Warning: This article contains spoilers for X-Men: Dark Phoenix from the WonderCon panel!
WonderCon Anaheim took place this last weekend, and one of the event’s biggest surprises came from perhaps one of the most unexpected of places – the panel for X-Men: Dark Phoenix. While the trailers haven’t done much to build the audience’s confidence in the movie, this footage presentation looked to change that. Despite the negative buzz surrounding the production of the film and the much-publicized reshoots, the two sequences shown to the crowd were surprisingly effective. The first shows the X-Men going into space much like we see in the trailers, and the second features entirely new footage from a climactic battle, presumably late in the second act.
Overall, the footage shown this year for X-Men: Dark Phoenix was unexpectedly impressive. The action, effects and cinematography were all solid, but it was the score by Hans Zimmer that was easily the highlight. There was also a noticeable lack of scenes featuring dialogue from Sophie Turner, who has yet to prove that she can hold this movie together. The footage didn’t do much to inspire confidence in Kinberg’s ability to pull great performances out of his actors. Overall, the performances were a bit flat.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix Footage Description
Sequence 1 – The first clip that we were shown was from early in the first act, where the X-Men are dispatched to solve a crisis in space. We see the blackbird majestically rise from the basketball courts of the X-Mansion, where Mystique leads Beast, Quicksilver, Storm, Cyclops, and of course Jean on the mission. As the X-jet travels to space, we see Professor X enter Cerebro to communicate with NASA to learn that a space shuttle is spinning out of control in earth’s orbit. As the blackbird arrives, the team realizes that a “solar flare” is about to collide with the shuttle, although we all know that this floating anomaly is undoubtedly the phoenix force.
Jumping into action, Mystique calls the shots, ordering Cyclops to use his optic blast to steady the shuttle as it rapidly spins out of control. In one of the coolest moments of the sequence, we see Scott’s seat drop to the lower part of the ship where it’s revealed that a weapon has been built that allows him to focus his optic blast outside of the X-Jet itself without damaging it. One the shuttle is stabilized, Nightcrawler teleports with Quicksilver to save the seemingly doomed astronauts. Meanwhile, Mystique orders Storm to use her powers to keep the shuttle from breaking apart while the duo are saving the astronauts.
With the clock ticking on how long Ororo can keep the ship intact, Quicksilver swiftly gathers all of the astronauts around Nightcrawler, who transports them all back to the X-jet. Once they arrive back, however, they realize that the commander of the ship is still on board. While Xavier is adamant about having the team save all of the astronauts, Mystique objects because the ship is set to explode at any second and she doesn’t want to risk the lives of the team. With Storm struggling to hold the ship together, Professor X then asks to Jean to take over but she says that she can unsurprisingly only do it from the inside of the shuttle.
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Much to Mystique’s chagrin, Nightcrawler and Jean teleport back to the shuttle. Jean struggles to keep the shuttle intact while Kurt is able to save the stranded astronaut just in the nick of time. Unfortunately, Kurt is forced to leave Jean behind through a certain set of circumstances, which of course causes her to absorb the phoenix force. After she absorbs the energy, Nightcrawler once again teleports into space to rescue a seemingly unscathed Jean this time. Returning to earth, the X-Men are celebrated by the world with a huge crowd of fans and cosplayers gathering to greet them. Everyone soaks in the attention and the president sends his regards, while Mystique remains unhappy about what went down with Jean.
Behind closed doors, Raven confronts Charles and accosts him for putting the team’s life on the line to save one person. She argues that the newfound acceptance and fame of the X-Men have caused him to make increasingly brash decisions on missions. Charles argues that leaving even one person behind would be seen as a failure on their part by humanity. He contends that his actions are only to maintain the status quo with humanity’s seeming acceptance of Mutants. Raven retorts back with how Charles is standing on the sidelines, while the women are constantly the ones who are always saving the team. The scene ends with a snappy bit of dialogue from Raven before she walks out: “The women are always saving the men around here. You might want to think about changing the name to X-Women.”
