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Another X-Men: Dark Phoenix Test Screening Bombs

Things aren't looking so bright for Dark Phoenix

The sequel to 2016's X-Men: ApocalypseDark Phoenix is finally nearing its June 7 launch after stumbling through multiple delays and an in-depth round of reshoots. Sadly, Dark Phoenix's unlucky streak isn't over just because its production woes are. The most recent Dark Phoenix-related news spells even more trouble, serving as what could be a fatal blow for the flick. 

According to TheDisInsider editor in chief and That Hashtag Show writer Skyler Shuler, studio 20th Century Fox recently held yet another test screening for Dark Phoenix to collect audience's reactions and gauge how well the film might do upon its wide theatrical release this summer. What Fox likely hoped would be a successful pre-premiere showing apparently turned out disastrous, as the screening is said to have completely bombed. This is now the third Dark Phoenix test showing that has garnered an unsavory response from viewers. 

"Another X-Men: Dark Phoenix test screening, and guess what? I now have talked to 6 people who all went to 3 different test screenings and all of them have told me the screenings were BAD," Shuler shared on Twitter. 

His tweet elicited a response from a fan who attended one such Dark Phoenix screening. They detailed that "everybody LAUGHED SO HARD in a scene supposed to be so serious," to which Shuler replied, "I think I know what scene you're referring to."

Earlier this month, Shuler relayed that Dark Phoenix was shaping up to earn a spot in the lower echelon of Fox's superhero films, right alongside the slapped-together, incoherent, "unmitigated ... dumpster fire dressed as a movie" that was Fantastic Four — the critical failure from 2015 that was so universally hated, it sank any chances of a Fantastic Four reboot series happening at Fox.

"Based on what I have heard, this movie cold [sic] be Fant4stic level BAD," tweeted Shuler. 

The very first crummy Dark Phoenix test screening apparently took place sometime before March 2018, as that's when Collider published an exclusive report claiming that writer-director Simon Kinberg and Fox executives had screened Dark Phoenix for a test audience "to see what was working and what wasn't," and that the response to the movie pushed the Dark Phoenix team to delay the movie's release and order additional photography. 

Filmmakers going through with reshoots doesn't always indicate poor test screening response, but ScreenRant reported at the time that "Dark Phoenix's delay has been heavily influenced by reshoots in response to test screenings." Metro UK followed up in September 2018 that the reshoots were a direct rejoinder to "devastating test screening reactions."

Since assembling the cast — which includes several A-listers such as Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, and Nicholas Hoult as Beast, among several others — for reshoots proved difficult and left Fox with no other choice but to conduct the extra filming sessions in the fall of 2018, the studio decided to push Dark Phoenix from its intended November 2018 launch to a February 14, 2019 one. 

Reshoots reportedly began on August 31, 2018 (but may not have wrapped before Fox rolled out the first trailer for Dark Phoenix at the end of September). That footage revealed that Dark Phoenix had been delayed a second time — moving from Valentine's Day 2019 to June 7, its current and unlikely-to-change debut date. 

So, what exactly was shown at the first Dark Phoenix test screening that sparked such an intense response? What aspect of the story did Kinberg and co. realize needed serious overhauling after the reported crash-and-burn showing? Apparently, there were a number of things wrong with the early cut of Dark Phoenix, but a major character death and moments that were seemingly plucked directly from 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand were the worst among them. 

A Reddit user who claims to have attended the initial test screening in California shared in various comments on a since-deleted thread that – potential spoiler alert — Mystique dies in the film and that Dark Phoenix repeats sequences from X-Men: The Last Stand.

"I want to make sure that this is clear — I am talking about the cut of the movie I saw. Things could still get tweaked here and there. But I do believe some things won't change. What can't change is the movie being really underwhelming. Really lower your expectations because this one is not good. Mystique dies. They repeat moments from X3 I kid you not," the user wrote

They added that Dark Phoenix re-uses a scene between Jean and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) in which Jean tells him, "Take off the glasses and kiss me; I can control your eyes." Additionally, Dark Phoenix is said to feature Professor X picking up a young Jean (again), Jean nearly killing him by "levitating him and dissolving him" (again), and Magneto becoming "an opposing force" and facing off against Charles' team (again). 

"It's funny because before their fight begins and Charles is trying to talk him out of it Magneto goes like 'every time we do this it's the same thing over again" — something along those lines," the user shared in another comment.

It wasn't long after these details leaked that other Reddit users argued that the original poster "created an account and sent fake spoilers/leaks ... trying to discredit other bloggers because he wants to be 'the only legit source.'" However, a lot of what the user dished up post-test screening proved true in the Dark Phoenix trailer — which teased a young Jean Grey, Charles Xavier taking Jean in after her parents die in a terrible car crash, a morally gray Charles doing some shady things and withholding important information while training Jean at his school, Magneto confronting Charles about his role in Jean's transformation into the Dark Phoenix, and the X-Men crew standing over a freshly covered grave. 

As Regan Okey, the social media editor at ShortList, noted in September 2018 when Fox unveiled the first look at Dark Phoenix, "Oh God, the Dark Phoenix trailer has basically confirmed that the (really bad) plot leak from a few months ago was pretty accurate ... Also, killing Mystique off for absolutely no reason other than to make Beast temporarily join Magneto, ONLY TO THEN GO BACK TO THE X-MEN AFTERWARDS is RIDICULOUS?????? WHY BOTHER??????"

Piecing together the production timeline, it looks as though Fox conducted the second test screening for Dark Phoenix after releasing the first trailer, holding it at the tail end of 2018 or the tippy-top of 2019. The studio presumably showed to audiences in attendance the reworked cut that implemented footage captured during reshoots. Entertainment industry professionals began discussing another Dark Phoenix showing during the first few days of January, but sadly, their words weren't happy ones — and they didn't offer much hope that the reshoots fixed the sore spots of the story. 

Freelance film journalist Christopher Marc tweeted on January 2, "A main character was killed-off in a large 2019 movie and the audience in the early screening laughed. It wasn't meant to be funny." Many took this to be a thinly veiled reference to Mystique's death in Dark Phoenix.  

Thomas Polito of Geeks WorldWide had a more explicit response to what he apparently saw at the second Dark Phoenix test screening: he tweeted a GIF of New Girl character Schmidt gagging, writing in the caption, "#DarkPhoenix." 

KC Walsh, also from Geeks WorldWidebacked up this reaction, posting on Twitter in early January, "I would set expectations extremely low for #DarkPhoenix ... it could take the top spot for worst of the franchise." 

In all, this sounds pretty terrible for Dark Phoenix, particularly since Kinberg and Fox have spent so much time (and money) trying to make the film as great as it can be. Normally, test screenings only tell half of the story — like in the case of Deadpool 2, which reportedly tested poorly in initial screenings, conducted some reshoots, and then won over fans and critics to become one of the best superhero movies of 2018. Sadly, it doesn't seem like the same sequence of events will play out for Dark Phoenix, considering the film has evidently been testing consistently negatively even after extensive reshoots.

If Dark Phoenix is as rough as test screening attendees say it is, it would be a sad way for the X-Men franchise to go out before the characters shuffle over to the Marvel Studios wing of the Walt Disney Company, which acquired most of 20th Century Fox's assets in a multi-billion-dollar merger in 2018. Hopefully there is still some good to be found in Dark Phoenix, and that the film will be as "powerful" and "dramatic" as star Evan Peters once promised it will be — for the right reasons, of course.