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Simon Kinberg’s March Toward Dark Phoenix

The Dark Phoenix most likely marks the end of almost two decades worth of X-Men film continuity as the franchise is about to gain new owners who will surely want to scrap everything and start from scratch. Thus, it seems fitting Simon Kinberg be the director of Fox’s final film X-Men film. Here’s why.

So, it finally happened: Fox released a trailer for Dark Phoenix.

In any other circumstance, a film studio releasing a trailer for a movie wouldn’t need to be held up as being a particularly notable moment. However, in this case it wasn’t too long ago the internet was overflowing with rumors Fox was preparing to shelf its next two X-Men movies, Dark Phoenix and New Mutants, both of which have already been delayed multiple times. Additionally, both films have been subject to significant reshoots and both involve characters which Fox’s incoming new corporate overlord, Disney, might have bigger plans for as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The rumors suggested none of the higher-ups at either studio are entirely happy with what they’ve seen.

But, Dark Phoenix finally has a trailer, one which re-emphasizes its February 14, 2019 release date.

Based upon that footage, the film appears set to hit many of the same basic story beats as the first Dark Phoenix film – 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. A flashback shows us young Jean Grey first encountering Professor Xavier and entering his School for Gifted Youngsters Mutants. He turns out to have sensed her immense power immediately but has been working to contain it. That never seems to work out for poor, Charles. So, years later, she explodes in a fiery fury, killing one of the X-Men in the process (Mystique instead of Xavier and/or Cyclops this time). In the aftermath, she seeks Magneto’s counsel, although here he appears less inclined to manipulate her for his own gain. In fact, he seems quite scared of her.

The most significant difference, other than this starring the First Class cast and not the original Bryan Singer cast, is this is Jean’s movie. There’s no mutant cure storyline to share screen time with, as with Last Stand. There’s just Jean’s metaphorical maturation into something new and a mysterious, white-haired Jessica Chastain filling her head with lies. One of the most iconic storylines in X-Men comic book history was botched the first time around by a too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen problem. Here, it’s time to do it right.

It’s not every franchise in Hollywood that gets a mulligan like this. Franchises fail and come back all the time in modern Hollywood; few have ever simply repeated an entire iconic storyline years later. Star Trek with its duel Wrath of Khan films comes to mind, but there it was a later entry attempting to homage and tweak the original. Here, it’s a basic re-do of a film, Last Stand, that was a financial, but not creative success.

Kinberg: “I have a profound, almost insane amount of freedom making these movies until we fuck up consistently.”

Simon Kinberg, Dark Phoenix’s writer-director, would know. Last Stand was just his third produced screenplay after xXx: State of the Union and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Similar to Kevin Feige, MCU’s current head honcho who cut his teeth as an assistant on those early X-Men movies, Last Stand represented Kinberg’s entryway into superhero filmmaking as well as a long-lasting lesson in how not to do things. For example, maybe it’s not the best idea to rush a film through production with a underprepared director (Brett Ratner) and two competing scripts merged into one – which is why Zak Penn shares writing credit on the film with Kinberg – just to get to say “Fuck you!” to the studio (WB) that poached your director away to make a competing project (Bryan Singer and Superman Returns, which came out a month after Last Stand).

Almost nobody responsible for that mistake works at Fox or on the X-Men movies anymore. Kinberg and Lauren Shuler Donner, who has produced every single X-Men film, are the only ones left, and by most reports Kinberg is the closest the franchise has to a Feige-like figure orchestrating everything. He’s been called the showrunner of the X-Men films, writing the scripts for First Class, Days of Future Past, and Apocalypse while also producing Deadpool, Logan, Deadpool 2, and The New Mutants. (He also produced 2015’s Fantastic Four and has accepted plenty of the blame for that reboot’s disastrous failure).

“Producing is less lonely than writing and I enjoy being with people solving tangible problems,” he told Ben Fritz in The Big Picture. “Maybe not as much as living in my own imagination, but I enjoy it.”

After all of that, he decided it was time to direct one of his own.

That was not an especially celebrated decision. Given the depressing statistics about the lack of progress being made in the number of high profile directing jobs going to women and people of color, it’s always controversial whenever a studio simply gives blockbuster to a white guy who hasn’t even directed anything before. We saw that when Paramount tried to hand Star Trek 3 to Roberto Orci only to end up having to fire him after he spent a year developing a script they didn’t like. They’ve since hired an Asian-American (Star Trek Beyond’s Justin Lin) and a woman (Star Trek 4’s S.J. Clarkson) to helm the franchise’s latest sequels.