X-Men and the Brotherhood Battle on 5th Avenue
Sequence 2 – The next clip takes place much later in the story, starting in the X-Mansion. Charles has gathered the remaining mutants, with Cyclops, Storm and Nightcrawler joining him in Cerebro. Charles informs the group that Magneto – along with Beast – have found the location of Jean/Phoenix and intend to murder her. Although Professor X only wants Scott to travel with him, the other two convince him to come in order to even the odds. Charles uses his powers to show Nightcrawler an image of the location in his head, and they all teleport to what is presumably central park.
With the X-jet already there when they arrive, the X-Men quickly come face to face with the brotherhood. In the standoff, two new mutants are introduced in the form of Selene and Red Lotus. Charles argues that fighting out in the open will once again reduce the societal standing of mutants, but Erik really wants nothing to do with that – he and Beast are on a revenge mission. If you’ve seen the trailers, you’re probably aware of why they’re so pissed off at Jean, but we won’t spoil that here. It’s at this point that Scott tells Magneto “If you touch her, I’ll f***ing kill you!”
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With Magneto set in his ways, all hell breaks loose on 5th avenue as the Brotherhood try to get to Jean while the X-Men try to stop them. Cyclops chases after Magneto, but Beast intervenes and the two duke it out. Although he’s not trying to really injure Beast, it’s pretty obvious that he wants to kill Magneto with full strength optic blasts. Meanwhile, Storm and Red Lotus square off, as Selene gets the better of Nightcrawler with her telepathic abilities. While Professor X is eventually able to save Kurt’s life as the fight comes to a head, Magneto uses his powers to pull a massive subway train from the earth to end the madness.
Even though this is something that felt reminiscent of the submarine moment in X-Men: First Class, Magneto proceeds to drag the subway car in the building behind him to block the entrance. It’s a pretty badass (and practical) moment in the sequence. Confronting him in the entrance of the building are a seemingly formed Phoenix and Jessica Chastain’s mysterious super villain who is purported to be an “alien shape shifter.” After a quick dialogue exchange about Jean being “cast out” by Magneto, he manipulates a nearby piece of metal railing that nearly manages to penetrate her eye. However, Phoenix is much stronger than him so she is able to easily gain the advantage by crushing Magneto’s helmet. The clip cuts away as Erik writhes in pain, leaving us to wonder if he’ll make it out if this scenario alive.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix Q&A
Although audience questions were unsurprisingly restricted during the panel, Kinberg and company provided a bunch of context and information about X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Here are the highlights:
When asked why another movie about The Dark Phoenix Saga needed to be made, Kinberg responded “Dark Phoenix was my favorite storyline, being a hardcore comic reader growing up. And I always imagined that if there would be an X-Men movie – I never thought I’d be involved in it – that’s the one that I’d wanted to see. You saw it a little bit in X3, but you didn’t get the see the real Dark Phoenix story in that movie. So when we did X-Men: Days of Future Past, one of the things that I loved about that movie was that we got the reset the timeline in a way that made it possible to do a real version of the Dark Phoenix story. And that’s what we tried to do with this movie – is to give you all of the elements that you loved reading the comic, all of the things that made Chris Claremont’s run of the comic so iconic. And to do it in a way that was emotional, intense, intimate, and also cosmic.”
Elaborating on the cosmic elements, Kinberg noted, “This is the first X-Men movie that goes into outer space. This is the first X-Men movie with an alien in it. It does a lot of things that we weren’t able to do with X3. We’ve lived with this family for over twenty years in one form or another, and we felt as though hopefully we had earned our way back in doing this story. One of the wonderful things that a lot of movies have done – and certainly the MCU has done it perhaps the best – is tell intergalactic comic book stories. So we felt like you all were ready and we were ready to do our version of that.”
Hutch Parker, producer on the last four X-Men films – including Logan – discusses how the franchise has evolved throughout the years. “ I think that the first X-Men sort of paved they way for all of the comic book movies that followed. Opening with that scene in Auschwitz, taking something that was real and painful, and depicting in the way that is was depicted suggested for the first time that you could tackle more than special effects and comic ideas. And for me, everything that has flowed since then has grown from that moment.”
