Dark Phoenix star Kodi Smit-McPhee on the uncertain future of the X-Men
The X-Men franchise as we’ve come to know it is pretty much at an end with Dark Phoenix, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is still trying to wrap his head around it.
“I just got a reminder on Facebook the other day that it was four years ago that I was filming X-Men: Apocalypse,” he tells EW over the phone a few mornings before the film’s premiere. “So, that in itself is just insane.”
In July 2015, McPhee was in Montreal, covered in blue makeup as Nightcrawler, to shoot the aftermath of the X-Mansion explosion. It was hot and difficult to even hear the then-19-year-old actor against the massive air conditioning unit attempting to pump what little cooling relief he had into his tent. But, the once-reserved indie actor remained in high spirits. Just days earlier, on San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H stage, he posed for a selfie with the casts of Apocalypse, Deadpool, and The Fantastic Four to mark the future of Fox’s Marvel movies. Even Channing Tatum was there because, at the time, he was planning to star in a Gambit movie.
“I just remember having to constantly pinch myself and remind myself of what I’ve done and what I was a part of,” he now recalls of those days making Apocalypse. “It was just so special, and I still feel that.”
Today, McPhee, 22, is just hoping for the best. “With this whole Fox-Disney merger, I guess we’re all in the dark as to what will happen next, but I really hope I get to continue experiencing this,” he says.
With Dark Phoenix, the 12th entry of the X-Men movie franchise that began in 2000, the blockbuster superhero saga is under new management. Twentieth Century Fox was once its own entity with dibs on the X-Men movies, as well as characters from the Fantastic Four rolodex. The Walt Disney Company, having purchased the Fox studio in 2019 in a massive merger worth billions, may now have a different plan for these comic book properties. Gambit has officially been scrubbed from the release slate, the popular R-rated Deadpool seems to be in a holding pattern, and, as of now, it doesn’t feel like the cast of Dark Phoenix will continue making more movies in this particular cinematic universe.
The frustrating part is that the cast, according to McPhee, don’t know for certain one way or the other, even though fans have their suspicions. “I know what was originally planned for me,” McPhee says. He didn’t go into specific numbers, but confirmed there were “a certain amount” of movies he signed on for as Nightcrawler, beginning with Apocalypse. “I feel like, since there are new dictators, that could necessarily not be happening,” he adds. “So, we’ll see. I think we’re gonna find out soon. I think it’s gonna be relying on the response of Dark Phoenix, possibly, but I really don’t know anything when it comes to behind-the-scenes in that sense.”
Sadly, those numbers from Dark Phoenix‘s box-office tally aren’t performing so well in the U.S., compared with other blockbuster superhero franchises — the most notable, obviously, being Disney’s box office-smashing Marvel Cinematic Universe. But McPhee looks back fondly on playing the younger version of Alan Cumming’s Nightcrawler, first seen in that iconic “bamfing” opening sequence for 2003’s X2, so he’s holding out hope. Even when he returned for reshoots — including reworking the finale action piece into a close-corner train fight against shapeshifting aliens — he considered it a “surreal” experience.
Referring back to Cumming’s White House invasion in X2, McPhee says, “Me and stuntman Jesse La Flair, we’re always pushing for it to be like that… We weren’t necessarily given the chance to pull off what we wanted in that sense, just in regards to how much [Nightcrawler] should’ve been swinging through the air rather than standing on the floor, little things like that. But I’m not complaining because I know the scene [where] we did get to show his more aggressive side was definitely badass.”
There seemed to be a lot of opportunities to expand on the character that never made the final cut of the film. On top of the action sequences, McPhee discusses the emotional aftermath of the death of Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique. The shapeshifter once saved Nightcrawler from a mutant fight club in Apocalypse. In Dark Phoenix, his inability to extract Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) from a ripped-apart spacecraft causes her to be imbued by the Phoenix Force, leading her to fatally unleash her powers on Mystique.
“It’s not like I was given any giant shots or scenes that portrayed that completely,” he says. “I feel like, just in a subconscious sense, the X-Men probably go through things like this all the time in that it could be one or another person’s fault if something goes wrong and they don’t hold anyone accountable for that. It’s just about moving forward and healing.”
Perhaps one day there will be a time where he could explore this more fully — including the comic book relationship between Mystique and Nightcrawler that drew him into the character. He still has “a lot of different little things going,” including a dystopian indie film dealing with global warming, called 2067, and Interrogation, a non-linear TV crime series. But he still has his “fingers crossed” for X-Men.
“Pretty much every opportunity to express my anxiety about the situation I’ve spoken about it, but I haven’t gotten anywhere,” he says of the future of the X-Men on the big screen. “I know they have a plan, that’s what’s annoying me. I know they have a little secret plan somewhere, but they’re not telling us. Some portion of my career hangs off of it, so I would like to know soon.”