The last time the X-Men film franchise attempted to incorporate Chris Claremont’s “The Dark Phoenix Saga” into their lore, it didn’t go down particularly smoothly. Although the storyline is perfectly set up in X2: X-Men United — bookended by Jean Grey‘s ultimate sacrifice in the film — the subsequent X-Men: The Last Stand only serves to dilute the presence of a genuinely formidable character.
I then kept my fingers crossed for X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Those first teases of a new take on this iconic saga really made X-Men: Apocalypse worthwhile. This could be 20th Century Fox’s definitive chance to reclaim Jean’s and the Phoenix Force’s legacies on screen.
And thankfully, from what is known about Dark Phoenix so far, that doesn’t seem like wishful thinking. Set 10 years after Apocalypse, the movie sees the X-Men as national heroes in the 1990s, and they have taken their world-saving enterprise to outer space. But when a solar flare hits the X-Jet on one of their rescue missions, the true potential of Jean’s powers as the Phoenix is unlocked.
An Entertainment Weekly sneak peek of the film in late 2017 not only hints at the movie’s increased fidelity to its source material. Star James McAvoy further noted, “This is probably the most emotional X-Men we’ve done and the most pathos-driven [sic].”
Now, the first full-length trailer for Dark Phoenix has finally dropped. At first glance, I’m taking McAvoy at his word that it is truly powered by emotion, raising the stakes for the characters involved.
Admittedly, the trailer is discernibly crowded in terms of character count. Moreover, as inaugural teasers are wont to be, the spot is narratively vague at best. That said, there is definitely plenty of promise in the footage, if only because Sophie Turner‘s Jean is clearly capable of handling both the indomitability and vulnerability of her character.
There is lots to unpack in just two minutes of footage, so let’s get started with this breakdown.
The trailer begins with a flashback. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) sports a head full of hair and is seemingly wrinkle-free. He reassures Jean of her self-worth as she questions if he can “fix” her.
Jean is then observed sitting by herself, with Xavier ominously ruminating in voiceover form that, “The mind is a fragile thing. Takes only the slightest tap to tip it in the wrong direction.” The camera zooms in on Jean’s unflinching gaze as a child before it cuts to a more tortured looking version of the character, now a young adult and portrayed by Turner.
I’ll just say this now, despite the fact that it’ll probably crop up several times throughout this breakdown: Turner is already fantastic. She brings so much to Jean regardless of her limited screentime in Apocalypse and continues to demonstrate intensity and nuance even in the briefest of shots in this trailer. In the above scene, she’s being examined by Dr. Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). It’s a less demanding endeavor for sure, but just you wait. There’s fury bubbling beneath that facade.
“Charles,” Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) says. “What did you do?” This question is excellently paired with the requisite shot of Xavier entering the Cerebro chamber. We’re not privy to what he’s done to “keep [Jean] stable,” but his paltry consolations of protection are pointless. To juxtapose his untrustworthy proclamations against a visual of Cerebro — a blatant symbol of Xavier’s prowess and intelligence — is goosebump-inducing.
Ah, there’s that tap Xavier was talking about. Of course, this could simply be clever trailer trickery. Nonetheless, the fact remains that although merely a child, Jean is already filled with unadulterated power.
Mystique thoroughly disagrees with Xavier’s methods of dealing with Jean’s prowess and isn’t afraid to mince words when confronting him. Evidently, she’s shaping up to be a mature voice of reason in the series, taking aim at her adopted brother this time around. (Lawrence has actually confirmed that a more maternal side of Mystique will reveal itself in Dark Phoenix.)
Eventually, Jean ends up at a rural settlement searching for answers about the extent of her abilities. And who better to approach than Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Xavier’s most consistent frenemy who perennially delivers blunt truths?
Jessica Chastain‘s mysterious shapeshifter makes her first appearance, fueling the fires of Jean’s insecurities (perhaps this counts as a bad pun). She mutters that none of the X-Men — cue a speedy montage of each of their faces — will understand what Jean is going through. Everything from Chastain’s white-blond hair to her darkened eyes and clinical whispers screams “ice queen,” and I can’t wait to meet this character fully.
