Young Jean Grey Rumoured Casting

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.

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The Dark Phoenix Announcement

Fox announced their plans for X-Men: Dark Phoenix yesterday, and as excited as I want to be for another X-Men movie, one in which Wolverine will not be the focus, I can’t bring myself to really care.

I’ve talked before about how I have very mixed feelings about the X-Men movies, and I mentioned there how The Last Stand ruined the Dark Phoenix saga for me by missing the point. So shouldn’t I be excited for this? They have a chance to fix their mistakes and do it right! Wolverine won’t be in it, so it won’t become all about him again. But…I’m not. I can’t be. And there are a lot of reasons for that.

The release date being next year makes no sense to me. It’s almost impossible for them to meet it, and if they do, at what cost? It’d be ridiculously rushed, and I doubt it’d be good. It’ll be a cobbled together script and shot as quickly as possible, rather than allowing for time for improvements. It’ll be made because they said they’d do it and people will go see it regardless of whether or not it’s good.

Jean has been involved in a lot more stories than just the Dark Phoenix. I’d like adaptations to stop pretending like it’s the only thing that she’s ever done and that her only good story ended with her death. I want a story that actually explores Jean. This franchise already adapted the Dark Phoenix, and it wasn’t good. Why not make something else instead of trying it again? These characters have existed for half a century. It would be so easy to pick something else instead of adapting the same story again and again.

Some of my issues with the idea of this movie go deeper and are tied to my issues with the X-Men movie franchise as a whole. McAvoy Xavier and Fassbender Magneto are great to watch, but they’re getting to be almost as frustratingly everpresent to me as Jackman Wolverine was. I don’t even like Lawrence’s Mystique, but she’s coming back, too, and why should she or Magneto be in this film at all? The creators seem so afraid of trying something new, they refuse to venture away from the status quo, regardless of whether or not it’s good.

I would have been so excited to get this movie with Famke Janssen as Jean and James Marsden as Scott. Those two embodied their characters to me. They were such excellent, underrated casting, and in a movie without Wolverine, we could finally get more focus on their relationship, both as romantic partners and as teammates/friends. That would be the second chance at a storyline that was bungled the first time. Not this.

Marsden had the poise, the confidence, necessary to pull off Scott, the leader that forces himself to repress all doubt and insecurity. He had the charisma that would have been perfect for stories about him becoming the general of mutantkind like he does in the comics. And in general, he has the talent to carry a movie. He just never got enough screentime. Despite that, he still tried – his scenes in the beginning of The Last Stand were some of the most emotional in the movie for me. Can you imagine what it’d be like to see him deliver the iconic, Jean, you are love?

Janssen had all the necessary gravitas for Jean. She could do both the uncertain, scared, still coming into her powers Jean from most of X2 as well as the confident, bold, do-what-she-has-to-do Jean at the end. She could pull off the Phoenix. She got a little more material to work with than Marsden, if not much, and despite the script treating Jean mostly like an aside that existed because Logan thought she was hot, Janssen still put in the effort and made the character her own.

James Marsden as Cyclops, Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, Halle Berry as Storm – these were the X-Men I grew up with. All of them are excellent actors, and they’ll forever be the ones I picture when I think about Scott, Jean, and Ororo. It was fantastic casting. It seems way too soon to replace them. I’m not ready to let go just yet. I remember when I saw Days of Future Past for the first time, remember that excitement and delight at seeing them back. I thought that would mean we’d get more of them. That we’d actually get them back. But no. Just a cameo that was their last appearance in the franchise. It’s so frustrating. Hugh Jackman got Logan as his swan song. He got an entire movie and a dramatic death. The other three? Just a brief cameo that brought them all the way back to the status quo of the first movie. Nothing real. Nothing conclusive. Logan could have been a great final adventure for all of them,  but they were unceremoniously killed offscreen.

DoFP brought back the X-Men and the school and stopped the Sentinels from ravaging the world. It  was beautiful and felt amazing to see. I legitimately loved the movie. But what happened at the end? Logan went right back to obsessing over Jean, despite her having been gone for years. I’d love to regard that as just him being amazed that it actually worked and that she was back and everything was okay, except he didn’t have that strong of a reaction to seeing Scott, who’d been dead for just as long. No look cast over to Ororo, despite the kiss in that deleted scene. It’s as if the creators think that undoing a bad decision is good enough, rather than having the characters learn or grow or change as a result of them.

I know I shouldn’t cling this much to the original cast. I don’t want to be like the Christopher Reeve fans who are unwilling to give any other version of Superman a chance.  But this feels different to me, because it’s new actors in the same franchise. It’s not a reboot, it’s just an altered timeline. It’s not just the new actors playing the younger version of the characters, it’s them replacing the originals. It’s barely been ten years since the last movie with all of the original cast. It feels too soon. And since they didn’t all leave together – Hugh Jackman got more solos, as well as a cameo in Apocalypse, and Patrick Stewart was in Logan – it doesn’t even feel right for them to be gone. Their stories feel unfinished. A Dark Phoenix movie with the new actors? It’s going to force me to accept that that era is over. I can do that, it just sucks to have to without proper closure.

Nothing against Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan, but the two of them seem too young to me for this story. They’re in that age where they’re technically adults, but they don’t really look it. It’s the awkward, haven’t quite grown into themselves look of people that are college age or a little bit older, like recent grads. They could probably be good in the roles – they weren’t bad in Apocalypse – but the Jean and Scott in the Dark Phoenix saga should be adults, not kids. It reminds me a little of Brandon Routh back when he played Superman – a good actor, even a good choice for the role, but still too young for the version he was given.

famke janssensophie turner

Turner doesn’t look like an adult yet. She doesn’t have Janssen’s experience, or her ability to embody the character and completely take over a scene. It still seems to me that she got cast for her name and fanbase, rather than for being a good fit for the role. I’m not saying she’s a bad actress or that she can’t pull it off, but I still barely see her as Jean. I can’t imagine her as the Phoenix.

The original trilogy meant a lot to me. X-Men (2000) pretty much invented the modern superhero movie. It was flawed, it was a little clunky and awkward, and some of it just didn’t make sense, but as a groundbreaking movie for the genre and through nostalgia, it still holds up. It was a pretty solid character intro. X2, First Class, DoFP, even Logan – those are still good movies as well. But I think the majority of the X-Men franchise has been an attempt to make a badass epic movie, an action adventure, rather than making something legitimately good. The timeline for this movie feels like it’s just going to be more of the same – just marking time, pushing out another movie that doesn’t have any reason to exist.

I don’t agree with people complaining about superhero fatigue. I love superhero movies. I love comicbooks and seeing them brought to life. But when I hear about movies like this one, I start to understand. I’m not sick of superheroes. But I am tired of studios making movies that fit the same mold again and again and never venturing into anything different. I’ve been torn about the X-Men movies for a long time, and as much as I don’t want it to be true, I think this one will be the one that pushes me over the edge into not enjoying them anymore.