The Dark Phoenix saga is one of the most revered X-Men stories for good reason. While Marvel’s mutants often find themselves fending off bigoted humans or stopping Magneto from exerting mutant-supremacy, Dark Phoenix strikes right to the heart of the team. With one of their own – telepath Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) – consumed by an all-powerful cosmic force threatening to destroy everything and everyone, the X-Men are left with a moral quandary: can they save their friend, or do they have to destroy her? With X-Men: Dark Phoenix – the latest film in the First Class timeline, following 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse – writer-director Simon Kinberg aims to do the story justice on the big screen.
Empire spoke to Kinberg and producer Hutch Parker to break down the new trailer, which zones in on Jean Grey’s epic, cosmic, inner conflict.
Her emotional trauma
Jean is in total turmoil at the start of the trailer – sat alone in the rain, wrestling with her conscience. “The Phoenix Force is fighting for control of her psyche, of her soul, of her body,” explains Kinberg. “That force is lashing out at anyone that tries to stop her, including the people that she loves.” Jean’s psychological cracks are literalised in the shards of burning light that emerge whenever her control begins to slide – and those metaphorical cracks extend beyond Jean herself. “The fracturing of Jean effectively fractures the family of the X-Men,” Kinberg says. “This scene is a microcosm of the whole film."
Her caring protector
Warning: this section contains one clearly-marked spoiler you may want to gloss over for now.
In her confrontation with the X-Men, the Phoenix-powered Jean lashes out at Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) – a clash that Kinberg has confirmed (MAJOR SPOILER WARNING) results in the blue-skinned shape-shifter’s death. While Mystique was primarily an antagonist in the early X-Men films, Raven has become a quasi-leader of the team in the First Class continuity – meaning her shock departure polarises the surviving members of the X-Men. (END OF SPOILERS) “Simon [Kinberg] gives us a very rich relationship between Jean and Raven,” says Parker of the pair’s dynamic here. “One that at times is the mentor, at times feels almost maternal, at times is friendly.” And considering Mystique’s been no stranger to her own dark side, it’s unsurprising that she’s the one to try and talk Jean down. “She, as someone who’s straddled the line between the darkness of Erik (Michael Fassbender) and the light of Charles (James McAvoy), is uniquely suited to try and defuse Jean,” Kinberg reasons. “And that's what you see her doing in the film.”
Her formidable powers
With the Phoenix Force turbo-charging Jean’s telepathic and telekinetic powers, her abilities now vastly exceed her control. “She's becoming the most powerful mutant – or most powerful entity – in our world,” says Kinberg, “losing control as they're getting more and more powerful. She goes from controlling the voices in her head to hearing every voice in the world.”
As for her telekinesis, the Phoenix Force allows her to control objects at a molecular level and manipulate the world around her.
Her former foe
Jean’s telepathy has never been able to penetrate Magneto’s protective helmet – but with the Phoenix Force on her side she crushes it against his skull, turning his shield into her weapon. "It's a really powerful, symbolic moment,” Kinberg says. “Nobody is safe from Jean when she's out of control and fully embodying this new power. Even the most powerful 'villain' of the X-Men universe is powerless facing her in this state."
Her fallen leader
As for Charles Xavier, he’s not only unable to stop the Phoenix Force from taking over Jean, but also has to keep the X-Men from tearing themselves apart. “Every character is challenged in their relationship to Jean,” says Parker, “most notably Professor X, because we're so used to him being in control. I think that's what makes the movie feel relatable and emotional and human.” Kinberg agrees. “Professor X doesn't have all the answers,” he says. “He has to face the consequences of making mistakes. This is a scene where you feel that sometimes his answers are wrong.”
Her negative influence
The exact identity of Jessica Chastain’s character remains under wraps – but she’s confirmed to be an extra-terrestrial, an encouraging voice who incites Jean to lean into her new-found abilities, even as they make her increasingly dangerous. “This is one of the biggest confrontations of the movie,” reveals Kinberg. “Jean, with that devil on her shoulder, is facing Magneto and Charles."
Her new look
Jean’s Phoenix look in the comics finds her bathed in fire, a form teased in an early Dark Phoenix poster revealing the character with flame-hair. And if you look very closely towards the end of the new trailer, what looks like a fiery figure can be found at the centre of the Phoenix’s destructive vortex. “At that point she really is close to full-Phoenix,” says Kinberg. “That sequence itself, you really see the full array of her powers in a pretty shocking way – shocking in the way it manifests visually.”
There’s plenty to unpack from the trailer’s final sequence, teasing one of the film’s biggest set-pieces. The X-Men are locked up on a train that, according to Kinberg, “comes under attack from forces I’ll leave vague for now”, before Phoenix-Jean lifts it up off the tracks and into the sky. Is she back in control and helping her former friends, who are under armed guard and fitted with power-dampener collars? Is there an additional enemy at play?
Kinberg and Parker are reluctant to discuss who has captured the X-Men or where the train is going (“I can tell you, it doesn’t get there,” Kinberg chuckles), but let the speculation begin now. Could Dark Phoenix offer a more hopeful end for Jean Grey than previous tellings of the story?
X-Men: Dark Phoenix arrives in UK cinemas on 7 June.