Furthermore, considering Dark Phoenix’s inherent focus on a woman’s battle with herself and her loved ones why not hire a woman to bring that to the screen? As a producer, Kinberg could have done that. You could argue he absolutely should have. This is a man, after all, who was married to an assistant director for over a decade. Surely he saw enough through her experiences in the industry to want to advance the cause of female filmmakers.

However, this is the end of the line for this particular continuity and group of X-Men actors. None of them have ever uttered a line of dialogue Kinberg didn’t write. Few behind the camera are closer to the cast than him. He’s been on set for all of the films, and he was there every day on The Days of Future Past, working alongside Bryan Singer to improve the script and help the actors along. Kinberg did that while his marriage of 14 years was falling apart, which inspired him to create the film’s subplot in which the Patrick Stewart Professor X has to convince the James McAvoy Professor X to find the power to hope again.

Kingberg, according to The Big Picture, wrote that scene in the airport while awaiting a flight back to the set in Montreal. He’d flown back home tell his two sons they were about to become children of divorce.

So, these aren’t just silly, disposable superhero blockbusters to Kinberg. They’re actually quite personal. He’s been that way since Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s comedy about two spies who oddly thrive as a couple once they’re hired to kill each other. That story idea stemmed from something Kinberg’s girlfriend of the time told him about how he was oddly the perfect spouse when life turned chaotic but not when things were ordinary and okay. He used a blockbuster, genre story to work through that and has been generally doing the same sneaky self-introspection ever since.

“The truth is I find myself in the movies,” he told Fitz. “I’m not writing them on an assembly line. My brain is always living in these stories, even when I think I may die from the flu.”

That last line refers to a 2016 experience where Kinberg’s workaholic nature and the related tax that puts on the body finally came back to bite him in the ass as he was sidelined for an entire month with the flu, losing 15 pounds in the process. After such an ordeal, he contemplated changing course and writing his first original script since Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Maybe it was finally time to produce one of those smaller, more personal passion projects, he thought.

In fact, that’s exactly what he intended to do.

For a weekend.

Then, as he brainstormed ideas and worked through some of the themes he wanted to explore – love and loss, pain, jealousy, anger – he realized he could put all of that into Dark Phoenix, a film whose storyline he’d already worked to set up in Apocalypse’s finale.

It’s the natural inclination of a man raised on big movies. His father was a writer-producer, primarily working on TV mini-series, before becoming a film professor. This means Kinberg, who was born in England but raised in Los Angeles, grew up steeped in Hollywood. His classmates in school all had industry parents. He spent his time watching old black & white movies and heading to the theater to see films like Beverly Hills Cop, The Terminator and The Empire Strikes Back, which he saw more than 20 times. And after a brief stab at being a literary author he attended Columbia Film School and had an agent, manager, and job as a Hollywood writer-for-hire by the end of his second year.

He hasn’t looked back since, enjoying a career which has grown to include a consulting role on several of the new Star Wars movies as well as a job co-writing a Star Wars anthology movie with Logan’s James Mangold (time will tell if Disney still produces the script). The future of the X-Men franchise might not involve him after Dark Phoenix. Or maybe Kevin Feige will bring him into the MCU.

We don’t know.

Neither does he.

But nobody has been on set for the X-Men films over the last 6 years more than Kinberg. It was only natural that he finally want to direct one. It could have gone better. He had to go back and do reshoots to fix the ending. His release date got pushed back.

Still, there’s a trailer now. This thing is finally happening. Who knows if it ever will again. Not like this, at least.

UPDATE: And now Fox has delayed Dark Phoenix again, pushing it from 2/14/19 to 6/7/19. Fox had to make room for another one of its troubled assets, Alita: Battle Angel, which is running away from this year’s looming Christmas Box Office Massacre and settling in on 2/14/19. 

Source: The Big Picture


    1. If Apocalypse hadn’t already made it clear, this trailer and lines like “the world is on the brink” certainly confirms that Kinberg’s style is, at this point, a bit too old-fashioned.

  1. I would say the word “continuity” can only be applied to Fox’s X-Men franchise in the lightest of ways, but outside that little detail, great article!

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