It’s a simple story, more or less: Girl meets boy, girl’s mutant powers multiply to galaxy-eating levels, girl turns evil and glow-y. But telling the saga of Dark Phoenix, centered on the corruption of X-Men member Jean Grey, has somehow always been a fraught task. Even in the original comic-book version, writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne ended up reworking their ending at the last minute when Jim Shooter, then Marvel’s editor-in-chief, argued that Grey couldn’t go unpunished after committing genocide against an entire planet — which, to be fair, is a solid point. 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand took a half-hearted stab at adapting the storyline, but made it one plot among many, pleasing no one and nearly killing the franchise along with some of its most popular characters.
Which brings us to Dark Phoenix, the final entry in the current cinematic X-Men saga. Though the movie is facing widespread critical skepticism, it is at least a more robust attempt at telling the story than its predecessor, with Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey at its core. Screenwriter/director Simon Kinberg, a longtime veteran of the franchise (he actually co-wrote The Last Stand), shared some wisdom on the making of the movie and the past and future of X-Men.
Even before Disney purchased Fox during the film’s production, reclaiming the X-Men characters for Marvel Studios, Dark Phoenix was expected to end the current franchise, which soft-rebooted with 2011’s X-Men: First Class. “I thought it was the probably the last chance to get the First Class cast together again,” says Kinberg. “This movie felt like the natural climax…. and I did assume that there would eventually be another version of the X-Men.”
Sophie Turner has mentioned being nervous about taking the title role in a big franchise, but she kept it to herself at the time. At a lunch with Kinberg before shooting began, he walked Turner through how the role would “cover a lot of ground psychologically,” in scenes where she’s acting against the likes of Michael Fassbender, James MacAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain. “And I was like, are you up for it?” says Kinberg. “She looked me in the eyes, and she was like, ‘100 percent.'”
Kinberg points out that the overall X-Men franchise will be remembered as “the beginning of a new wave of superhero movies.” “The first movie was a very serious approach to telling these stories, treating them as seriously as anyone treats drama,” he says. “Starting this franchise in Auschwitz [with a young Magneto] was a very bold, and grounded, groundbreaking thing to do. And I think the seriousness of purpose with which [director Bryan Singer] approached the casting and the making of the initial X-Men movies rippled through everything that followed, where this genre has become the most popular dominant genre in cinema. It’ll be remembered as the beginning of something that led to the MCU and the Dark Knight trilogy, and all these other wonderful movies. And then I think the other part of it is, it will be remembered in the way that the comic book has always been — which is, it’s a franchise about outcasts and outsiders and people who are different, and that is unique within this genre. It’s unique in the comics, and it’s unique in the movies. As a result, the franchise has always been about something — about people being treated as other for being different. And it has been ultimately about the thing that makes you different being something that makes you special and strong.”
He’s also proud that the franchise has been “bold.” “Not just the first movie,” he says. “The Deadpool movies were; Logan was bold. Days of Future Past was structurally bold. Restarting the franchise with the younger version of the characters was bold. All of those choices along the way were really radical, creative, original decisions, and required a certain level of complexity in terms of execution — and that’s part of why we’ve gotten such extraordinary actors over the years. These movies started bold, they stayed bold, they got even more bold as they went along. Some of the movies were great, some of the movies aren’t great, but it wasn’t for lack of taking big swings.”
Kinberg doesn’t mind that both Dark Phoenix and Captain Marvel have “my emotions make me more powerful” scenes in their climaxes. “The idea of emotions as a source of strength is something that our culture in general increasingly embracing,” he says. “I think that specifically, women have been told for a long time that emotions make them week. And it’s a message that’s going to be one that you’ll see more, whether it’s a female protagonist movie, or it’s, you know, a female candidate for something. Increasingly, hopefully, the culture is going to understand and embrace that emotions are not something weak — they’re actually something strong. And that’s something men could learn a lot from too, because men tend to repress a lot of their emotions, and that’s where a lot of our aggression and and sort of mental health issues come from.”
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and his team are are almost certainly figuring out how to incorporate new versions of the X-Men into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kinberg, however, has no details. “I honestly don’t know,” he says. “I wish I had an answer for you. I think Marvel Studios is still figuring that out. They had a very clear plan — and now the X-Men are part of that plan. So they they’re figuring out how to integrate them into that plan. But I don’t know how quickly and I don’t know what way.”