This shot right here is the reason McAvoy makes for a perfect Xavier. The character can be notoriously tricky to get right, simply because Xavier’s heroism is constantly tempered by his ample self-righteousness. Regardless, McAvoy portrays Xavier with unbridled empathy that enables us to understand him, even when we disagree with his actions.
And of course: Sophie Turner. Is. Amazing. The chiaroscuro of this shot draws the audience into the glint of her (literally) fiery eyes, but that is the steeliest, most powerful gaze.
In what is undoubtedly one of many showdowns that the X-Men will have to run into with one of their own, we catch a full-length glimpse of the group’s costumes. These are totally reminiscent of the ones in the X-Men animated series. (What happened to the suits they had at the end of Apocalypse, though? Those deserved more screentime.)
I love what this trailer conveys through the use of parallels. An innocuous tap of Jean’s feet is comparable to a deliberate swing of her arm, given the fact that both actions result in the same horrific wreckage. Nevertheless, the latter signals such a scary impression of control. Jean also steadily overturns a helicopter while a military officer watches in horror. The poor guy is probably about to get crushed by her sheer will, frankly.
Wait, not so fast! Jean is seen crumpled in an alley weeping, completely overwhelmed by the destruction following in her wake. Her original personality is still in there somewhere, and I’m hoping for more engagement with this difficult internal battle. At least, compared to what we got in The Last Stand.
Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) has popped up in this trailer a couple of times by now, and for good reason. His relationship with Jean seems to serve as one of the primary emotional throughlines of Dark Phoenix. Scott is the only character in the trailer to really assert Jean’s humanity as a friend of the X-Men, too, which Sheridan himself portrays with a good amount of earnestness.
This shot appears right smack in the middle of a ton of discombobulating, disconnected action. Basically, the world is ending and everything is frenetic, but this is likely the solar flare that began it all.
Finally, Xavier and Jean share a scene again. This one is considerably more pensive, but that feels warranted at this point. Just a few scenes earlier, McCoy openly blames Xavier for the death and destruction Jean inevitably causes. When Xavier apologizes for not “stop[ping] it sooner,” Magneto scoffs that he is “always sorry.”
As for Magneto himself? Well, he’ll deal with things as he’s always done: by getting ready for battle after inciting some reckless shit.
Importantly, leave it to Scott to be Jean’s true emotional anchor, showing her love and kindness when she needs it the most. That popped collar she’s rocking, though… her Dark Phoenix outfit, perhaps?
There are some quick cuts between carnage and a notable stand-off between Xavier and Magneto’s camps. The former implores the latter to back off some undisclosed plan. That’s not a new occurrence throughout this franchise’s 18-year history, though.
Instead, I’d focus more on the funeral scene that follows. It’s fascinating to note who’s present, namely Xavier, McCoy, Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Someone else is under another umbrella, too, but we’re in the dark about who that could be for now.
My first thoughts here are that Jean’s eventual death and rebirth in Claremont’s saga could become an onscreen reality. But of course, considering the apparent absence of Scott and Mystique, could either of them have been caught in the crossfire?
Given how much Xavier appears affected by what’s going on, that could be the case. At this point, it is safe to say that Dark Phoenix will be as much about the weight of his conscience as it will be about Jean.
In the comics, the Phoenix Force engulfs Jean in a protective cocoon after she is gravely injured during the X-Men’s space mission. Mostly, I’m wondering if some version of it is what we’re looking at here.
However, one thing is certain. Turner will simultaneously make us fear Jean, as well as root for her, and there is nothing like one final shot to drive that point home.
In all honesty, Jean is powerful and magnetic without saying all that much in the trailer, and each of her appearances throughout the teaser oozes perfection. The bottom line is that she should’ve gotten her due a long time ago, and I’m hoping Dark Phoenix really turns out to be a worthy outing for this exceptional character.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix lands in cinemas on Valentine’s Day, 2019.