[Early Review] Dark Phoenix (2019)

Director: Simon Kinberg

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg

113 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language.

 

Dark Phoenix may very likely be the last installment of this iteration of the X-Men franchise. We may never see The New Mutants, so this is our swan song, or Phoenix song, to the franchise. It’s almost fitting that it’s the first installment to be directed by longtime franchise writer Simon Kinberg, but is he able to send out this franchise on a high note?

It’s 1992, and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Split, Sherlock Gnomes) has aged remarkably well (seriously, trace the amount of time spanned between First Class and now), and his work with human/mutant relations have made him a bit of a mutant celebrity among politicians. His team of X-Men, led by Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games, Red Sparrow) have saved countless lives. When he sends them on an outer-space mission to save some stranded astronauts from a deadly solar flare, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, Josie, TV’s Game of Thrones) is caught in the trajectory of the flare and should have been killed, but when they return her to Earth, she appears fine. At least, for a little bit. They soon learn that something is very wrong with Jean. She is unable to control her power, which has spiked significantly since her incident in space, and secrets from her and Charles’s past are coming back to haunt them both. Now, the X-Men face their greatest threat in one of their own, and it’s a fight they may not walk away from.

Reviews are hitting Dark Phoenix pretty hard, and the signs have been clear for some time that this was not going to be the big explosive finale to the Fox X-Men Saga (an entire year of pushbacks do not exactly inspire confidence, even if there was good reason), but I think the backlash is a little excessive. Dark Phoenix is not a bad X-Men movie. The biggest problem is that it’s somewhat soulless. It doesn’t really make me feel one way or the other. In a way, it feels like Kinberg and Fox dug themselves into a hole by redoing the Dark Phoenix Saga, a storyline we’d seen played out on the big screen in X-Men: The Last Stand. If you’re going to do redo a storyline that you’ve already covered in the same franchise, you better make it damn good. It can’t be just okay; it needs to show the audience why redoing it was the right call, and while Dark Phoenix is a better film and a better version of the story than The Last Stand, it still isn’t that much better. It’s a perfectly okay film.

The movie just lacks a lot of soul. The only area where its style really works is in its score from Hans Zimmer (who came out of superhero score retirement for this film), and he crafted a score that feels very apocalyptic and sets the tone of the film more separate from the extravagant scores of the previous X-Men films. Other than his music, there just isn’t anything of flair to the film. Things just happen, and plot points don’t feel very surprising or shocking. Things just happen. The best part of the film happens to be the finale, something was entirely reshot and revamped during the reshoots. It’s an excellent-looking action set piece but again, it lacks enough story at that point.

McAvoy and Fassbender do just fine with the material given to them, as does Sophie Turner, coming off Game of Thrones, as Jean Grey. It’s nice to see her get some major screen time here, but again, her scenes lack narrative tone. I also have to mention Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, Tolkien), who has the best scene in the film in a deeply emotional conversation in the kitchen. On the flipside, it was quite obvious that Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t give a shit about this franchise anymore (it was quite obvious in X-Men: Apocalypse), and it’s all the more apparent in this installment. With that, Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Molly’s Game) is utterly wasted in the film as Vuk, a shapeshifting alien who, along with her cohorts, are essentially plot devices. It’s too bad, because, again, if you’re going to get Jessica Chastain, give her something to do. I feel as though Vuk is an overly-complicated villain without any backstory or reason for being in the film, somewhat of a paradox.

From all that, though, the stars of the film being McAvoy, Fassbender, and Turner, I got enough enjoyment from this installment to give it a “meh” as a recommendation. It’s neither good nor bad, but for fans of the X-Men franchise, there should be enough enjoyment in Dark Phoenix. We should also remember that, if one is marathoning the X-Men series chronologically, then Logan comes last, which is a blessing, because Logan is a far better finale to this hit-or-miss series than Dark Phoenix.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United, click here.

For my review of Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, click here.

For my review of James Mangold’s The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse, click here.

For my review of Tim Miller’s Deadpool, click here.

For my review of David Leitch’s Deadpool 2, click here.

For my review of James Mangold’s Logan, click here.

A Dog’s Way Home (2019)

Director: Charles Martin Smith

Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Ashley Judd, Jonah Hauer-King, Alexandra Shipp, Wes Studi, Edward James Olmos, Chris Bauer

Screenplay: W. Bruce Campbell, Cathryn Michon

96 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements, some peril and language.

 

This is A Dog’s Way Home, a movie with a dog as its main character and the whole film is narrated by the dog. No, you’re thinking of A Dog’s Purpose. That came out two years ago. This is different. No, it’s not the sequel either. That’s A Dog’s Journey, which sounds exactly the same but it’s different. No,really.

