There’s a lot riding on X-Men: Dark Phoenix. For a start, the release has been delayed long enough now that we’re starting to worry about it – especially since the reports of reshoots have been tied to the stories of even bigger setbacks for New Mutants.
What’s more, since Fox got gobbled up by Mickey Mouse a few months ago, Dark Phoenix will likely be the final film in a series continuity that stretches back to 2000 – pretty much since before superhero movies were even a thing. Whatever happens next will either pick up the New Mutants strand, carry on Deadpool’s X-Force trajectory or, more likely, be rebooted somewhere into the MCU.
This is the end of an era – with Simon Kinberg making his directorial debut to finish what Bryan Singer started and what Matthew Vaughn saved. There may have been a few ups and downs along the way, but whatever is about to happen in Dark Phoenix is going to put a cap on one of the most exciting, influential, genre defining franchises around.
But how much did the trailer really tell us? Quite a bit actually.
Potential major spoilers ahead…
The trailer starts with little Jean Grey arriving at the X-Mansion. After everything got a bit big and bloated in Apocalypse, the trailer seems to keen to remind us that this film is much more character driven – focusing on Jean’s traumatic downfall to become the person that finally breaks up the band. This is an X-Men movie, but it’s Jean’s story.
More importantly, the music kicks in early on to remind us all what the stakes are. A cover version of The Doors’ song, famously used in Apocalypse Now, “This Is The End” seems like a fitting way to send the series off.
James McAvoy is back (with hair, in the flashback), to tell Jean that she doesn’t have anything to worry about. She does though, because we know there’s something fairly dark inside Jean – even as a little girl – and Charles’ attempts to save her make up the emotional core of the film (and, arguably, of the whole series).
“The mind is a fragile thing. It only takes the slightest tap to send it in the wrong direction,” says Professor X in a voiceover.
Cut to the present day, and to Sophie Turner – returning to the role of Jean after we first saw her in X-Men: Apocalypse. Adult Jean is clearly still a big problem for the X-Men, who have her tied down to a table whilst they all mill about, looking concerned. We’ve already seen her use her Phoenix Force power to kill En Sabah Nur at the end of the last movie, but it seemed like she had no real control over it. By the look of things, the film will start off in the same place – following Jean as she learns to harness her power, and as she slides closer to the dark side in doing so.
Central to the character is what happened to her as a child. We see the young Jean using her powers to steer her parent’s car off the road – presumably causing the event that sees her sent to the X-Mansion in the first place. There’s a bit of wrangling with the comic backstory going on here, but the outcome is still fairly similar.
Onto the A-listers, the trailer lets us know that Jennifer Lawrence is back in the role of Mystique. Another hugely important character to the bigger arc of the (more recent) X-films, we’ve seen her swap sides a few times already. When we last saw her, she was teaching the kids at the Mansion, but we know that this film has plenty in store for her…
A series newbie, Jessica Chastain makes an entrance that reveals pretty much nothing about the mysterious villain we all know she’s playing. We know she’s a bad guy, we know she’s the one who lures Jean away from the X-Men, and we think we know that she’s a Skrull – but it’s hard to tell at this point. If she is a shapeshifting Skrull, her presence in the film asks all kinds of questions about the Fox/Marvel crossover world that we’re still in (for this one last film, at least).
We see her stalking around the aftermath of a few big set-pieces in the trailer, occasionally with a henchman in tow, but we’ll have to wait for more footage to find out exactly who she is.
Tye Sheridan is back as Cyclops, which is obviously a good thing. We first saw him in X-Men: Apocalypse, which gave him a bit of a backstory with Jean already, so it’s likely that he’s going to have plenty to do here when the going gets rough. Emotions are clearly running high in this sequel, and there’s a good chance that Cyclops isn’t going to react too well to Jean going all evil.
The trailer also gives us a look at slightly older versions of Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, Alexandra Shipp’s Storm and Nicholas Hoult’s Hank/Beast – who is also in line for some tough emotional scenes if what we all know is going to happen is still actually going to happen (more on that in a tick). We see him here mostly glowering and looking angry, suggesting that his own morality is going to come into question during the film.
