One of the most closely guarded secrets of the upcoming X-Men film Dark Phoenix has finally been revealed with in the latest trailer: The shapeshifting mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) dies in the film (opening June 7).
The twist is revealed in the beginning moments of the new trailer for the comic book epic, which stars Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) as the embattled Jean Grey. While struggling with the emerging Phoenix inside her, Jean lashes out and kills Mystique while the other X-Men, including Charles (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Cyclops (Ty Sheridan) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp) watch.
EW talked to director Simon Kinberg about making this game-changing decision, adapting the iconic Dark Phoenix storyline, and whether or not this is the final X-Men movie.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s just start off with the big one: The trailer reveals that Mystique dies in this film. What made you want to reveal that?
SIMON KINBERG: 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. 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.
Were you nervous about killing off one of the movie’s biggest stars and your good pal, Jennifer Lawrence?
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. 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.
Yeah, she straddles both universes. Mystique dies when Jean goes back to her childhood neighborhood and all hell breaks loose. You all shot that in broad daylight. Was that hard to keep a secret from paparazzi or passersby?
It was a challenge. One of the things I wanted to do with this movie is get the movie outside and make it feel like you’re on location and put it in real world environments as much as its also in otherworldly environments. But I wanted it to feel like it could take place in your neighborhood. That particular neighborhood we built from the ground up. That entire street was a build on the studio up in Montreal, and it was a massive build. All those houses and the bridge you see in the distance, all of that was built really not for the sake of secrecy, but obviously it helped with that. But more because there’s a lot of action that takes place there. Houses get blown up, and you couldn’t obviously do that in a real environment.
Are there other major deaths in this besides Mystique?
There are certainly other major casualties in this.
In X-Men: The Last Stand, Jean goes home and kills Professor X. In this film, Jean kills Mystique while at home. Is that a coincidence, or is it just that going home is intense for everyone?
I was conscious of it. There’s scenes of her going home in the comics. That’s a big part of it, and then the other big part of it is what you said: Going home elicits so much raw emotion from a character. When I was writing, I wasn’t conscious of it, to be honest with you. As I started editing it and you go from being purely creative to being a little more objective after you finish a draft, I was like, “Oh yeah, this is something from X3.” But it’s certainly not meant to be an homage, and it’s very very different sequence.
Jessica Chastain is in this movie as well. We get a little more footage of her manipulating Jean in the trailer. Can you tease the role more?
Her character is an alien. She comes from another planet. When you see the entity that enters Jean in space is not a solar flare — it’s a cosmic force. For those that know the comic, they know what the force is. Chastain’s character is drawn and has been seeking out that cosmic force, and it leads her to Earth and to Jean. It’s a force she either wants to control or destroy.
So it’s the Phoenix Force from the comics?
What are Chastain’s powers in this?
She definitely is mentally as strong as Jean. Jean cannot read her mind. Like you see in the trailer, she can manipulate others minds so that they see things that she wants them to see. But she has a whole suite of powers that we explore in the movie; some of them are mental and some of them are physical. There’s a whole sequence where she basically takes apart the X-Men.
Mystique’s death basically separates the X-Men into two sides: One wants to save Jean and one wants to kill her. Is that right?
That’s exactly right. Mystique’s death is the thing that fractures the family of the X-Men, including Magneto [Michael Fassbender], and sets people who were friends on opposite sides, and people who were enemies become allies. For me, if there’s a metaphor for the film, it’s like if someone in your life or your family starts to lose control, whether that be because of drugs or mental health issues or more minor things, the question is: At one point do you give up on them? And how long do you hold out hope for them?
And Magneto has two mutants with him to confront Jean in New York. Can you tease them?
I can say who one of them is: One of them is Selene, who’s had a lot of different iterations in the comics and is part of the Hellfire Club.
Is the Hellfire Club in this?
No, they’re not in the movie.
Based on the trailer, it feels like the movie builds to Scott ultimately trying to save Jean. Is that how the film plays out?
That’s a big part of the movie. Scott and Charles are aligned in trying to save her. Scott because she’s the love of his life, and their love story is something that’s been so powerful in these films and so powerful in the comics. And Charles as well because she’s like a daughter figure for him, and someone he’s known since she’s been a little girl and feels responsible for and feels responsible for something he’s done wrong in her life.