Bella (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World, Gold) is a dog that has spent her whole time as a puppy raised by cats in the wreckage of an old home. That is, until she meets Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King, Ashes in the Snow, Old Boys), a nice young human who works at the VA hospital where his mother Terri (Ashley Judd, Double Jeopardy, Allegiant) spends much of her day. Bella quickly becomes a member of the family until a law in Denver forces Lucas and his mother to move to a smaller suburb in order to keep Bella. Bella doesn’t understand this as she is sent to New Mexico for a few days while the move takes place. She believes that Lucas needs her and she runs away toward Denver to find him, 400 miles away.

I really had very little interest in A Dog’s Way Home after seeing the trailer. I felt like the entirety of the movie was given away. Then again, the title and the expectations of a film like this would lead one to believe that they know how the story is going to go, and they are pretty much right. There isn’t anything shocking or unexpected in this film, and for most people, that’s going to be fine.

I felt as though this is a film of two halves. The first half of the film revolves around Bella’s relationship with her human Lucas and his mother Terri. That’s where the film finds its heart. I found myself won over by the relationship and love in this family dynamic. It mostly works except for a few truly groan-worthy moments like the one featured in the trailer where Terri and the others at the VA hospital hide Bella in a couch so that the doctor doesn’t find out. Yeah, not everything works in the first half, but more of it than I expected actually did.

The second half of the film is where the title comes into play. Bella ends up 400 miles from home and does everything in her power to find her way back to Denver. This is where the film struggles. The most blatant problem with the latter half of the film is that Bella’s wanderings seem so happenstance and uninteresting. They all seem like things that I would have guessed to happen without even seeing the film, as though they were a checklist of things that missing dogs have to accomplish to find their way to home.

There’s one exception to the clichés of the film’s second half, and it’s the newly formed relationship between Bella and an orphaned baby mountain lion, which she called Big Kitten. The problem with this character is that the CGI in the film is atrocious, and, Big Kitten being a completely CG character, it pulled me out of the film completely whenever Bella and Big Kitten were together. If a film cannot afford to do good CGI, then they just shouldn’t use CGI. Do a script rewrite and move past it. A Dog’s Way Home swings for the fences with Big Kitten, but it just doesn’t work due to shoddy CGI.

I also believe that A Dog’s Way Home could stand better with a different title. Yes, I understand that it’s the name of the book this film is based on, but I think there’s some confusion about this being a sequel to A Dog’s Purpose, especially with the upcoming sequel to that film, A Dog’s Journey, hitting theaters this year. I think it would positively impact the film’s box office if it stands aside from those films.

A Dog’s Way Home is flawed, yes, but it still contains enough light fluffy warmth to make it an enjoyable family film to start off 2019. It was better than my expectations for it (though I expected garbage), and I think it has an audience among families and dog lovers. If you thought the trailers looked good, I think you will find something to like in A Dog’s Way Home.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Simon Kinberg to Direct X-Men: Dark Phoenix; Jessica Chastain in Talks to Play Villain

Simon Kinberg will finally get his opportunity to sit in the director’s chair on a new installment of the X-Men Universe. X-Men: Dark Phoenix will reunite Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Tye Sheridan, all from X-Men: Apocalypse.

The film will of course adapt the beloved Dark Phoenix saga focused around Jean Grey. For fans, this is both exciting and also a touchy subject, as many still hold the wounds of X-Men: The Last Stand, co-written by Kinberg himself, the botched first attempt to adapt the material. Thanks to the events of altering the timeline in X-Men: Days of Future Past, we now have an opportunity to right the wrongs.

And not only that! The amazing and truly talented Jessica Chastain is in talks to play a villain! I absolutely adore Chastain (and yes, I have a boy crush, deal with it) and the work she puts out is consistenly incredible, but she isn’t known for her franchise or genre work, so I’m very excited to see Chastain join the iconic ranks of incredible actors playing X-Men villains (Ian McKellan, Brian Cox, Kevin Bacon, Peter Dinklage, and Oscar Isaac).

But is Kinberg the right move here? I’m not really sure. As I said before, the franchise has already ruined this story arc before, from a script partially written by Kinberg. Granted, we all know there was studio interference and also Brett Ratner behind the lens, but has Kinberg shown capabilities to prove he’s worth the risk? At this point, I don’t think so.

That being said, I’m all for the addition of Chastain to the franchise.

So what do you think? Is Simon Kinberg the right choice to direct X-Men: Dark Phoenix? And what do you think about the possible addition of Jessica Chastain? Let me know/Drop a comment below.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix rises in cinemas in 2018.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

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