‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ Villain Lilandra Explained: Get to Know the ‘Apocalypse’ Sequel’s Antagonist

Taking a page from Guardians of the Galaxy, the X-Men will be heading into outer space for their next big adventure. Simon Kinberg, long time producer and screenwriter on the X-Men franchise, will be directing and writing the next installment of Fox’s mutant-focused series, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, which will see the extraterrestrial force known as the Phoenix possess Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) once again. Jessica Chastain, of Zero Dark Thirty and The Martian fame, is currently in talks to play an instrumental (and villainous) role from the original comic book series, the Empress Lilandra. Needless to say, this certainly seems like a departure from the more down to earth adventures of the X-Men we have been used to seeing on the big screen, exchanging those for a more space-voyaging adventure. Lilandra has had a significant role to play in the X-Men’s history along the line, so it’s no surprise that she’s finally breaking through from the comic page to the silver screen in the follow up to last year’s X-Men Apocalypse.

The Shi’ar

Lilandra herself is not a mutant, but it’s important to understand her relationship with the X-Men considering how both her and her race the Shi’ar have had such an influential role on the team. Originally created by comic legends Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum, Lilandra Neramani first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #97 in 1976. Her first appearances were as visions to Charles Xavier, as she was able to communicate telepathically with him in an effort to stop her power hungry, mad brother, D’Ken from ruling the Sh’iar empire. The irony being that once Lilandra was able to gain the assistance of the X-Men in defeating her brother and taking the throne, she had to turn against them in order to attack Jean Grey who had become corrupted by the power of the Phoenix. Using her powers to satiate a “thirst for life” that involved eating entire planets, Jean became the “Dark Phoenix” and Lilandra was forced to attempt to take her life by using her royal guard, The Imperial Guard.

Jean Grey sacrificed herself in order to stop her evil side from re-emerging, but her death created a wedge between Xavier and Lilandra who had become quite fond of one another by that point. Lilandra would call on the X-Men’s help once again in attempting to stop a coup to her throne from her sister, Deathbird. Lilandra had a number of evil siblings but much like D’Ken, the X-Men, along with a space faring group much like the Guardians of the Galaxy named the Starjammers, managed to help her stay on the throne. As with many other comic characters, Lilandra would bounce around quite often, sometimes interacting with other Marvel heroes such as the Fantastic Four when they were dealing with an extraterrestrial threat. Unfortunately, Lilandra herself is no longer in the land of the comic book living as she was assassinated during the storyline the “War of Kings”, which involved the Guardians of the Galaxy and the lesser known character, Darkhawk, wherein she died in the arms of her most trusted bodyguard, Gladiator. With her dying breath, she gave the empire over to the mohawked “superman” and faded into comic book limbo, awaiting the much often used resurrection storyline that comics employ so often.

Imperial Guardians of the Galaxy

As mentioned earlier, Lilandra herself isn’t a mutant, and despite her alien race and strange hair, she has no real powers to speak of. Her Imperial Guard however is bursting with super-powered individuals who routinely give the X-Men a run for their money. Made up of dozens of alien races that serve at the behest of the Sh’iar Empire, the ragtag group of juggernauts are led by Gladiator. Think of Gladiator as a powerhouse that could give Superman a run for his money, and while he may have a similar set of powers as the Last Son of Krypton, his source of said abilities is wildly different. Whereas Clark Kent is powered by the Earth’s yellow sun, Gladiator is only as powerful as his confidence is in himself. That’s right, the more unsure of himself he becomes, the weaker that Gladiator is. It’s a strange source for a character’s powers but it is original and sets him apart from a lot of the other Marvel characters to be certain. It’s pretty much a certainty that if Lilandra is slated to be in Dark Phoenix, then Gladiator won’t be far behind.

Aside from their purple skinned leader, the rest of the Imperial Guard’s powers vary wildly. There’s Mentor, who acts as the “big brain” of the team that looks similar to the DC villain Braniac. There’s Titan, an alien who has the ability to grow much like Ant-Man. Also, there’s Fang, who is somewhat like the team’s Wolverine in that he has a rabid personality with powers to match. Perhaps the most recognizable Imperial Guard member aside from Gladiator is Oracle, an alien that has telepathic abilities that were used to match against Jean Grey when they were fighting for her life. I’ve barely touched the surface in terms of the members that make up the Imperial Guard, as there are dozens, but from here you get the idea that they are a force to be reckoned with and would make for outstanding antagonists in the new film should they appear.

Lilandra, Camera, Action!

So, this upcoming film would technically be the second Dark Phoenix movie that we’ve had, as the third standalone X-Men movie X-Men: The Last Stand (co-written by Kinberg) also tackled this storyline—although that film lost its director Matthew Vaughn at the last minute and went through a number of production issues, leading to a murky telling fo the Dark Phoenix story at best. Outside of the comics, most people will remember the Phoenix saga from the 1990’s Fox X-Men animated series wherein the events played very similar to its “funny book” origins. Jean Grey didn’t really “die” in the animated series in the same way that she did in the comics, as she was later resurrected, but the events played out along the same lines with different characters in the mix. Definitely some heavy stuff for a Saturday morning cartoon show to be sure.

With Lilandra appearing in the upcoming film, her role has been listed as that of an “antagonist” which is interesting because she’s not so much a villain as someone that is simply at odds with the X-Men. In her mind and in her experience, Jean Grey as the Phoenix is a threat to everything that is alive in the universe. It makes for an interesting thought experiment as an audience member, deciding which side you should be on. Is it worth killing Jean Grey in order to save the lives of potential billions or do you side with the X-Men in that she should be given a shot at redemption in order to control her powers? Lilandra is an interesting, multi-layered character within the X-Universe and her introduction to extraterrestrial elements is the kick in the pants that the X-Men need—aside from Deadpool.

Jessica Chastain, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan set (Photo : Shayne Laverdière).

Image via 20th Century Fox

Image via Marvel Comics

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