To some, the upcoming Dark Phoenix represents the end of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men film series. The matter is still unclear, of course. But to show he has a sense of humor about it, director/producer Simon Kinberg told fans at WonderCon 2019 on Friday that the movies ends in a familiar way: “They all turn to dust.”
The quip, of course, references the end of Avengers: Infinity War and Marvel Studios’ presumed stewardship of the X-Men going forward.
But for Kinberg, the film represents something more personal. “[‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’] was always my favorite story growing up and that’s the movie I always wanted to see,” he said. “You saw a little of it in X3, but you didn’t see the real version.”
“We tried to give you all of the elements you loved [from the comic] in this story and do it in a way which is intimate and cosmic,” he continued. “It’s the first X-Men movie with an alien in it. Why now? [Audiences] lived with this family one way or another for twenty years and we felt we earned the chance to tell an intergalactic story.”
The film is also Kinberg’s first as a director, though he has been involved with the X-Men film series as a producer and/or writer since X2. Nonetheless, he said making this film his feature debut was “the highest degree of difficulty.” But he noted his work on the previous films helped to prepare him for the job, as did working with directors like Matthew Vaughn on X-Men: First Class, James Mangold on Logan and Tim Miller on Deadpool. He added this connection to the material made him uniquely suited for it as well.
Beyond that, he also thanked the “supportive” fans of the X-Men series and his “insane” crew. “My [director of photography] Mauro Fiore won an Oscar for Avatar. My editor, Lee Smith, cut all of Christopher Nolan’s movies. Hans Zimmer came back to score this after he swore off superhero movies because I promised him — and I promise you — that is different and more emotional. “
To prove that sense of emotion, Kinberg unveiled a ten-minute clip from the film. In it, the X-Men team of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Beast (Nicholas Holt), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp) head out into space to rescue the crew of the space shuttle Endeavor. The group work well under Mystique’s direction, but a strange solar flare phenomenon means the X-Men will not be able to save the shuttle.
Nightcrawler and Quicksilver manage to save most of the crew, but when they realize the shuttle’s captain is still in the airlock, Nightcrawler and Jean go back to save him. The operation infuses Jean’s body with some sort of cosmic energy. The team manage to bring the shuttle crew home safely and are treated like celebrities by the wide world and the children back at the X-Mansion.
Mystique, nonetheless, is unimpressed by Xavier’s (James McAvoy) use of the team for PR. As she points out, women tend to save the men on the team and the professor should “think about renaming it ‘X-Women.’”
Turner, who joined Kinberg on stage after the clip, discussed the process involved in playing Jean and Phoenix — though, as she put it, the preparation was very similar. “They’re fused together. They’re fighting each other in one person’s body,” she explained, adding that she studied schizophrenia and Dissociative Disorder to make Jean’s plight “resonate” with audiences.
According to Holt, who also joined members of the cast on stage, the emotional material set a different tone on set from the previous few X-Men films. “We reigned in a lot of out pranks,” he said.
Although, Kinberg was quick to add one prankster reigned supreme on set. “The biggest practical joker is Jessica Chastain. She’s a dangerous menace,” he said. “One of the practical jokes — and I was a somewhat willing accomplice in this — there’s a scene where Mr. McAvoy was on wires. On the last take, Jessica got our sound screw to play “The Macarena” and the riggers to fly him around like a puppet.”
Even if the pranks continued to some extent, both Holt and Sheridan noted the X-Men film series offered them the opportunity to play their characters across decades. Holt, who has played Beast/Hank McCoy since First Class, said it has been a pleasure to play the part. “We’ve seen him evolve from the student to one of the leaders to moving away from Charles because of what happens in this film,” he added.
“The team splits into two groups,” said Sheridan. “One which believes you can save Jean and one who doesn’t.”
That division ends up being surprising, as seen in a second clip in which a Beast and Magneto descend on Manhattan to kill Jean. Their attempt is stalled by the Professor, Storm, Nightcrawler and Cyclops. It leads to a thrilling action sequence adjacent to Central Park. But it is all for naught as Phoenix proves more powerful than the master of magnetism.
The scene uses practical effects, which Kinberg said he tried to employ whenever possible. “It’s easier to act [against] and one less layer of make-believe [for the performers],” he said. “When I see a movie with practical sets, I just know it feels real.”
That reality includes an entire subway train colliding with a building behind Magento during one dramatic shot in the clip. According to Kinberg, the stunt was rehearsed with the train stopping twenty feet away from Fassbender, who had to refrain from flinching to make the shot work. On the day they shot the scene, however, the train stopped within six inches of the actor. Kinberg was happy to report that Fassbender did not flinch even if his fellow producers did.
Dark Phoenix comes to theaters on June 6th.