If you're already suffering from Game of Thrones withdrawal symptoms on the small screen, you can at least catch one of the show's most popular stars on the big screen over the Eid break, when Sophie Turner, aka Sansa Stark, will take the lead as Jean Grey / Dark Phoenix in the latest X-Men adventure, Dark Phoenix.
Turner's first appearance in the franchise was in 2016's Apocalypse, though she had a fairly small supporting role in that film. This time around, she's very much centre-stage in a movie that is not just based around her own character's journey, but even named after her, making her the only X-Men character other than Wolverine to have a movie to herself in the 12-film franchise.
Hutch Parker, who has been producing the X-Men films since 2013's The Wolverine, explains that he and writer / director Simon Kinberg had decided that the time was right for a "less ensemble" entry in the franchise, and that a number of possibilities were under discussion.
A personal stake in the Dark Phoenix story
For Kinberg, however, there was a very personal reason for returning to the Dark Phoenix storyline from the comics. The scribe had been a co-writer on 2006's Last Stand, which had touched on the story, but came to be regarded as one of the low points in the franchise's history. Kinberg, it seems, may have had some demons to bury: "I know that one of the things that was driving his thinking was the most important story, or one of the most important for him, the Dark Phoenix saga," Parker explains.
"He felt like he had not done it justice in X3 [The Last Stand]. It was really a subplot in that movie and the Phoenix story was sort of captured briefly in that. So all of those things started to align to point to Dark Phoenix as the one that would answer all of those obligations and be the best fit for the next. Certainly for him I think it was a strong motivation."
For Turner, this means she'll not have much chance to drop out of the limelight of the much-debated ending to the most talked-about TV show in history, before she's straight back in it in the seventh-most successful movie franchise in the world.
Stark reality: Sophie Turner's straight back in at the deep end
Parker is sure of her abilities: "We had a lot of confidence based on having worked with her on Apocalypse, even though she didn't have much to do on Apocalypse," he says. "We got a very up close look at who she is as an actress and had a lot of confidence that this was something she could do. Simon had a conversation with her long before we were ready with a script or any of that stuff to kind of layout out for her, here's what we're thinking and here's what this would likely entail. It's a much more ambitious role than what we've done before so how are you feeling about that? She was all in right out of the gate, which was a great indication, and frankly never stopped."
Apocalypse saw Jean Grey make a brief appearance early on to hint at a developing romance with Cyclops, then pretty much disappears off screen until the final scenes when she helps her fellow X-Men save the world. This time around, she is transformed into asuper-being after an encounter with a solar flare. She begins to develop some decidedly unpleasant power cravings, and has a full-on breakdown while being hunted by her former companions.
Parker says Turner threw herself into the role with abandon: “She pretty much started researching, directly following that conversation, everything from facets of mental illness to addiction, behaviours that would manifest the sort of conflicts that she imagined Jean would be feeling,” he says. “It was sort of watching her, not grow up, but certainly come of age, in a way, as an actress, because it’s a really ambitious role and called on her to live in some very challenging places, and do it with some of the world’s best actors and actresses, which is certainly daunting. The confidence we all felt instinctively was rewarded pretty much immediately.”
After Endgame: Can X-Men still compete?
The film's timing could yet prove its most dangerous opponent. Coming so soon after the cinematic watershed that was the epic Avengers: Endgame, a challenge has now been thrown down to the entire industry to maintain that standard within the superhero genre.
Parker admits that, although this film went into production long before Endgame screened, the huge advances being made within the genre were a factor when it came to planning the next X-Men film: "[We were] starting to cast about for ideas that could be the next film and the criteria for that was pretty ambitious, not only because we wanted to do something special as the next X-Men, but also because so many of the movies around it from Marvel Studios, and from within Fox [such as] Deadpool and Logan had advanced the bar so far," he admits.
"We were mindful we really had to try and do something unique and special. So It was a little bit of gestation period of really kicking the tires and trying to think through different storylines before landing on Phoenix as the one the one that felt like it would be the best next story to tell."
Never mind the FX, here's emotional strife
Parker seems certain that audiences will agree they've stuck to that task successfully, not only in terms of spectacle and effects, but in terms of character and storytelling, too: "I do think there are more visual effects shots and I think there's more action then we've ever done, but we're using it differently," he explains. "We're using it really as a vessel for dramatising character as opposed to for spectacle for spectacle's sake, so we wanted to make sure that in the action, you felt the intimate character-based stakes of what was playing out emotionally, and that the action became kind of a lens through which to see that. But it's the dramatic moments that I'm most proud of.
"You know you're starting to scratch at deeper, richer themes that I think the action helps enhance, but the movie lives through that," he says. "Ultimately, it's all about earning the most profound emotional choice for Sophie as a character in the movie and one of the things I like most about the film is the action and the character-based storytelling."
X-Men: Dark Phoenix is in UAE cinemas from June 6