Warning: this article contains spoilers about Jessica Chastain’s Dark Phoenix character and the movie’s climax. Read on only if you’re prepared for them.
When Jessica Chastain signed on to the X-Men movie Dark Phoenix, and was strongly implied to be an alien, most probably assumed she’d be playing Lilandra. The alien Empress of the Shi’ar was introduced to many of us via the ’90s animated series’ take on the Phoenix saga, and it made sense that she’d be significant in the movie too. But she isn’t, and writer-director Simon Kinberg recently shot down any notion that Lilandra would appear in the movie at all. Still, the fact that her character hasn’t even been named in any of the press releases so far has kept us guessing. Why the secrecy? Is it some massive surprise?
If you’re a casual X-fan, her onscreen name reveal will likely mean nothing. But it’s arguable that comics fans might figure out the plot once they know. Not to mention it’s (sort of) a gender-flip, which can often generate undue and unnecessary amounts of rage from the worst sorts of fans.
Initially, Chastain plays a generic human. But her physical form soon becomes co-opted by a reptilian alien that wouldn’t look out of place in the V miniseries or The X-Files movie. This alien, which is played by her for the rest of the runtime is named Vuk, of the D’Bari. And sometimes, in comics, called Starhammer. Vuk is generally coded male, but can reproduce both sexually and asexually, so maybe nonbinary is a better term.
There are more D’Bari onscreen in Dark Phoenix than usually appear in any comic. The entire race was wiped out when the Dark Phoenix made their sun go nova, after all. In the comics, Vuk hadn’t yet gotten back to the planet when it was destroyed. His family were, but he had arrived on Earth many years ago. Here his unusual appearance and use of a “petrifactor” gun may have given rise to the legends of Medusa and the Gorgons. Unlike Medusa’s famous stare, however, a second shot of the petrifactor can bring a person back from statue-dom. Clearly, he was not as good-looking as Chastain. In fact, he’s closer in appearance to the MCU’s Groot, though he can wear a human disguise. And did so once to infiltrate the Avengers. Armored up as Starhammer, he looks more like Samus Aran from Metroid.
Also, the petrifactor — and its reversibility — is way kinder than movie Vuk’s habit of psychically twisting a knot in your foe’s stomach.
The Dark Phoenix saga is pretty much required to end with Jean Grey getting a noble death. Thus, the movie calls for a climactic showdown between her and Vuk. That’s not quite how it went down on the page. Jean ultimately used her mind powers to convince Vuk he had won and killed her. Vuk found a planet of D’Bari survivors and came back a hero, until the effect wore off. On his second attempt at revenge, he was shown an alternate universe where his planet did not explode. So he went there instead.
The Fox movies have never before acknowledged the cosmic side of the X-Men universe. As such, it makes sense to keep the alien races to one. (Although somebody over there is way too in love with evil purple clouds.) And if they have to pick only one, it as well be the race that has the biggest grudge. Yes, of course it way oversimplifies the Phoenix saga. Maybe Kevin Feige will try for a third crack at this story in a decade or so.