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Parker further elaborated on the popularization of comic book movies throughout the franchise’s lifespan, and how the X-Men movies have evolved as a result. “Candidly speaking, in the early days, even up to X3, there was still caution about how willing the audience would be to embrace what I would call a more authentic approach to the comic books. It’s something that I struggled with as an executive at Fox to get certain movies made. In the last couple of years – for me Logan and this film – did something different, which is dig into these characters and issues that ways that we hadn’t before.”
Parker also added “That’s something that I love about the comics in general, is the degree to which they promise such incredible stories. And the underlying material is just so good. Frankly, it’s better than we’ve been as storytellers in some cases, and this is a film that aspires to try and really tackle all of the potential of that, while honoring the legacy, characters and our wonderful cast.”
When asked about the pressure of adapting the Dark Phoenix storyline, Kinberg said, “You definitely go ‘don’t screw it up’ when you’re playing with the greatest comic run in history. As a directorial debut, it is the highest degree of difficulty. But I’ve lived with these movies for a long time. I’ve been facing you guys (the Comic-Con crowd) for a long time. You’ve been incredibly supportive, but you’ve also known when we got it wrong—which I also appreciate. I means we learn as we go, and we try to make them better each time.”
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Shifting the focus of the conversation to Kinberg’s abilities as a first time director, he mentioned his years of experience as a writer/producer in the industry. “I’ve learned a lot from working with all the directors that have worked on this franchise. Working with Ryan (Reynolds), Matthew Vaughn, Jim Mangold, working Tim Miller and David Leitch on Deadpool, I’ve seen all these guys at work. I even worked with Ridley Scott – who is one of my heroes – and each of them I’ve learned a little from being on set with, and watching they way that they operated. So for me, I’ve been living with Dark Phoenix in my mind for so long, to express it on screen I felt like I could just take what was in my mind and filter it through these incredible people that I was working with.”
Elaborating on the off screen talent that the director was able to wrangle, Kinberg mentioned, “A director is only as good as their team, so I had this insane team. My DP (director of photography) won an Oscar for doing the cinematography on Avatar. My editor (Lee Smith) won the Oscar for Dunkirk and he did all of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies. Hans Zimmer – you might have heard of him – did the score for this movie. And that was after Hans said he would never do a superhero movie again.”
Reeling back the legendary composer into the superhero genre wasn’t easy, but the director managed to get Zimmer back, saying “I went to him, and basically begged and bartered, and annoyed him long enough to where he ultimately said yes. I think he also said yes because what I promised him – and what I promise you guys – is that it’s a very different kind of superhero film. That it’s a more rich, emotionally intense, intimate movie that’s got all the bells and whistles, fun and spectacle that you’ve come to expect for these films. But it gives you some of the emotion, like Hutch was saying, from something like Logan.
The Dark Phoenix Cast Takes the Stage
At this point, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, and Kodi Smit-McPhee joined the panel.
When asked about any pranks that occurred on the set between the tight knit cast, Kinberg recalled Jessica Chastain as one of the set’s biggest practical jokers. He jokingly calls her a “menace,” recalling a moment when she got the stunt team to make James McAvoy unwillingly dance to The Macarena while doing wirework in a scene. On a side note, why an actor who plays a character in a wheelchair is doing wirework is an interesting tidbit that could imply certain plot developments.
Hoult then steered the conversation back to the seriousness of the material, “We actually reigned in our pranks and still we have a lot of fun. But at the same time, this movie focuses so much on the emotions of these characters. Everyone had a lot – work wise – to focus on with their characters.”
Shipp recalled many of the dares that took place on the set of X-Men: Apocalypse called “Tequilla Slaps,” in which you “take the shot, then smack the person across the face [audience laughs].”
When asked about the differences in preparing to play both Phoenix and Jean, Turner said, “The preparation to play Jean and the preparation to play Phoenix were kind of the same. Because it’s not like they’re day and night. They’re fused together and that’s why there’s such an internal struggle, because it’s these two sort of separate entities fighting with each other within one person’s body. And so that’s what we were going kind of for in the movie.”
