Dark Phoenix doesn’t seem to have any overt connections to New Mutants, the only other remaining mutant movie in 20th Century Fox’s X-Men universe, but a confusing jumble of casting news over the last year could have direct connections to Jean Grey. It might even explain how the X-Men could one day be integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Dark Phoenix includes a flashback to a young Jean Grey riding in the back seat of her parents’ station wagon with her mother driving. Horror fans might recognize Jean’s mother Elaine Grey as actress Hannah Emily Anderson, who plays Jenna Bettencourt in USA’s The Purge TV show. Ever since the first Dark Phoenix teaser trailer released in September, we’ve known that this character dies in a car crash when Jean Grey is still a little girl. That happens sometime in the mid-1970s, after Days of Future Past but before Apocalypse when Sophie Turner first played the role.
When casting for The Purge was first announced back in April 2018 via trade publications like Deadline, Anderson was instead touted as having a role in — you guessed it — New Mutants.
“New Mutants I can’t talk about, unfortunately,” Anderson told Inverse during a set visit to The Purge in July 2018. “That’s super-secret.”
Her casting was public knowledge at the time, yet as of this writing, there’s no record on Hannah Emily Anderson’s IMDb page or anywhere else of her having a role in New Mutants. Anderson’s role in Dark Phoenix wasn’t made public until somewhat recently. Is the explanation for this odd shuffle wrapped up in world-building cameo secrecy?
New Mutants director Josh Boone confirmed in October 2017 — shortly after the first teaser trailer was released — that New Mutants takes place in the present day. To overanalyze the confusing X-Men timeline, New Mutants takes place at least 20 years after Dark Phoenix, which is set sometime in the 1990s.
Why would the same actress who plays Jean Grey’s mother in the 1970s of Dark Phoenix also have a role in New Mutants 50 years later in the same universe?
Did things change behind the scenes with Anderson’s role as New Mutants faced production issues amidst the Disney-Fox merger? (Reshoots are happening later this year.) Was Anderson recast with a different actor at some point?
One potential explanation for all this mystery is that Anderson might have a secret cameo in New Mutants as an older Jean Grey long after the events of Dark Phoenix. This would be an odd choice, especially because Anderson is only 6 years older than Sophie Turner, but it could have been part of 20th Century Fox’s plans to continue making X-Men movies — before Disney bought the company and announced plans to reboot the franchise. It also seems possible that Anderson reprises the role of Elaine Grey somehow via flashback or some other weird comics-inspired mechanic.
A third, far more exciting possibility is that Fox had plans to also cast Anderson to play a new host for the Phoenix Force. Could she be Rachel Summers, the daughter of Jean Grey and Cyclops from an alternate reality in the comics?
She might even be Hope Summers, another viable host for the Phoenix Force who greatly resembles Jean Grey, and is coincidentally Jean’s adoptive granddaughter. (Things get even more complicated than that, but we’ll leave it here.)
Anderson playing Hope Summers would establish the framework through which the MCU could integrate not only the X-Men, but even Deadpool into the fold.
Remember how Cable carried around a Teddy Bear in Deadpool 2? In the comics, his actual name is Natham Summers — son of Scott Summers, aka Cyclops and a clone of Jean Grey. He traveled through time protecting Hope. She was an omega-level mutant and a borderline messiah figure in the Marvel universe who took his surname.
Her existence and potential as a new host for the Phoenix Force led to the comics crossover Avengers vs. X-Men. Doesn’t that just sound perfect for Marvel’s Phase 4?
Maybe the more mundane explanation for all of this is that 20th Century Fox changed Dark Phoenix and New Mutants so much over the past year that Anderson doesn’t appear at all in the latter, but it definitely feels possible that we’re looking at the secret seeds being planted for the X-Men’s integration into the MCU at some point in the future.
Edit: A previous version of this article mistakenly said that Hope Summers was the child of Jean Grey.
Dark Phoenix bursts into theaters Friday, June 7 with New Mutants scheduled for release on April 3, 2020.