Dark Phoenix Trailer Breakdown and Analysis
We break down the latest trailer for X-Men: Dark Phoenix and what it might mean for Jessica Chastain's mysterious villain... and Jean Grey.
The final Dark Phoenix trailer for the final X-Men movie, at least while the mutants reside in their first cinematic home of 20th Century Fox, is here. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the best looking Dark Phoenix marketing we’ve seen this side of the international trailer.
Some fans are simply eager to get on with the future—although they have a long wait of at least five years ahead of them according to Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige—but we find ourselves still rooting for Dark Phoenix. Composed of a still highly talented cast, including Game of Thrones‘ Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jessica Chastain, and Tye Sheridan, the seventh main X-Men movie is populated with a lot of star power and even more nostalgia. Part of a franchise that has given us some of the best superhero movies in this era, including X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Logan, and Deadpool, the X-Men movies at Fox have taken some odd, eclectic risks over the years, and have been more interested in stylistic gambles than most of their competition in the past decade.
So the choice of going back to the Dark Phoenix Saga after a previous franchise installment (X-Men: The Last Stand) mangled it continues to be filled with a lot of intrigue, as well as skepticism. But this trailer goes some distance at promising an explosive finale to the longest lasting superhero franchise, and one that is certainly better than that 2006 disappointment.
Below is the actual trailer in case you missed it.
Now, let’s get into that breakdown…
The first image we see is of James McAvoy again in the role of Charles Xavier, looking more Patrick Stewart-y than he has in any of the previous X-films. What’s notable about this image is that he is apparently communicating with NASA as well as the X-Men themselves. This ties into the footage we previously saw at New York Comic Con, which shows the X-Men are national heroes, like the even glitzier Avengers over at Disney. It’s also worth noting that this is the only time we’ve seen Xavier in his classic X-Men comics role of barking orders for a superhero mission from Cerebro.
Here we get a few more shots of the well-publicized space mission that opens the film. While we’re very familiar at this point with the fact the X-Men go on a mission to save a stranded NASA space shuttle, saving a half-dozen lives, it is still worth noting how cool this sequence is. On top of mimicking X-Men #101 where Jean Grey is possessed with cosmic power that is later retconned as “the Phoenix Force,” it features some rotating space odyssey iconography that writer-director Simon Kinberg is clearly borrowing from recent sci-fi movies (he did meet Jessica Chastain while producing The Martian).
Also this trailer most visibly shows the energy to be likely sentient, as opposed to previously alleged solar flares.
Here is Scott and Jean being very Scott and Jean. It’s also revealed that what we call the Phoenix will be named by other students because Jean Grey rose like such a bird from the ashes after being stranded in space. This is not accurate to the comics, where characters name themselves with their goofy monikers, but considering cinematic Spider-Men, Iron Men, and Captain Americas didn’t name themselves either, we’ll roll with it.
It’s also nice to see Jean Grey and Scott behaving like, well, Jean and Scott. That was a major failure of the original X-Men trilogy, and will need to be crucial in order for this film to work after they merely just met in the previous film, X-Men: Apocalypse.
However, we can tell from this image later in the trailer that their little stroll through the park is interrupted by some type of Phoenix-channeled intensity since Jean is clearly wearing the same outfit in this power display as she is during the walk.
Here we get a better idea of who Jessica Chastain’s mysterious villain might be as she approaches Jean Grey. Chastain’s character remains a mystery with some visible cosmic powers of her own, but in this moment she approaches Jean Grey like the devil on her shoulder. It is not clear whether Jean is at a bar or not, but if she were, Chastain might be urging her to have another like Jack Torrance.
Indeed, this would seem to confirm that Jessica Chastain is playing the personification of the Phoenix Force itself. Whispering “that power destroyed everything it came into contact with until you,” it is worth wondering if she is saying my power destroyed everything until Jean? As in she is a cosmic being who has found the perfect home inside Jean Grey.
This is a bit of a departure from the comics wherein Phoenix did not reveal itself as an entity until after the original Dark Phoenix Saga and even then it never took on human form. However, having Jessica Chastain being a voice inside a superhero’s head, urging her toward wickedness, is a marked departure from X-Men: Last Stand and just about every other antagonist in superhero movies. By focusing on the intimate (only Jean and Charles should be able to interact with her), she is somehow more insidious than being just another mutant trying to manipulate Jean’s powers for her own ends—or a slew of other super villains chasing a MacGuffin. This could be a battle where Jean is literally fighting herself.
Here we see Beast and Nightcrawler potentially siding with Magneto in the desire to kill Jean Grey. Given how poorly the last trailer did at hiding the fact Mystique dies, it is unsurprising Nicholas Hoult’s Beast took that a bit personally. However, we’re curious how (if at all) the movie explains Kodi Smit-McPhee siding with Magneto. Nightcrawler was one of the better elements of X-Men: Apocalypse, so here is hoping he isn’t just in the background.
Here we have more of Magneto’s showdown with Mystique. We particularly appreciate the line, “Are you threatening me? Because that would be a very bad idea.”
It’s worth noting that it would appear this sequence occurs before the train action sequence we saw in the previous trailer. It would seem shady powers-that-be have decided all mutants need to be taken under control after Jean Grey’s power displays (including what appears to be the destruction of a military helicopter earlier in the trailer).
It appears the climax of the film will include Jean Grey having a stare down with Scott Summers. For those still traumatized by the last time a cinematic Jean took away Cyclops’ visor, this appears to echo when she killed Cyke in one of The Last Stand’s most hated scenes. However, we suspect things will play differently here. For however else this ending goes, we do appreciate the likely intentional Regan MacNeil quality to Sophie Turner’s expression.
And here we have the first appearance of the famous Phoenix Fire Raptor. This sequence appears to be different from when Jean Grey is possessed by the Phoenix Force, suggesting that Jean and the Phoenix will return to space late in the picture. Considering we were promised a more cosmic movie, this would be preferable considering how little of Jean’s cosmic power has been hinted at in these trailers (not to mention the Star-Child aesthetic originally teased in early pre-production artwork).
And just to underline the point, here is another image from earlier in the trailer that shows Phoenix Fire in the sky, but not space. Is she possibly lighting up a night sky? It would appear that the film’s ending could be out of this world.
As a whole, the trailer is promising if far from a slam dunk. Elements of the movie still echo The Last Stand, and this is perhaps, literally and figuratively, far closer to the ground than the words “Dark Phoenix Saga” tend to conjur in fandom’s collective psyche. However, taken on its own, Dark Phoenix certainly looks heads and shoulders above the previous Phoenix movie because it understands Phoenix, and the woman possessed by that power, should be the focal point of the story.
There is something refreshing about a superhero film that keeps its gaze pointed directly at human characters, even if they’re mutants and aliens, as opposed to plot machinations about magical cubes or all-powerful Infinity Boxes. Godlike power inside a mere mortal who is tempted between the dark and the light is theoretically striking compared to how many superhero movies that tend to ignore the frailties of humanity. However, will that actually be the point of the movie, or will it become a muddled mess that sends the franchise off on a muted note? Much like the plight of Jean Grey, the decision is not ours to make, but we’re rooting for her, and her movie’s, better angels.
Dark Phoenix opens June 7.
David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.