While it hasn’t been confirmed officially, rumour has it Summer Fontana will be playing a younger version of Jean in X-Men: Dark Phoenix. This could have a variety of implications, for both the movie and the future of the X-Men film franchise.
We saw a young Jean in The Last Stand, during the first attempt at adapting the Dark Phoenix saga. It seems strange to have that approach again – Sophie Turner herself plays a young Jean Grey. She’s 21, and her version of Jean can’t be older than 18. Famke Janssen, the first actress in the role, was 41 when The Last Stand was released, and while she may have also been playing a character younger than herself – Jean and Scott were implied to be the same age, or at least close to it, and James Marsden is nine years younger than her – she was still significantly older than Turner is. Turner still looks like a child, not an adult, especially when compared to Janssen’s take on the character as I discussed here. Having an even younger version of her seems somewhat redundant.
Having a younger version of Jean in The Last Stand served a clear purpose in that it showed a contrast between Jean as a child, without a lot of power that she didn’t know how to control, and her as an adult, after Xavier had blocked off her access to some of that power and she’d learned to control the rest of it. In the new timeline, Jean’s still an underage student, not a teacher. She’s still learning, and wasn’t portrayed as having full control in Apocalypse. There isn’t any contrast necessary, and trying to provide some would just add bulk to what already seems like something of a bloated movie, risking a repeat of The Last Stand in terms of audience opinion.
It’s also possible that young Jean’s role could be highly plot relevant. In the comics, Jean’s backstory involved the shock of her best friend being hit by a car when they were children unlocking her mutant powers and drawing the Phoenix Force to Earth. It’s possible that casting Fontana is a way to depict this, rather than being something more similar to what was done in The Last Stand. This would be much more accurate to the comics than that, and would probably be met with a much more positive reaction by comics fans. However, I find this to be quite unlikely. While Jessica Chastain has confirmed she has a role in Dark Phoenix on Instagram, and that role is rumoured to be Lilandra, queen of the Shi’ar, which would make it very likely that the Phoenix Force will be depicted as a cosmic entity in its own right, rather than a part of Jean, it would be a stark and very abrupt departure from all other movies in the franchise.
The X-Men have a very long history in comics. There are a lot of characters with convoluted backstories, family trees, and relationships. The movies have made it a point to simplify all of these things – no aliens, no surprise relatives, no crazy history before to the school unless you’re Wolverine. This has been most notable with Scott, whose family tree is so complicated that the Tangled Family Tree trope was originally called the Summers Family Tree. His backstory has been simplified to the point where he didn’t even grow up thinking everyone in his family was dead – until his powers manifested, he lived a perfectly ordinary life in the suburbs. This was demonstrated in Apocalypse, the most recent X-Men ensemble movie, making it all the stranger to think that the introduction to the stranger elements of the comics would come all at once like this. The Shi’Ar and the Phoenix Force, I can believe, but adding Jean’s childhood backstory as well seems odd.
If Fontana has been cast as a young Jean, it could be as an attempt to flesh out the character, an introduction to different aspects of the comic stories, or something else entirely. We’ll just have to wait and see.