The Game of Thrones actress also added “We wanted to study schizophrenia and disassociate identity disorder really delve into the psyche of the character and to ground her in something quite real and that would resonate with people. So that’s what we were going for, sort of two separate entities.”
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Sheridan was asked about acting with a visor, which he jokingly called “a lot of eyebrow acting.” As with the previous entries, this movie jumps the timeline forward roughly a decade from the previous entry, which Sheridan confirmed. “A lot happens throughout the course of ten years. So you get to explore these characters in this chapter of their lives. In this chapter, Jean Grey starts to wrestle with this dark force and it kind of splits the entire team up into two groups. One that feels she’s the same person and can save her, and one who feels that she’s maybe a little too dangerous. So there’s some really interesting and complex character dynamics.”
Elaborating Beast’s journey throughout the past few movies and how it plays into X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Hoult had this to say, “We’ve seen him evolve over the past few movies from one of students wrestling with his own identity. And then now being one of the leaders of the X-Men, but then also stepping away from Charles because of what happens in this film. And finding his own resolve and approach to the issues of this film. So you kind of get to see a new side of Beast in this film, which was such a pleasure to play.”
Smit-McPhee also detailed his approach to Nightcrawler in X-Men: Dark Phoenix, “Jumping decades, you get to see a maturity in him that is quite different to what I portrayed in X-Men: Apocalypse. Which was the more innocent, vulnerable, wide-eyed Nightcrawler that we love and that is the comedic relief at points. In this one – he definitely kind of starts there – but I have the opportunity to portray that kind of more vicious, savage archetype in him that is a combination and a product of this frustration building up from not knowing how to how to fix these internal struggles and crises that they’re going through as a team and family. So ultimately, the crisis is inside of him – which is where I would say that we see it with Alan Cumming’s portrayal of the character, which is quite demonic and aggressive.”
When asked about some of their favorite sets to work on, Kinberg responded, “It was important to me to do as much practically as possible. The reason why is – and the actors can speak to this – when they have something real to interact with it’s easier to act. Because they’re actually interacting in the space interacting with the real thing – it’s one less layer of make-believe. When I watch a movie and I see practical effects and sets, there’s a part of my brain that feels real, the physics and dimension of it.”
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Kinberg notes a sequence where Jean goes to her childhood home as one of his favorites, mostly because they built an entire street of suburban houses, which they naturally destroyed. He also alludes to the above sequence that takes place on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan – which they built an entire five-block set for, only to once again destroy.
Turner also elaborated on the computer-generated hair of Phoenix, which she called “terrible” to deal with on set. “They decided to do it with a bald cap and various tracking points for CGI.” The actress jokingly describes herself as looking like Megamind on set.
After showing the footage of the 5th Avenue sequence, Kinberg made a point to note that the subway train that comes crashing through the wall behind Magneto is 100% practical. “We got a train car, and our practical effects unit built a rig that could send that train car at roughly 20 miles per hour. We built a wall that could get destroyed, and Michael just had to walk through there and not flinch (crowd laughs). And the thing that was crazy about what happened – because you’re not rebuilding the wall and all that, we had a bunch of cameras shooting it. When we prepared it, it stopped 10 feet behind him. But on the day, for whatever reason when we actually filmed it, it stopped about half a foot behind him. These bricks that are coming down are real, and with all due respect, no other actor in the world would not even blink when a subway car comes within about six inches of hitting you. That was real and scary for everyone except for Michael.”
Turner also described a practical helicopter that was used to film another sequence in the film “It was a lot of fun. It was a real helicopter that was spinning around, and we literally did it with all of the cast, all of the extras they were all there. And I just kind of do this (motions to the side), and the helicopter tips over and it starts flipping out of the air. It was amazing to see. It was terrifying, but it was amazing.”
What do you think about the Dark Phoenix cast’s latest comments from WonderCon? Let us know in the comment section below!