X -Men: Dark Phoenix is the 12th and final instalment in the popular superhero franchise and tells the story of Jean Grey’s transformation from a gifted mutant into a force to be reckoned with. The film – a highly-anticipated finale that’s been more than two decades in the making – is rumoured to be the most radical X-Men film ever made.
Written and directed by Simon Kinberg, the film stars Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner as the iconic Jean Grey, with Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence reprising her role as the blue-skinned Mystique and James McAvoy taking on the role of Charles Xavier once more. The star-studded ensemble cast also includes Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, and Jessica Chastain.
While most superhero films rely on the use of green screens and other special effects to produce fantastical scenes, producer Simon Kinberg wanted to give Dark Phoenix added authenticity by using real sets whenever possible.
“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 … the audience also [gets to] feel the story in a more immediate, real way,” said Kinberg.
“Simon said that the more real a world it can be, the better it is for the story,” added Producer Todd Hallowell. “We’ve tried to approach it that way, and that has had an effect on the production design, costume design, props – everything.”
Among other things, set designer Claude Paré was tasked with constructing the neighbourhood where Jean lived as a child.
“One of my favourite sets is Jean’s neighbourhood,” said Kinberg. “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 gardens look like and what toys or trash would be around their houses.”
The whole set, Paré said, was built from scratch. “We started with a field of gravel and created a neighbourhood that is very lower- middle class. I wanted to put a bridge in there to show that people drive by, but they don’t stop there. All the houses were pre-built in the shop, and we assembled them on site.”
Another noteworthy prop was a helicopter that was suspended from a cable and held up in the air by cranes – which were digitally erased from the frame in post-production.
“There was a real chopper on the ground, spinning,” Kinberg said. “The crazier thing is that the chopper that Fassbender and Turner are fighting over, that is dipping and moving back and forth? That was also a real chopper. They were interacting with a real helicopter, with men jumping into it. Sometimes, it was within [three metres] of Fassbender. That’s all real.”
While the production team were able to control almost every aspect of these sets, and even “blow things up” if needed, certain things were still out of their hands.
“There’s a moment where Fassbender comes into the embassy and the train carriage comes crashing in behind him. That is all real,” Kinberg explained. “That train is on a rig – it’s a real subway carriage that is coming at a pretty fast speed right behind him, with the wall exploding behind him.
“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. Fassbender did not flinch or even blink. And thank God he didn’t, because we only had one take of that.”