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Photo: 20th Century Fox

Dark Phoenix director Simon Kinberg explains why it was time to kill one of the most popular X-Men

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Feb 28, 2019

The new trailer for Dark Phoenix — quite possibly the last film in the X-Men continuity Fox has been building for nearly two decades — arrived Wednesday night, and it brought with it one major reveal. Now, the film's director explains why we saw what we did, and why it was time for one of the most popular movie X-Men to die.

**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for Dark Phoenix below.**

Dark Phoenix is, of course, based on the celebrated X-Men comic book story The Dark Phoenix Saga, which tells the story of what happens when the cosmic Phoenix Force takes over Jean Grey's body and mind and drives her to tremendous destruction. The new trailer shows off plenty of that destruction, as a mysterious alien woman (Jessica Chastain) helps to convince Jean (Sophie Turner) to use her new powers to the fullest, even as Jean herself is conflicted and frightened by what she's becoming. This all builds to a confrontation in which Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) attempts to be the voice of reason and calm Jean down. Jean lashes out with her power, and Mystique dies.

Yes, months before we get to see the film, we now know that Dark Phoenix features the death and funeral of one of the franchise's most popular characters (not to mention one of the franchise's biggest stars in Jennifer Lawrence). Mystique has been around since the very first X-Men film, but the version played by Lawrence has been around since First Class back in 2011, and has played an integral role as an ally to both Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). So why give such a big death away right up front? Director Simon Kinberg explained his thinking to Entertainment Weekly

Dark Phoenix poster X-Men

"Well, the thought process behind that was to primarily show that this is a movie that is unlike other X-Men movies. It’s a movie where shocking things happen, where intense, dramatic things happen," he said. "People don’t just fall off buildings and dust themselves off and walk away. There’s a reality to this movie and a consequence to this movie. Even more than that, it was to show that Jean/Dark Phoenix is genuinely a threat to everyone, including the X-Men."

As for why it was Mystique who had to die, it's important to think about her relationship to Jean after the events of X-Men: Apocalypse. As one of the original members of this incarnation of the team, and one who's struggled with her own identity and allegiances in the past, Mystique still found a way to be a leader to this team of young X-Men in the last film, and led them in the fight against Apocalypse and his Horsemen. She's a mentor figure to Jean, and she stepped into danger to do what she thought was right. That confrontation and the resulting damage has the potential for much more power than simply watching Phoenix destroy structures around her.

"I had a lot of emotions about it. I was obviously sad about it, as Jen’s friend, and also as a fan of Jen as an actress. But I felt it was the strongest, most dramatic thing for the movie, and sometimes you have to make those kinds of hard decisions to service the larger story. And the larger story really is Jean cracking up, losing control because she’s more powerful than anyone else in the world," Kinberg said. "To dramatize that properly, you have to show real loss, you have to show real pain and show real threat and menace. I didn’t want to do that by her blowing up a building with anonymous people in it. It had to feel really personal for the X-Men, and I wanted it to be something that would fracture the X-Men as well. Mystique is someone who in our universe has been part of the X-Men and has been part of Magneto’s world. Her death impacts literally everybody."

So, Mystique dies while trying to save Jean, and the X-Men become divided over what to do next. One faction, led by Charles and Cyclops, wants to save her, while the other, led by Magneto, wants to end her. This sets up the external conflict of the film even as the internal conflict rages within Jean. 

Kinberg also took a moment to talk about the future, or lack thereof, of the X-Men franchise. As far as we know, this is the last scheduled film in this continuity to feature these characters and their story, because later this year Fox's entertainment assets — including the X-Men film rights — are migrating over to Disney. Will Kinberg be part of that transition? Will these characters get to tell more stories in their current incarnations? Sadly, that remains a mystery.

"I haven’t had formal talks with Disney. I know [Marvel Studios President] Kevin Feige very well. But we haven’t had formal talks because until the merger is official, they’re not allowed to have those kinds of conversations with the folks at Fox or myself," Kinberg said. "What’s interesting is obviously I started this movie long before Disney purchased Fox, and I approached the movie knowing that it was the fourth movie with our First Class cast and that the Phoenix story for me is the ultimate X-Men story."

"I approached the movie like it was the culmination in some ways — not that there couldn’t be other movies, but I did approach the movie as if, like, if you spent 20 years of living with this family, this is the movie you see the family truly tested, fall apart, and hopefully come back together. There was something about that sense of closure for the family, that sense of test, that sense of loss. It felt like not this is the end necessarily, but this is it for them."

Dark Phoenix is in theaters June 7.

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