A rumor from last month that a major character will die in X-Men: Dark Phoenix was undoubtedly met with a chorus of “No duh!” from those corners of fandom well versed in the Marvel Comics source material. But that loss was confirmed today with the release of the first images from the Fox sequel, which include a somber glimpse of a funeral. However, the character the X-Men are mourning likely isn’t the one you might expect.
Written and directed by franchise veteran Simon Kinberg, X-Men: Dark Phoenix draws much of its inspiration from “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” the seminal 1980 Marvel Comics storyline by Chris Claremont and John Byrne in which Jean Grey is possessed and corrupted by the powerful cosmic entity known as the Phoenix Force. Driven mad, she destroys an inhabited planet and places entire galaxies in jeopardy before ultimately sacrificing herself for the good of the universe. Although comic book history, to say nothing of story logic, suggests Sophie Turner’s young Jean Grey is the X-Man who dies in the film — a notion reinforced by her absence from the funeral photo — the franchise’s convoluted continuity dictates otherwise.
Going back to the very beginning of the team’s history with 2011’s X-Men: First Class was an ingenious way to revitalize a wildly successful film series that had stumbled five years earlier with X-Men: The Last Stand. That approach permitted filmmakers — led first by Matthew Vaughn and then by original franchise director Bryan Singer — to explore the previously unknown histories of familiar characters, utilizing a new cast to follow the mutants through the decades, from the 1960s up to, theoretically, just before the events of the original film, 2000’s X-Men.
And therein lies the problem: Kinberg & Co. can’t very well kill off Jean Grey in Dark Phoenix, because the character, as portrayed by Famke Janssen, played a pivotal role in X-Men and its two sequels.
There’s long been a disconnect between the three original films and the prequels, one that permits Charles Xavier and the X-Men to share a history with Mystique, despite no previous hints of that, and for Nightcrawler and Angel to be inserted earlier into the team’s past, in the 1980s-set 2016 film X-Men: Apocalypse, even though the characters were introduced in the modern era, in 2003’s X2 and 2006’s The Last Stand, respectively. Those are rather minor inconsistencies that can either be ignored — after all, neither character made much of an impact in his original appearance — or waved away by some mumbo jumbo about altered timelines as a result of 2014’s X-Men Days of Future Past.
Intended by Singer and Kinberg to atone for some of the sins of The Last Stand, which not only shoe-horned in a Dark Phoenix subplot but also unceremoniously killed off Cyclops and Jean Grey, Days of Future Past ended with Hugh Jackman’s time-hopping Wolverine awaking in the present to find all of the X-Men very much alive. The film is credited with creating different time “streams,” allowing room within the franchise for the alternate future of Logan as well as the alternate present depicted in the television dramas Legion and The Gifted. So why couldn’t it create a diverging timeline in which a young Jean Grey sacrifices herself for the sake of her teammates and the galaxy?
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