About The Production
Just as DARK PHOENIX is thematically and tonally different from all the
previous X-Men films, the look of the movie is equally distinct. "After almost
twenty years of making a certain style of X-Men film, it was time for a change,"
says Simon Kinberg. "I felt like a grittier tone was appropriate to this story
because I wanted it to be more intense and intimate and personal. My job was to
make sure that everybody understood that we were making a different kind of
X-Men movie than had been made before, an X-Men movie that would feel more real,
would feel more relatable hopefully to audiences, and would feel subversive
"This is my third X-Men movie in a row," adds Todd Hallowell, who is both a
producer and splinter unit director on DARK PHOENIX. "Simon wanted to approach
this one in a very different way. He said that the more real the world it can
be, the better it is for the story. We've tried to approach it that way and
that's had an effect in the art direction, production design, costume design,
props and everything. Everybody's been very aware of that mantra."
DARK PHOENIX was shot over six months beginning in the spring of 2017 in and
around Montreal. Production designer Claude Pare (It, Rise of the Planet of the
Apes) took the realistic approach that Kinberg wanted to heart, crafting a
moodier look for the film. "The first thing we talked about was we wanted this
movie to be grounded in reality," Pare says. "We wanted a palette that was
darker, not as colorful as the previous films. Simon has a really good eye-he's
very aware of what things should look like."
"Claude is one of those people who is so inspired about the way he goes about
creating worlds, whether they're real worlds or imaginary worlds," says Kinberg.
"Whether they be alien planets or a lower-class suburb, he's really meticulous.
At the start of this process, I told Claude that I wanted to create this world
physically. I didn't want to do green screen or set extensions and fake it. I
wanted the actors to be able to feel the sets in a tactile way and the audience
will also feel the story in a more tactile, immediate, real way."
Among Pare's tasks were constructing the neighborhood where Jean had lived as
a young child. She goes back to the modest street to solve a mystery about her
past, but the trip becomes the site of an explosive standoff between Jean and
the X-Men, resulting in Raven's untimely death.
"One of my favorite sets is Jean's neighborhood," says Kinberg. "It's six small
houses with a little bend at the end and a rickety bridge. Each house has a
different identity created for the people that live in it-there's the fisherman,
the truck driver, the angry married couple. Each had detailed ideas about who
these characters were, what their front lawns look like and what toys or trash
would be around their houses. All of that detail accrues for the characters, the
actors and the audience."
The neighborhood street was constructed entirely from the ground up. "We
started with a field of gravel," Pare says. "We created a neighborhood that is
very lower- middle class. I wanted to have a bridge in there to show that people
drive by, but they don't stop there. At the other end of it, I wanted to have
this field of electrical devices with pylons and towers and wires. We poured an
asphalt road, but just had gravel leading to the lots, no sidewalks. All the
houses were prebuilt in the shop, and we assembled them on site. The set
dressing team did an amazing job putting in all the electrical wires hanging
over each of these houses, the cables, the gutters, everything. It was just
Just as much effort went into creating the fictional country of Genosha, an
island nation where Fassbender's Erik lives peaceably among exiled mutants
including two new characters, Selene (Kota Eberhardt) and Ariki (Andrew Stehlin).
The community was constructed about an hour outside of downtown Montreal. "It's
a refuge for mutants who don't have anywhere else to go," Fassbender explains.
"It has a classic commune vibe-people living off the grid, being
That tranquility is interrupted when Jean arrives, seeking Erik's counsel on
how best to manage her newly acquired powers in the wake of Raven's death. "The
Dark Phoenix side of her is enjoying hurting people, enjoying this violence, and
I think she thinks that Erik might feel some kinship to that. She comes to seek
permission of a sort. But of course, Erik's history is a lot different. He
partakes in violence because of a vengefulness that's in him. It's not that he
gets much satisfaction out of it."
When the authorities trace Jean to Genosha, the refuge becomes the site of a
battle of wills between Erik and Jean-and Erik is stunned to see the full range
of Jean's abilities. The sequence includes what is essentially a psychic tug of
war over a military helicopter, much of which was staged practically. Second
unit director and supervising stunt coordinator Guy Norris (Mad Max: Fury Road)
played a major role in coordinating the details for the shots. "I looked at it
like we were making a war film that just happens to have superheroes in it-so,
being grounded in reality as much as possible and with in-camera stunts and
action, which I love doing," Norris says.
"There was a real chopper on the ground spinning with things exploding around
it," Kinberg says. "The crazier thing is that the chopper that Michael and
Sophie are fighting over that's dipping and coming back and forth, that was also
a real chopper." The helicopter, which weighed approximately 4,000 lbs., was
suspended from a cable and held aloft by duel crane arms that were digitally
painted out of the frame during post-production. "You could control it coming
back and forth whenever you wanted Sophie to be winning or Michael to be winning
that battle for control of this chopper," Kinberg says. "They were interacting
with a real helicopter, with men jumping into it. Sometimes, it's within 10 or
15 feet of Michael Fassbender. That's all real."
