Jean Grey has not always been met with the highest regard from the viewing or reading public. While the character’s popularity has not quite stooped to low levels of the cinematic Cyclops or Brett Ratner’s Juggernaut, she’s often regarded by fans (or nonetheless addicted detractors) of the movies, comics, and television series alike as a weaker construct — uninteresting, inconsistently competent, and prone to deaths that don’t quite stick. While Famke Janssen made for an effective supporting player in the first three X-Men films, what we need from our next iteration of the big screen Jean — the one we’ll see take the stage in X-Men: Apocalypse — is something a bit more empowered in its own right. A character who we can see headlining her own story. And casting is a big piece of that equation.
20th Century Fox has reportedly already constructed its short list of Jean Grey prospects. The actresses the studio has in mind will portray a younger version of the character than we’ve seen in Janssen; a la the James McAvoy to Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier, the Michael Fassbender to Ian McKellen’s Magneto, and the Jennifer Lawrence to Rebecca Romijn’s Mystique. The actresses that Fox has in mind are Chloe Grace Moretz, Elle Fanning, and Hailee Steinfeld. With names like these in the running, we can imagine that the powers that be are gunning for more than just a one-off appearance in the ensemble piece Apocalypse. While any one of them has the talent to exemplify a Jean worthwhile, let’s take a look at which one will give us the Jean that the X-Men film franchise needs.
CHLOE GRACE MORETZ
Since breaking out as Kick-Ass’ foulmouthed 11-year-old vigilante operating on the highest gears of bloodlust, Moretz has done a good deal in the interest of softening her image. She starred in Martin Scorsese’s sole family friendly picture Hugo, tried comedy alongside Keira Knightley in Laggies, and headlined this year’s YA travesty If I Stay. That said, her edge remains.
Even in her lighter roles, Moretz is defined by her bite. She’s played this for chills in Carrie, for laughs on 30 Rock, and for some combination of the two in a particularly memorable supporting turn in Clouds of Sils Maria. While Janssen’s Jean has been called out for her vacancy of teeth, Moretz has more than her mouth’s worth to invest in the character.
The younger Fanning, working her way up to prominence thanks to roles in Super 8 and Maleficent (and despite one in Twixt), would be expected to give a much gentler turn as Jean than Moretz might. This isn’t necessarily to the character’s impediment, though. What Moretz has to spare in kick, she tends to lack in vulnerability; softer films for the young star don’t often play with the same flavor that she incurs when being a bona fide badass.
Fanning, though, can certainly muster the pathos warranted from a superhero’s coming-of-age story, the story we might see in of after X-Men: Apocalypse. Her biggest role to date stands with Super 8, in which she juggled childlike sensitivity with good old fashion Amblin spunk. You can see this in her other movies as well: We Bought a Zoo, Young Ones, and even in her voice alone in The Boxtrolls. She might not be as fierce a Jean as Moretz, but she’d up the ante on an empathetic read.
If nothing else, let’s give Steinfeld this: she looks kinda like Famke Janssen. More so than either of her flaxen-haired, tiny-featured competitors here, anyhow. On top of that, Steinfeld might also carry herself, cinematically, in a style most similar to Janssen… though that doesn’t have to be a bad thing here, even if we are looking for an improvement on the Jean Grey character. Although Janssen’s Grey has always been underwritten, the actress didn’t exactly come to the table empty handed. The Jean Grey we’ve seen in the films so far prides herself on being tough. The kind of tough that Steinfeld is, especially in her breakout performance in True Grit.
This isn’t the same breed of tough we see in Moretz, who herself feels like a superhero armed with telekinetic powers. Steinfeld’s toughness is earthy, prickly, even a bit defensive. In True Grit, you feel as though she’s constantly on guard, as opposed to on the offense. It’s the sort of psyche that could perfectly construct a young woman learning just how powerful she is, and just how alone this might wind up making her.
And, again, the hair. It matches. That’s a bonus point.
No matter who we wind up with, the future of Jean Grey on the big screen is optimistic. As long as we have a strong, dense, and interesting character portrayed by an actress of merit, we can call any casting a win.
Images: 20th Century Fox; Getty (3)