One way or another, last weekend's release of Dark Phoenix marks an ending for the series of movies that have been chronicling the Marvel Comics mutants on the big screen for almost 20 years. In the future, X-Men films will be under the sole purview of Disney and Marvel Studios, so the flair and feel of the Fox X-Franchise has come to an end.
But what's slightly overlooked in this era-ending event is that much of the braintrust behind Dark Phoenix has been involved with these movies for a long time -- and that legacy wasn't lost on the cast and crew of the new film.
Months before the film's release, CBR had an opportunity to speak with Dark Phoenix writer/director Simon Kinberg along with fellow longtime X-producer Hutch Parker and cast members Sophie Turner (Jean Grey) and Tye Sheridan (Cyclops) about the journey from the original film to today. And one thing they all agreed on was that their film was an attempt to correct some of the missteps of past movies.
"I was one of the co-writers of the first time we tried the Dark Phoenix story in X-Men 3, and the thing we got wrong in that movie was making Dark Phoenix the b-plot of that movie as opposed to the entire plot of the movie," Kinberg said. "It is the greatest, most beloved...not just of X-Men comic runs but any comic run. It was certainly my favorite growing up and a story that I wanted to tell.
"So with Days of Future Past, we obviously changed the timeline and erased essentially what had happened previously. And it gave us an opportunity to tell this story now. The expectation it creates is that with this particular story there's a character complexity and darkness, edginess, intensity and emotionality that the original source material had. You can't water it down. You're not making it for kids. You're making it to challenge the genre the way we did with Logan and the way Christopher Nolan did with The Dark Knight. It's a different world now than it was, whenever that was...13 years ago."
Turner focused on the emotional wringer that is baked into the premise of Jean Grey losing herself to the Phoenix Force – especially as it connected to her relationship with Sheridan's Scott Summers. "We were preparing for that," she said. "Their love story, especially at the beginning of the movie, it's been ten years since we last saw them, and we wanted to see them in a fully committed, completely in love relationship. And so the feeling of loss and heartbreak is so much heavier than it would have been ten years ago. It was something that we felt really quite a bit of pressure to establish right at the beginning – that really strong bond. At the heart of this movie is the relationship between Jean and Scott, and it had to be as dramatic and intense as possible. And I think it is."
Sheridan added, "You see [Scott] in a bit of a fragile state in this movie, but I think he's the type of guy who is buttoned up but pulling it together. It's inevitable that he's going to keep fighting for Jean no matter what anyone says or what anyone does. Frankly, she's the love of his life, and I think that once Jean starts to unravel, the conflicts and all the character drama starts to amplify. The X-Men start to split up, and then you're starting to see things in the X-Men that you haven't seen before. Even for Charles. He becomes super fragile in this film at times. Really, I think it's a fascinating thing. It's one of the reasons I think this film is so special.
All in all, Dark Phoenix is designed to bring the franchise full circle in many ways. Sheridan said the new cast studied up on what came before so they could know where to lean into and away from past X-Men movies. "I went back and watched all of the films before we did Apocalypse, and I ever rewatched more before we did this movie. I think even though you're striving to do something different and – as Simon mentioned – challenging the genre as they did with Logan and really bringing the drama and letting it be apparent in the film, I still think those movies spark great ideas."
Turner noted, "I rewatched all of the movies for Apocalypse, but when I went on to do this movie, it was such a change from that last Dark Phoenix storyline that I kind of wanted to somewhat forget some of it and make it a completely new thing for me. Because this movie is so character-driven and emotional, I wanted to do it in a different mindset and do it a new way."
For his part, Kinberg looked to his leading lady to help deepen the character of Jean Grey in a way that improved upon the inequities of The Last Stand. "Sophie and I had a lunch together and were talking about the character and how challenging it would be to play for a million different reasons," Kinberg said. "It's because the the trauma she's been talking about but also that she'd be playing, essentially in not superhero terms but in human terms, a schizophrenic. It's someone who has different personalities vying for a single body. We talked a lot about that and did research together...not just reading the comics and watching the movies but trying to make it grounded and real."
Parker said that when all is said and done, superhero movies are a different beast now than they were in the days of the original X-Men flicks. "The bar is so high in the industry for what's being done in comic book movies," the producer said. "You set out to try and raise the bar and reset the boundaries...there is something amazing in that we get to have a relationship with these characters over so much time and get to explore them in such different ways. The landscape today is so different from X1 and X2 and those early days. Part of what was so exciting about this film and what Simon wanted to do with it is that I'm not sure we would have known what to do with the tone that we have in Dark Phoenix back then. Frankly, the quality of the films made in this genre open the door for this film to be made in a way that Simon has done."
Dark Phoenix is in theaters now.