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How 'X-Men: Dark Phoenix' Trailer Departs From Classic Story

The next movie breaks from some traditions, but not all of them.

After watching the Dark Phoenix trailer, the most obvious takeaway for longtime X-Men fans is that the movie is not an accurate adaptation of the classic 1980s comic book storyline — from which the concept of the Dark Phoenix originates. There’s no Hellfire Club corrupting Jean Grey, or even a space shuttle crash to allow a cosmic entity to enter Jean's mind in the first place. We don’t even get to see her costume change from green to red, displaying the character’s fall from grace!

Instead, Dark Phoenix appears to draw from the Ultimate X-Men comic book series’ reimagining of the concept, in which the Phoenix is not an external force that possesses — or, in later retellings, recreates and impersonates — Jean, but is something that is intrinsic to her and has always existed within her. The scene in which a young Jean is potentially responsible for an accident that may have killed her parents makes this suggestion pretty clear in the trailer.

With Ultimate X-Men as the inspiration — and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s New X-Men, a contemporaneous comic book series, providing the aesthetic inspiration for the new X-uniforms — some clues can be deciphered to help in predicting the plot: Could Jessica Chastain play a version of Lilandra, the religious zealot who believes that the Phoenix is a deity of renewal and seeks to indulge and encourage the Phoenix to destroy everything around her? It seems possible, if not likely; "They can’t begin to comprehend what you are," she says at one point in the trailer, a suitably ominous line suggesting that she’s not to be trusted.

In fact, one can get a reading from the trailer that no-one in the movie should be trusted; if Magneto is to be believed, Jean is merely looking for permission to give in to her destructive impulses — "They’re right to fear me," she says, although, who can tell yet if that’s a boast or not? — and as many point out, Xavier’s own ego and actions are to blame for everything that’s gone wrong.

Reading the trailer as a narrative about a woman’s response to a man removing her agency and suppressing her power and potential is tempting. It is, after all, an idea that speaks to the current cultural moment and, importantly, gives Dark Phoenix an urgency and appeal that the X-Men movies have lacked for years. The trailer posits the notion that it isn’t the classic "Dark Phoenix" comic book storyline, but something more contemporary; an update that, like the Ultimate X-Men comic book before it, grounds and broadens the original’s appeal for a new audience.

However, one thing remains constant throughout every telling of the "Dark Phoenix" storyline to date: Jean is at the center of the story, but the story is never actually about Jean. It’s always about those around Jean being affected by what’s happening to her (and, in each case, that too is the result of external forces). Depressingly fitting for a story about a powerful woman, the narrative has traditionally centered around how uncomfortable she’s made the men in her life — and the new trailer, which features more dialogue from men than women, continues that tradition.

Dark Phoenix clearly breaks from the original plot in a number of ways, and the X-Men movie series has demonstrated multiple times that it isn’t interested in fidelity to the comic book source material in the same way that the Marvel Studios movies are. If Fox wants Dark Phoenix to end the franchise on a high point, is it too much to hope that it could finally allow Jean Grey to be powerful, fearsome and, most importantly, the subject of her own story?

X-Men: Dark Phoenix opens Feb. 14, 2019.

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