11:56am PT by Richard Newby
'Dark Phoenix' Is the End of an 'X-Men' Era
"This is the end." 20th Century Fox released the long-awaited trailer for Dark Phoenix on The Late Late Show with James Corden Wednesday night. While marketing for the latest installment of the X-Men franchise is only just getting started in earnest, all signs point to Dark Phoenix being the conclusion of what will be a 19-year-old franchise by the time of its release.
With the specter of Disney’s acquisition of Fox looming in the background, and recent comments from Disney CEO Bob Iger about the X-Men landing in the hands of Marvel Studios' Kevin Feige, it’s hard to ignore the rumblings that signal the end of an era fast approaching. While Fox still has the horror-centric New Mutants set for an August 2019 release, and Drew Goddard's planned 'X-Force' movie that may be able to squeeze into production before the reshuffling starts, Dark Phoenix looks to be the last central X-Men movie to come from Fox. With its Doors cover song, funeral shots and suggested ramification of the lies, secrets and friction between characters, the trailer certainly doesn’t hold back from the suggestion that Dark Phoenix will serve as a grand finale.
First-time director Simon Kinberg — who has served as a producer on all the X-films and TV properties since X-Men: First Class (2011), and as a writer for X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) — shifts the franchise from the world-ending threats of time travel and Apocalypse to more personal stakes that center on Jean’s (Sophie Turner) loss of control over her powers and how it affects her mutant family. While the trailer is lacking in big action set pieces and fancy money shots, it does hone in on the very thing that made Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men films, and arguably the famed comic book run of Chris Claremont, work best — melodrama over action beats. The decision to drop the "X-Men" from the movie's title reiterates this character-driven focus of the film, and is also perhaps a means for Fox to capitalize on the success of female-driven superhero films in the aftermath of Wonder Woman (2017).
While Jean’s transformation into Dark Phoenix was previously seen in the critically-divisive X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), which was co-written by Kinberg, this adaptation is promised to be slightly more faithful to the comics. While we still don’t get to see the Starjammers or an X-Men space odyssey, the source of Jean’s newfound abilities are cosmic, and cosmic means aliens. Not much is known about Jessica Chastain’s unnamed extraterrestrial character who will serve as the antagonist of the film. Rumored to be a shape-shifter, fans are guessing that she’s a Skrull — one of the very same race who will take center stage in next year’s Captain Marvel, and who have had interest in the Phoenix Force in the comics over the years.
Fox and Disney share the rights to the Skrulls, so she could very well end up being one of them. But her cold and matter-of-fact approach is reminiscent of another Marvel villain: the Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely-created Cassandra Nova. A parasitic life form born on the Astral Plane with designs on genocide, Nova formed a body out of Xavier’s DNA and eventually obtained the ability to mimic human characteristics. In other words, Nova is another type of shape-shifting alien. Her line, "You feel like you don’t belong here. You don’t" is a negative spin on Xavier’s inclusive sentiments in previous movies, which would make her a fitting dark twin of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy).
Adding more credence to Chastain playing Cassandra Nova are the X-Men’s new costumes, which are almost exact reproductions of the costumes created by Frank Quitely for his run on Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. Ironically, these comic costumes were inspired by Bryan Singer’s controversial black leather costumes in X-Men (2000). While the X-Men movies since First Class have placed emphasis on each chapter being set in specific decade of the 20th century, highlighting not only Claremont’s lengthy run but also comic characters’ inability to age to any significant degree, Kinberg seems to be pulling from modern source material for his film.
Although "The Dark Phoenix Saga," published in 1980, is the highlight of Claremont’s run, Grant Morrison also penned a famed Dark Phoenix story during his run on New X-Men, one that leaned a bit more heavily into the mental illness aspect of Jean’s abilities. It wouldn’t be surprising if Dark Phoenix ended up borrowing just as much from Morrison as Claremont, though perhaps lacking the psychedelics and scale of each respective author. With Wolverine, who was crucial in both Dark Phoenix arcs, out of the picture, there’s at least a good chance that Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) will get his due in the narrative this time around.
"You’re always sorry, Charles. And there’s always a speech, and nobody cares," Michael Fassbender’s Magneto says, delivering the trailer’s best line. While Apocalypse saw the two former friends seemingly patch things up, Dark Phoenix once again seems to find Magneto and Xavier at odds. This has been the focal point of the series since Vaughn’s First Class. However, while we’ve previously seen Xavier in the right and Magneto in the wrong, their roles may be reversed this time. Xavier putting mental blocks in a young Jean was explored in The Last Stand and his psychic tampering has been a key plot point in comics over the years, but, in this film, it looks like Charles will have to deal with his actions head-on rather than getting out of facing the tough decisions ahead with a premature death, like in the 2006 film.
One of the consequences facing Xavier is Beast’s seeming decision to leave the X-Men and side with Magneto. Beast (Nicholas Hoult) has been Xavier’s constant defender throughout the First Class series of films, but here he turns his back on Xavier and sides with Magneto’s new Brotherhood, consisting of Selene (Kota Eberhardt) and Red Lotus (Andrew Stehlin). If there’s any resolution to be found between Xavier’s X-Men and Magneto’s Brotherhood, there will undoubtedly be a messy road to get there. When the ashes settle, we doubt we’ll be looking at a return to the status quo. That being said, whatever note this iteration of the X-Men ends on, it’s bound to have us thinking about the future.
Dark Phoenix looks to offer a fitting finale to the series that shaped modern comic book movies. Here’s hoping it goes out with a bang.