We also get a good look at the costumes. The X-Men gather for a set-piece that looks a lot like it takes place near Jean’s New York home (the one she clearly blows up a few seconds later), and Cyclops, Quicksilver, Nightcrawler, Beast, Professor X, Storm and Mystique are all sporting their natty new ’90s era costumes – somewhere between the designs they’ve been tinkering with since First Class and the outfits we know from the more recent comic runs.
The same set-piece clearly sees Jean blowing a lot of stuff up, including her own house and a couple of police cars. We also see her pulling down a helicopter (possibly on Magneto’s mutant paradise island of Genosha) and taking on the army in the middle of the X-Mansion. With her powers getting stronger, we’re obviously going to see a lot of destruction following her – although most of the grounded, practical looking action scenes we see in the trailer make a nice change from some of the bigger, flashier CG fests of recent chapters.
That said, we are going to space… We see a few short shots of the X-Men flying off to rescue a space shuttle in what starts off as a routine rescue mission before going horribly wrong. The synopsis describes an incident that awakens Jean’s powers (via cosmic rays) which sounds like a simplification of what happens in the comics when the Phoenix Force finds Jean for the first time. Either way, it’s nice to finally see the X-Men leaving Earth, which they seem to do all of the time in print.
As much as this is Jean’s story, and as much as Chastain is being bigged-up as the baddie, the other main storyline that needs resolving here is Erik’s. “You’re always sorry, Charles. And there’s always a speech… and nobody cares,” he snarls, turning his back on his friend again. Clearly, Erik blames Charles for creating Jean, and he’s not happy when her path of destruction lands on his nice new island.
Which means, of course, that Magneto is back for good. Symbolically getting his old helmet out of the loft, Erik puts it on again with a lot of fanfare – suggesting that the events of Dark Phoenix mark the culmination of his early character arc – going from bad to good to bad to sort of good to really bad again. The whole reason he wears the helmet is to block Charles from getting inside his head, so it’s clear that the rift between them is bad enough for Erik to want to shut out his best friend for good.
The next two shots are pretty revealing – first giving us a first glimpse of the new brotherhood of mutants. Magneto is in charge, but Beast is standing beside him, having swapped sides against Charles. Next to them stands two new additions, Red Lotus (Andrew Stehlin) and Selene (Kota Eberhardt).
Selene is a pretty big deal in the comics (an ancient vampiric mutant who can drain the life-force out of any living being, eventually becoming the Black Queen), but Red Lotus is a bit of Z-lister, which probably means he’s canon fodder. Selene might make a good character to continue the series though, so it’ll be interesting to see if she survives.
Crucially though, the reverse shot of the same scene only shows four members of the X-Men. Is this all that’s left? We think we know where Mystique is by this point in the film, but what about Quicksilver? With pretty slim pickings on both sides, it looks like Jean’s powers might end up being even more devastating than we thought…
Onto the big spoiler that everyone sort of already knows about… It’s been teased for a while now, but the fact that we see a shot of Beast, Professor X, Cyclops, Nightcrawler and Storm all standing around a soggy grave seems to confirm that Mystique won’t be making it out of Dark Phoenix alive.
And if you needed any more proof, the next shot shows Hank/Beast kissing her goodbye. His sadness, which turns to rage, is surely the thing that causes him to switch sides, and his emotional baggage is added to the pile that everyone else is stacking up here.
The most revealing thing here is Fox’s decision to not save this scene for the film itself – as the impact of Mystique’s death is surely going to be lessened now that the whole world has already seen it in the teaser. Does this mean that her death isn’t the big shock we’ve all been waiting for? Now that Fox know they’re done with the series, did they decide to kill off a few other X-Men too?
Back to the main story, the trailer culminates in Jean’s explosive meeting with the Phoenix Force – the bird-like super power that eventually fills her up with evil.
“I’ve seen evil,” says Magneto, “I’m looking at it now”. The trailer ends as the Phoenix starts to leach out of Jean’s face, making her eyes glow with power.
However Dark Phoenix ends, it’s going to be explosive, it’s going to be emotional, and it’s going to change the X-Men films forever.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix opens on February 5th.