Ever since the Fox merger earlier this spring – part of Disney’s ongoing quest to buy up every franchise in Hollywood – comic fans have been eagerly awaiting the day when their favourite mutants can become an official part of the MCU. Before we can get to that though, there’s still one more installment left in the original X-Men franchise. (Or I guess, two, assuming New Mutants ever actually comes out…)
That’d be Dark Phoenix, which sees writer/director Simon Kinberg getting another shot at the Jean Grey-goes-full-Daenerys storyline that he co-wrote for X-Men: The Last Stand – a movie that got such bad reviews, it’s what led to the current reboot in the first place.
And it’s actually… not terrible? At least if we’re comparing it to the nearly-franchise-destroying disaster that was X-Men: Apocalypse. All in all, it’s a decent-enough final chapter as the First Class cast plays out the string following a messy two decades of lesser sequels, botched prequels, spinoffs, a full reboot, plus a brand-new Frankenstein’s monster Hollywood dubbed “in-between-quels.” (And also Logan, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.)
But what happens to these new X-Men when creative control gets handed over to Marvel? It stands to reason we’ll see another full-scale teardown with a whole new set of actors. But what this article presupposes is… maybe they shouldn’t recast all of the them? We came up with the following power ranking to determine which, if any, of the Dark Phoenix cast deserves to have their contract renewed, pesky things like continuity and canon be damned. Because let’s be real: it’s not like that kind of thing’s ever mattered to this series before.
**Mild Dark Phoenix spoilers below.**
12. Andrew Stehlin as Ariki
11. Kota Eberhardt as Selene Gallio
TBH, I didn’t know these two characters even had names until I looked them up on IMDB. That’s because they’re mostly just on hand to get tossed around by (in no particular order): the considerably more A-list X-Men, ‘roid rage Jean Grey, some extremely T-1000-looking aliens, and government bad guys wearing “MCU” patches (which I’m sure just stands for “Mutant Control Unit” and was a total coincidence, right guys?).
Still, a dude with weaponized dreadlocks (no, really) and a woman whose mutant powers appear to be acting as a psychic radio and glowering super hard don’t exactly strike me as the most consequential mutants. Go ahead and reshuffle the deck on these two, Marvel.
10. Nicholas Hoult as Beast
Early on in Dark Phoenix, Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven literally tells Hoult’s Hank McCoy, “It’s time to move on.” She’s not wrong. Maybe it’s just that I’m still partial to the Frasier version (I mean, come on), but Hoult’s steadfastly remained equally unconvincing whether he’s roaring covered in blue fur or dropping very Movie Scientist lines like “I’ve never seen a power reading like this before.” Woof.
9. Halston Sage as Dazzler
With apologies to the entire Internet – who immediately fan-cast Taylor Swift as the openly-mutant pop star/sentient lighting rig, Dazzler – the coveted role of “Singer who can make sparks fly out of her hands” eventually went to The Orville’s Halston Sage. The part’s more of a brief Easter Egg than anything substantial, which, actually, probably works in Sage’s favour going forward. Unless, of course, Swift’s schedule magically opens up.
8. Tye Sheridan as Cyclops
Ready Player One officially shot Sheridan into Next Big Thing orbit (when Spielberg vouches for you, it still counts for something). But it’s not going to happen playing Cyclops. Whereas James Marsden fully leaned into the character’s basic, Boy Scout persona, Sheridan does his best to fight it – he drinks, he parties in the woods with his girlfriend, he even *gasp* swears, snagging Dark Phoenix’s sole PG-13 eff bomb – and none of it works. My man’s still a total dork. Make no mistake: Sheridan could still go on to do big things. More X-Men movies just shouldn’t be one of them.
7. Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique
Somewhere along the line – like, say, halfway through Days of Future Past – it became abundantly clear to everyone involved that Jennifer Lawrence had become way too famous to spend 8+ hours a day in a makeup chair getting painted blue head-to-toe. And it feels like she’s been acting with one eye on the clock ever since. So it’s not just time to let Lawrence go – it was time to do that two movies ago.
…Which is why it would be so amazing if Marvel somehow figured out a way to keep her around anyway. Her disgruntled, extremely over-it interviews have made for better entertainment than every single one of the X-Men sequels combined.
6. Evan Peters as Quicksilver
This ranking’s less about Peters’ performance and more just sheer logistics. Pretty much everyone agrees that Peters’ Quicksilver was the best thing about Days of Future Past (and X-Men: Apocalypse), so it only makes sense that Kinberg would… [checks notes] essentially write him out of the entire second half of Dark Phoenix? Barring zero other logical explanations for benching the team’s most personable member, I’m assuming it must be to ready fans for the eventual Marvel handover – considering there’s already been a Quicksilver in the MCU, and… [checks notes again] he dead.
5. Alexandra Shipp as Storm
Shipp’s Storm doesn’t really stand out in Dark Phoenix, but it’s not her fault, considering the movie doesn’t ask much of her besides dispensing ice and a few clichéd words of advice. I don’t see any reason why she shouldn’t get another shot at this thing.
4. Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler
Alan Cumming’s Nightcrawler going HAM on the entire Secret Service in X2 is still one of the finest moments of the original X trilogy (so let’s watch it again, just because), and Smit-McPhee hasn’t been allowed to do anything even half as badass since being recast in the role. That is, until towards the end of Dark Phoenix, where he finally starts using his teleportation for something more than just being the X-Men equivalent of a Lyft, ferrying more important characters from Point A to Point B. And it’s every bit as awesome as you’d expect. He stay.
3. Sophie Turner as Jean Grey
Aside from the fact that her weirdly Southern(?)-tinged accent drops in and out more often than cell service in the subway, Turner actually makes for a pretty decent Jean. It’s the writing that lets her down here. Because it’s hard not to get distracted by just how much her entire Dark Phoenix arc is a low-key Captain Marvel ripoff: out on a mission with her beloved female mentor, she gets hit with a large burst of alien energy and absorbs it… somehow. Then tangles with a group of aliens whose home planet was destroyed, before learning how to control her newfound abilities, making her the most powerful being in the universe. Sound familiar? There’s even a recurring theme about them both being gaslit by the men in their life. And! They’re both set in the ’90s. And it’s a real shame too, because Turner’s Grey had the potential to be so much more than just the Hydrox to Brie Larson’s Oreos.
2. James McAvoy as Professor X
For as much as Dark Phoenix is ostensibly Jean Grey’s story, it’s actually McAvoy’s Professor X who gets the most interesting character arc. When we first see him, he’s clearly been drinking his own Kool-Aid – he’s got a direct line to the President in his office, and being feted at fancy dinners. Basically, making damn sure the entire world knows what the X in X-Men stands for. Oh, and he also totally gaslights a severely-traumatized 8-year-old. McAvoy plays him like kind of an asshole, is what I’m saying. And in doing so, continues to take the part from a one-note Patrick Stewart cover into surprisingly more compelling territory.
1. Michael Fassbender as Magneto
The wisest movie the X-Men reboot ever made was playing up on the “friends” part of the comic world’s most famous set of frenemies. That and casting legit actors – sorry, thespians – in McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Which is why even though Fassbender’s essentially just asked to grow some three-day scruff, dramatically dust off his old helmet, and make this “extremely-concentrating” face, it doesn’t matter. His Magneto can still get it. And by “get it,” I mean an immediate renewal on his four-picture deal.