.” The official plot synopsis for the film does mention that extraterrestrials are looking to weaponize Jean’s Phoenix Force as leverage over the galaxy. She could be a member of the Shi’ar race, pesky aliens that are sometimes friends and sometimes enemies to the X-Men.
X-Men in space! Finally. Although, we may not get as much as we want. Similar to the comics, when the team ventures into orbit to rescue a group of astronauts from certain doom, the Phoenix Force enters Jean. This alien entity corrupts the soul while boosting its host with nearly limitless power before consuming them completely.
Chastain continues her sales pitch, “You’re special Jean, and if you stop fighting that force inside of you, if you embrace it, you will possess the very power of a god.” That sounds like a puppet master at work.
The Phoenix Force attacks as the X-Men’s Blackbird approaches the space shuttle. A storm of CGI rips through Jean’s body, sinking its claws into her conscious and taking hold. Kinberg wants to eat his cake and have it too. It does appear that this film will marry Charles’s once-upon-a-time fear of young Jean with a sci-fi invading god-being.
Charles (and others) will hold himself responsible for not preparing his student for the inevitable outburst of power. Just check that expression of horror. The death of Mystique falls squarely on his shoulders. This guy really does stink at being a teacher.
Yes, Mystique is dead. Stop denying it. This is not a switcharoo. Jennifer Lawrence has wanted out of this series for a while, and now her wish is granted. Next to Charles, only Beast would be this mopey at her funeral. Their romance was hinted at in previous films but never fully realized. If tensions were already high between Hank and Charles, a true schism will occur now. Leaving room in Hank’s heart for Magneto.
Back at the X-Mansion, Jean confronts her two elders. Charles warns, “She’ll kill us all.” To prove his point, Jean turns Magneto’s precious psychic-blocking helmet against himself. No one can grit his teeth in pain quite like Michael Fassbender.
Before his head can pop, we see the internal struggle on Jean Grey summarized in a single tear that drips down her cheek. Some form of humanity still exists within. Is it enough to win the day? Yeah, of course, but sacrifices will be made.
Poor Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), he’s always the impotent schoolboy in these X-movies. He confronts Charles in Cerebro, pleading for answers, “Tell me how we fix this, Charles! Tell me what to do!” The professor has no solutions, kid. He’s about as useless as you are at this moment. Maybe you should step up and act like the leader we’ve been told you are for these past 19 years.
New York City is in shambles. The United Nations is on fire. Cyclops drags Professor X through the rubble, and Jessica Chastain looms from above. This is ultimate villain stuff. She’s soaking in her spoils, enjoying how the pieces of her nefarious plan have all fallen neatly into place. We hear her tell Jean, “What they don’t understand, they fear. And what they fear.” Jean answers, “They seek to destroy.” Chastain’s character is using the X-Men’s experience with terrified humans as a leash over Jean’s powers. She’s in full control now, not Jean.
Taking place presumably moments after Jean slaughtered Mystique, Quicksilver speeds to attack a levitating Jean Grey, hopping from one falling chunk of debris to another. If anything pleases an X-fan, it’s watching the fastest man alive slow the world around him, but this time I wouldn’t expect much cheering from the crowd. Jean will make quick work of him. Pun intended.
Hank minus his Beast-mode chastises Charles in the kitchen of the X-Mansion. “This is your fault,” he says. Then we catch a kiddie Jean flashback. Charles visits the Grey household to recruit their youngest child to his school of gifted students. This is another scene basically remade from The Last Stand, but with the added bonus of young Jean’s The Omen-esque evil stare. Charles whispers, “I tried to protect her.” Lotta good that did.
If you’re a blue X-Man, Dark Phoenix is not going to be a great movie experience for you. First, Mystique is taken out then Beast goes down for the count.
Next up, Nightcrawler gets tossed across a New York train car. Over a montage of ass-whoopings, we hear Jean regretfully say, “I’m scared. When I lose control, bad things happen to people I love.” Why can’t she stop herself? The Phoenix Force is one massive excuse to cut loose and relish in your bad nature. Who wouldn’t love some outside entity to blame for our worst moments in life?
Magneto lives! As Jessica Chastain boards a ransacked prison train, a recently freed Master of Magnetism wields an array of machine guns against her. It will not be enough. Forget bullets, Magento. You should pull the same trick Jean did on you, but instead of a helmet squishing her tiny head, how about using the whole metal train to flatten her?
Storm (Alexandra Shipp) tries to explain the truth of the situation to Cyclops, “Sometimes you want to believe people are something they are not. By the time you realize who they are it’s too late.” Always the practical one, Storm is not caught up in romantic feelings like sadsack Scott Summers. If push comes to shove, she’s going to unleash her full fury against the corrupted teammate. Jean Grey gives a hard stare; the Dark Phoenix is waiting.
Back aboard that prison train, before Jessica Chastain marches inside, we see our merry band of X-Men shackled in place. Around each of their necks is an inhibitor collar, preventing them from using their mutant powers. Magneto warns, “She’s coming.” The guards get strapped, but we’ve already seen that it won’t be enough. Chastain gives a solid punch to the door. Boom.
We also meet two new mutants locked up alongside them. Across from Storm is Red Lotus (Andrew Stehlin), an Australian mutant with ties to the Chinese triad as well as enhanced strength, speed, and agility. In the back of the train across from Nightcrawler is Selene (Kota Eberhardt), an ageless mutant with a mental absorption ability that transforms her into a psychic vampire. She might come in handy when taking down the Phoenix Force.
The final shot of the trailer is a floating Jean Grey surrounded in Dark Phoenix energy, lifting the prison train into the sky and giving it a good swirl. When a hero goes this bad the only solution is a sacrifice, a final act of good to redeem her evil ways. That’s in keeping with the source material, and it’s about as good an end to the 20th Century Fox brand as we’re going to get. Yeah, ok, I’m ready for a reboot.
Dark Phoenix arrives in theaters on June 7th.