The ‘Dark Phoenix’ Trailer: A Pretty Good Summary Of All My Issues With the X-Men Movies

The Last Stand was kind of a mess. Decent action movie? Sure. But it also had a confused plot, several different things crammed into what should have been multiple movies, and it had no respect for the source material. A major part of Days of Future Past was undoing that. When Logan went back, he gave Xavier his memories so he could avoid the mistakes he made the first time around. And he did. In Apocalypse, Xavier told Jean to unleash her power instead of trying to bottle it up. To not be afraid of who she was and what she could do. To embrace it. And yet, here we find he was making the exact same damn mistakes he made in the original timeline – lying to Jean and manipulating her for the sake of “protecting her”.

I mean, sure, that’s probably the closest thing to comics Xavier movie Xavier has ever been. Pretty much all his comics self ever did was lie to people and manipulate him. But said comics self also just blocked off young Jean’s telepathy temporarily, so she could focus on mastering her telekinesis first without having everyone’s voices in her head. I’m all for straying from the comics. But it has to be done in a thoughtful way. This? It feels more like it’s there because it was there in The Last Stand than because it’s a good storytelling technique that fits with the Dark Phoenix Saga.

I’m all for straying from the comics. I even wrote a post about it. Movies are movies and comics are comics. What works in a comic may not work in a movie and vice versa. And it’s more interesting to watch a story where you don’t know how it’ll end, or every plot point that’ll get you to that ending. But straying from the comics has to be done in an thoughtful way, in a way that has a clear purpose, whether it be for character development reasons or plot reasons. This doesn’t look likely to be that.

I can buy Magneto’s presence in this movie. While I can’t know until I watch the actual movie, I can imagine a lot of ways in which he could benefit the movie. Even though I would much prefer to see Utopia than Genosha, because this should centre around Jean and Scott, it makes plenty of sense that Erik’s reaction to Charles – someone that’s supposed to be helping mutants – lying to Jean and trying to block off her powers would be to create a place for mutants where no one can get to them. But Mystique? A Mystique that is absolutely nothing like her comics counterpart, played by an actress that never even seems like she wants to be there? A Mystique who took on a role of ” leading and training the X-Men” that absolutely should not be hers? I’m not into this at all.

I’m over all these endless movies of Charles telling Erik there’s still good in him, or the two being on the same side for about five minutes, or neither of them acknowledging that there’s a middle ground between sitting there and doing absolutely nothing and killing everyone standing in their way. I’m especially over their conflict happening in a movie that’s supposed to be about Jean – again. It’s gotten really repetitive. My investment in said conflict will be for one petty reason and one alone: that comics Xavier is the worst and I’m happy to see movie Xavier finally being acknowledged as a deeply flawed, manipulative person – though, going back to my first point, it really doesn’t work as part of a series and does a great job demonstrating why studios producing comic book movies should be making more standalone films and elseworlds tales, rather than instalment after instalment in a never ending franchise (that’s one of my many drafts. It…might get done).

My biggest worry about Dark Phoenix was that it was going to go the “crazy Jean that lost control route”. And from the trailer, that seems like a safe bet. I find that so unbelievably exhausting – they’re going cosmic. They’re bringing in the Shi’ar and the Phoenix Force. But they can’t avoid the gross sexism – that didn’t exist in the original comic – of “crazy chick with more power than she can handle”? I get not bringing in the Hellfire Club, but cutting out everything about Emma Frost and Mastermind manipulating her? It’s tiresome.

As I’ve said before – at this point, more times than I can remember – I’ve never been big on this idea. I love the X-Men and I love the Dark Phoenix Saga and I love Jean Grey, but I wasn’t a fan of giving this arc another try, even back when I first heard the rumour that it was going to happen. As much as I love the original comic, I have hugely conflicted feelings when it comes to everything else that’s ever pertained to the Phoenix. Maybe that means I went into watching the trailer biased against it, expecting it to be bad, and I should be more open-minded, but believe me, I’ve tried. Sure, it could be a great movie – we can’t know one way or the other until we see more – but for me, it’s kind of painfully reminiscent of The Last Stand, what with the focus on Charles and Erik and big action scenes that look awesome.

It differs from The Last Stand in a lot of ways – focusing on the Jean and Dark Phoenix story, rather than having an entirely different storyline thrown in; a different kind of action because it’s not 2006 anymore; thankfully no Wolverine – but there are still enough similarities that it seems to me like Simon Kinberg is trying to say something like I was so right back in 2006 and you all were just too dumb to see it, here, let me rework it until you get it. I wrote a post about the repercussions of misremembering the Dark Phoenix Saga on all kinds of X-Men material, and this trailer drove one thing home for sure: the public perception of the Dark Phoenix Saga as a story about a crazy woman that can’t control her powers and destroys a bunch of stuff and is manipulated by the people she cares about rather is about to be cemented, probably forever,

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.