'It became about global destruction and visual effects over emotion and character,' admits writer/producer Simon Kinberg of 2016's X-Men film

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Last year’s X-Men: Apocalypse ended up making over $543 million worldwide but yielded some of the worst reviews ever for the series and didn’t score with fans — especially when it came to some of the visuals like the look of the titular villain played by Oscar Isaac. The hope is that next year’s Dark Phoenix will refocus the franchise.

“I think we took our eye off what has always been the bedrock of the franchise which is these characters,” admits Apocalypse writer/producer and Phoenix director Simon Kinberg. “It became about global destruction and visual effects over emotion and character.”

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)Oscar Isaac
Credit: 20th Century Fox

Adds producer Hutch Parker, “It’s always dangerous if your script is evolving while you’re shooting. Certainly, in hindsight, we all feel like the genre has been evolving aesthetically and tonally and that the film didn’t. There’s a lot that I think is very good in the film but, as a whole, it was struggling to find ways to coalesce, narratively emotionally and in terms of plot. Aesthetically, it felt sort of dated relative to an evolution you were seeing play out everywhere else. We learned a lot from that.”

The flaws of Apocalypse were on Kinberg’s mind going into Phoenix and he’s adamant to recalibrate the X-Men series for fans. “One of the things I went into this film wanting to do is obviously focus on the characters and give them real emotions to play and come up with a theme that would make it feel relevant and necessary in today’s world,” he reveals.

To that end, the over-the-top qualities of Apocalypse have been dialed back for a more grounded take in Phoenix. Says star Sophie Turner, who plays Jean Grey/Phoenix, “It is so gritty and there are so many fantastical things in this movie and we really wanted it to resonate with every member of the audience who watches it so we had to make it so real as well. You still get that sense of escapism when people start flying but there’s so much reality in it. I think it will really affect people. And the way Simon shot it — the majority of this movie is handheld, like Steadicam.”

The more realistic approach was a key part of Kinberg’s pitch to the studio. “The reference images were a lot of real world imagery,” he says. “Everything from real disaster footage to what a real lighting bolt looks like when it strikes the ground. What I talked about with the performances and the photography and the visual effects is it needs to all feel organic and it needs to feel like it lives in our world to make it feel relevant again and not so heightened.”

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