Fassbender was also at the center of another spectacular action sequence that
was shot on a reproduction of Fifth Avenue. Magneto (Erik) and Beast (Hank),
determined to take revenge against Jean for Raven's murder, turn up the embassy
where she is hiding out with Jessica Chastain's alien antagonist. To break into
the building, Magneto raises a subway train from below the street and uses it to
bulldoze an opening into the embassy.
"We built that whole New York street on a soundstage, so we could control it
and blow things up," Kinberg explains. "That was quite an elaborate sequence to
film. The moment where Michael comes in the embassy and the train car comes
crashing in behind him, that is all real. That train car is on a rig-it's a real
subway car that is coming at a pretty fast speed right behind Michael Fassbender
with the wall exploding behind Michael. It ended up stopping inches away from
him. We didn't expect the wall to crack above his head, but pieces of it came
raining down on either side of him. Michael Fassbender-because he's such a
badass-did not flinch or even blink. And thank God he didn't because we only had
one take of that."
Even during the most complicated moments of the shoot, Kinberg kept his cool,
something that Hutch Parker found especially impressive for a first-time
director. "I was really struck by how comfortable he was in the role because
it's a tough transition from writing or producing- or it can be," Parker says.
"It was helped by the fact that he's had such a longstanding connection to the
material, and it was helped by the fact that he's been a producer on so many of
these movies. He's been up close and in the thick of it in every fashion. He
knows these characters and specifically these actors so well. He had a real
comfort and familiarity with it all. He was just having a blast and that's a
very good sign."
Kinberg says he also felt secure in knowing he had found the right
collaborators for every department. In addition to Pare, the filmmaker worked
with costume designer Daniel Orlandi (Logan) to create all the looks for the
characters, including the new uniforms the X-Men wear. "We went through a long
process of getting the uniform just right-I wanted it to be true to the X-men
comics," Orlandi says. "We went back to a couple of the comics and really
studied them, looked at how sleek some of the suits really were, and graphic. We
wanted them to be very modern, very simple."
Oscar-winning director of photography Mauro Fiore (Avatar, Training Day) was
keen to help Kinberg achieve the naturalistic look the writer-director wanted
for DARK PHOENIX. To that end, the film includes a great deal of handheld
camerawork, a first for any installment in the X-franchise.
"In previous X-Men movies-and this is true for a fair amount of large-scale
Hollywood movies and comic-book movies-they tend to use very smooth photography,
crane moves and dolly moves, everything's slick," Kinberg says. "Here, instead
of the camera being still and the characters being the motion, the characters
are moving, but the camera is also moving a little bit. That creates the rawness
we were talking about on set. It's a feeling that everything has a little bit of
imperfection to it. The action is where the audience will feel it most, but even
in dialogue scenes, you'll feel a bit of breath around the characters."
The same aesthetic prevailed in post-production when it came to finalizing
the action sequences, whether set in outer space or midtown Manhattan, according
to Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Phil Brennan (Logan, Snow White
and the Huntsman). "With the big fight sequence that takes place with the X-Men
using their superpowers among the general public in New York City, that was
something, we haven't seen much of in X-Men movies before-the way the general
public is affected," Brennan says. "It's a terrifying thing."
One of the most important tasks Brennan faced, however, was finalizing the
look for the so-called Phoenix effect, the light that radiates from Jean Grey's
skin as her otherworldly powers become dominant. "The Phoenix effect is really
something we spent a lot of time on trying to get right," Brennan says. "As we
progress through the film, the Phoenix effect shows up in many different forms
and many different levels of intensity. The first little hints of the Phoenix
effect are quite subtle. Toward the end of the film, when the Phoenix effect is
in full force, it's much, much bigger. It affects her skin, it affects her eyes,
it affects really all aspects of her emotions.
"It also affects the air around her quite considerably," Brennan continues.
"There are shock wave-type components. There are particle components. There are
smoke and fire and flames, of course-almost an internal lava effect. There are a
lot of pieces to it that come together to create the final Phoenix effect. But
it's all tied with Jean's emotion."
Adding to the undeniable impact of the film is Hans Zimmer's remarkable
score. The Oscar-winning composer's work lent immeasurably to DARK PHOENIX,
underlining the deep sense of unease at the heart of the story and helping to
send audiences out of the theater entertained and deeply affected by Jean Grey's
singular journey. "I love the way that he creates music that sometimes is almost
not music, it's just sound," Kinberg says of Zimmer. "It's not sweeping and
comfortable. It gets under your skin. It's really emotional when it wants to be
emotional, but without being sentimental. That was exactly what we needed for
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