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?
Because it’s a cheat so egregious that it would make the mistakes of The Last Stand seem almost quaint, and, upon further reflection, even forgivable. Heck, we might even be forced to reevaluate that widely mocked line “Do you know what happens to a toad when it’s struck by lightning?” from the original film.
So, no, Jean Grey can’t very well die in Dark Phoenix, even if we play fast and loose with alternate timelines, or the resurrection themes inherent to the character. (It’s one thing for the original films to neglect to mention Xavier and Mystique are adoptive siblings, it’s another to ignore that Jean was once possessed by a malevolent entity and — oh, yeah — rose from the dead.) That may not best serve her character arc, or the redemptive act required by the source material, but continuity is only so forgiving.
But if it’s not Jean Grey who dies in X-Men: Dark Phoenix, then who is it? Fans of the Fox prequels may want to brace themselves: Our money is on Quicksilver, the popular character originated by Evan Peters in Days of Future Past.
You’ll notice that the fast-moving, fast-talking Peter Maximoff isn’t in the funeral photo; it depicts only Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp). Sure, Nicholas Hoult’s Hank McCoy is missing as well, but the Beast — along with all of those named X-Men — are part of the original films. Quicksilver isn’t.
He’s the most obvious choice, unless the filmmakers want to twist timelines so much that it tests the audience’s willingness to suspend disbelief.
What’s more, it’s possible that Quicksilver bites the dust early in the film. In the text accompanying the funeral photo on Entertainment Weekly, Jennifer Lawrence says, “We have really great action scenes and we go to space like within the first five minutes of the movie.” That’s presumably the same space mission in which the X-Jet is struck by a solar flare, awakening “a malevolent, power-hungry new force within Jean.” The funeral scene may take place soon after the X-Men’s return to Earth, perhaps while Hank tends to Jean.
There are undoubtedly some other candidates, including Olivia Munn’s Psylocke, but few would pack the emotional punch that Quicksilver does, for either the audience or the film’s characters. His loss, whether in that initial space mission or in the subsequent fight to contain Dark Phoenix, would provide Quicksilver with a heroic departure from the franchise and serve as a potential catalyst for Magneto’s final break with the X-Men. To finally learn that young Peter Maximoff is his son, only to then have him ripped away, might be a blow too great for even the Master of Magnetism to bear.
Arriving in theaters on Nov. 2, 2018, director Simon Kinberg’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Nicholas Hoult, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Olivia Munn, and Jessica Chastain.