Many fans were surprised, and confused, that the second trailer for Dark Phoenix confirmed the long-teased death of one of the X-Men. Writer/director Simon Kinberg was swift to insist the loss of Mystique isn't a mere marketing trick, and footage screened by Fox at WonderCon Anaheim backed that up.
The move runs counter to an entertainment culture obsessed with remaining spoiler-free, in which managing studio leaks sometimes feels like a matter of national security. Kinberg threw everyone off-balance by letting audiences in on such a pivotal moment in the story months before the film’s premiere.
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Speaking with CBR at WonderCon, Kinberg went into yet more depth about the calculated, and unapologetic, reveal.
“I think that one of the things that is true of this movie, and we wanted people to know going into the movie is that it’s a different kind of X-Men movie," he explained. "It’s not an X-Men movie where people get knocked down and stand up immediately. It’s an X-Men movie where it’s more real, it’s grittier. I’d say it’s more dangerous.”
Death is frequently only temporary in superhero comics and movies. While that can help to weave a rich canon full of disparate stories, it tends to lower the stakes. The world’s destruction, humanity’s enslavement, half of the universe's population disappearing – they're problems on a massive scale. However, the heroes save the day in the end.
When there’s little danger of our heroes failing or even dying, it undermines the significance of their mission. According to Kinberg, it would be a mistake to go into Dark Phoenix with that mindset.
“We wanted people to know that this, again, was a movie where, if Dark Phoenix lost control, it wasn’t just the kind of thing where at the end of the movie all the pieces would be put back together the way it often happens in X-Men and really a lot of comic book movies," he said.
But Kinberg also got more specific about what fans could expect from the film. “We wanted people to know beyond just the Raven/Mystique of it all that it is a movie where everybody is at risk," he said, "because of this thing that has happened to Jean, and Jean most especially is at risk.”
By indicating to audiences that this is a film in which the heroes will suffer permanent damage, or even just fail in their mission, Kinberg has already made Dark Phoenix stand out from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. More importantly, however, he all but confirmed that Mystique isn’t the only character who will perish.
It makes sense for Kinberg to want to whet the audience’s appetite for something a little darker to what they're accustomed from superhero movies. This isn’t merely hype, it’s also misdirection. Jean doesn’t want to be saved, or killed, and everyone pursuing her wants to do one of those things. So it makes sense that she, as the most power being in the world, would eliminate those who stand in her way.
Or she could wipe out an entire civilization, gifting the X-Men and the Brotherhood with a loss significant enough to invalidate all their victories past, present and future. Regardless of what actually goes down in Dark Phoenix, it feels as if Mystique won't be the only major casualty.
Written and directed by Simon Kinberg, Dark Phoenix stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters and Jessica Chastain. The film is scheduled to be released on June 7.