On Wednesday, the final trailer for Dark Phoenix was released, giving us another look at Jean Grey’s (Sophie Turner) descent into darkness in what appears to be the grand finale to Fox’s X-Men saga. While box office tracking for the film is (so far) the lowest of any of the X-Men movies over the past 19 years, Dark Phoenix, which marks the directing debut of longtime X-screenwriter and producer, Simon Kinberg, got plenty of buzz at CinemaCon a couple weeks ago. We may be in for quite a few surprises and fitting final installment should that buzz hold up. Though the latest trailer recycles plenty of footage from the previous two trailers, we do get a few significant details that suggest a new angle to Jean Grey’s possession by the Phoenix Force.
The Phoenix Force, created by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum, first appeared in Uncanny X-Men No. 101 in 1976. While the force is most closely associated with Jean Grey and the famous Dark Phoenix Saga storyline, the Phoenix Force has built up a long and storied history in the Marvel Universe over the decades. Many mutants have possessed the Phoenix Force, stretching back to Earth’s Stone Age where one mutant served in the earliest incarnation of the Avengers, alongside the young god, Odin. A cosmic entity, the Phoenix Force is a manifestation of life and passion, and it is the center of all the forms of mental powers, from telepathy, telekinesis, mental projections, that exist within Marvel’s multiverse.
So, yeah, it’s a pretty big deal. But beyond just being a central force of energy, the Phoenix Force has the power to destroy and rebuild entire stretches of the universe, making judgement on what is archaic and unnecessary for the universe’s survival, until ultimately the entire universe is destroyed in flames and rebuilt into something new from the ashes. It’s fitting then, with 20th Century Fox having been acquired by Disney, and the X-Men franchise as we’ve known it coming to an end, that this Phoenix Force should be at the center of ending this old universe and wiping the slate clean for a new one within the MCU. But before we get to that, it’s worth considering the place of the Phoenix Force within this current X-Men franchise.
When we last saw the Phoenix Force onscreen, in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), it was treated as an alternate identity that Jean (Famke Janssen) had locked away. Within that timeline, the Phoenix was a mental illness, a psychosis utilized as a weapon. It’s an interesting route but Jean’s arc took a back seat to a cure storyline in a film that felt like two movies meshed together. X-fans feared that Dark Phoenix would travel down the same route, but the trailers suggest that Jean’s newfound abilities will be all the focus and all cosmic, though perhaps not as cosmic as they are in the comics. As the latest trailer reveals, Jean receives the moniker “Phoenix” from the students at Xavier’s (James McAvoy) school, rather than it being the result of the name of the entity she is possessed by. This raises the question of how exactly Dark Phoenix will handle that force. Will it simply be a powerful form of energy, not unlike the Fantastic Four’s cosmic rays? Or will it be a self-aware entity with a drive of its own? The answer may lie in Jessica Chastain’s character.
Ever since Chastain joined the film in 2017, fans have speculated on who she might be playing. Many supposed she was playing Shi’Ar Empress Lilandra Neramani. I placed my own bets on Xavier’s parasitic twin Cassandra Nova. But the real answer may have been right in front of us all along. “Who are you?” Jean asks Chastain’s character. Who responds in turn, “The better question is, who are you?” Perhaps the answer to the identity of Chastain’s character lies in Jean, literally so. Later in the trailer, Chastain says, “That power destroyed everything it ever came into contact with. Until you.” She seems to know a lot about this force and all the trailers have made clear that she’ll be serving in a kind of mentor role to Jean, helping her realize the full extent of her powers. It seems possible then that Jessica Chastain’s character is the Phoenix Force, or at least Jean’s psychic manifestation of the Phoenix Force, the entity given shape outside of her own mind. We’ve only ever seen the character when she’s with Jean, which not only suggests that she is not an independent threat, but that Jean may be the only one who can see her. If that’s the case then Dark Phoenix may have found a way to successfully blend the crazy cosmic forces of the Marvel Universe with the grounded psychological explorations that have made up much of this X-Men series.
While it’s understandable that fans may be a little weary of seeing the Phoenix storyline told within this franchise again, Dark Phoenix suggests a much more satisfying take on the story. Not only that, but the way in which the Phoenix Force appears to be utilized here won’t prevent the MCU from delving into it again in the future, in a way that makes use of all of the alien races, and ancient civilizations at its disposal. In the comics, the Phoenix Force has taken on many forms and served a variety of stories. It seems the same will soon be said of its place within film as well.