So much of this trailer is Sophie looking intense and intimidating. In person, she’s the opposite. You really tap into her ferociousness in this.
One of the things I wanted to do with this movie cinematically was be in with the characters more. There’s a lot more handheld [camerawork] and a lot more close-ups and a lot more of a feeling of intimacy, and with that comes a certain level of intensity because you feel the characters’ emotions and anger more than you would in these big wide shots. Sophie is definitely a lovely and very happy, well-adjusted person in real life, but knows plenty of people and has been around plenty of darkness and could tap into that. When we were preparing, one of the things I said to her was I wanted to explore schizophrenia with the character. As much as the X-Men are fractured, Jean herself is fractured, obviously. Sophie did a ton of research on schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder. She would walk around whether it was London or New York with headphones in her ears, with just voices playing in her head so she would experience what it was like to live in the world we live in but hear voices that are there, and how that would be maddening for even the sanest of all of us.
One of the biggest set pieces shown in the trailer is a scene with the X-Men in a train that Jean eventually lifts off the ground. Can you tease that a bit?
Yeah I don’t want to give too much way because it is one of our biggest sequences. As consequence of what happens in New York, the X-Men and Magneto and the people Magneto has brought with him end up in that train. There’s an attack on the train and Jean is part of it, and at a certain point does float out of the train and with her powers that are supercharged by this Phoenix force inside her, literally rips the train off the tracks and sends it spinning through the air and people go flying of the train. It ends well for some and not so well for others.
It looks like they all go full-throttle with their powers in that.
It is a massive sequence in terms of visual effects and powers. What I’m proudest about in terms of the action is it’s very visceral, the violence and action. You see Magneto doing some gnarly things. You imagine a train is obviously full of metal, so he’s got nothing but weapons around him. What I really wanted to do in this film is show how powerful Storm is because she’s obviously she’s an incredibly powerful and a strong character in the comics, and I felt like this is an opportunity to showcase that. This is by far and away the heaviest use of powers we’ve seen from Storm in these movies. That’s one sequence where she’s also flying at speed above the train, firing lightning bolts down from the heavens.
You and I talked about this, but Dark Phoenix is very female-focused. This is something you wanted from the start, right?
It is. More than anything, it’s a female-centered story because we have a female protagonist in Jean. I didn’t want to shortchange that. I thought part of what happened in X-Men: The Last Stand is that instead of making it a Jean story, it became a story of the cure, which was really Charles and Erik and Wolverine’s story, and I really wanted this to be Jean’s story. She is the dominant character in this movie. And you’re right, the other dominant characters are Mystique and Jessica Chastain’s characters, and Storm is stronger than she’s been before. Part of what I always loved about the X-Men is they have incredibly strong female characters, and I just thought it was time to help that come to the fore in the movie universe too.
Dark Phoenix was originally supposed to come out in November, and now you’re slated for June. What was behind that delay?
Well it was a combination of things. One, November was always a very ambitious release date for us, given how many visual effects and how complex the visual effects in this film were going to be. When we felt like we weren’t going to be able to complete the movie to the level we wanted to complete it from a visual effects standpoint, we considered moving it from November to February. Then, because of the way the international calendar was for us and how fast we could get materials to other territories, we felt like February became not just challenging, but not necessarily the best window internationally for the film. It’s very close to Captain Marvel. The studio started to feel that the movie was so massive in scale that it could compete in the most competitive time for films, which is summer. So we started looking at the potential for summer dates, and June 7 stood out as a date we could have for ourselves. It’s however many weeks after Avengers, so there will not have been a comic book movie for a little while, and our hope is that people will be excited about seeing another one.
Everyone’s wondering now, is this the last X-Men movie with this cast given the Disney-Fox deal?
I truly don’t know. 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. 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.
It is the climax of this franchise. When we did the hair and makeup tests for this movie, I had the Doors song “The End” playing just to set the mood for the actors and the crew. It was this feeling of this is the climax of a lot of stories and a long relationship that we’ve all built up. It felt like it was time at least to give them some huge explosive story that demanded a different kind of resilience from them. I really felt on this one I couldn’t imagine where else to go with these characters after what they’ve gone through in this movie.