[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.

The New Batman is Here, and He is Sparkly

Okay, okay, okay…

So we finally have an announcement as to who is taking up the mantle for the next entry in the Batman series, currently titled The Batman. The film, to be written and directed by Matt Reeves, is scheduled to begin production later this year for a September 2021 release.

The new Batman is Robert Pattinson.

The internet took it pretty well actually. No wait, I didn’t say that right. Let me correct…The internet lost its collective shit because the internet hates everything, and as I said about Game of Thrones recently, no one hates Batman casting picks as much as Batman fans do.

Early reports claimed that Reeves was searching for a younger Batman, and upon reading everything I’ve read about the film, I still believe it will be tangentially related to the larger DCEU, set some time before Batman looked like Ben Affleck. There will likely not be any reference to the larger DCEU, but that would be a smarter thing than forcing it in or confusing the general movie-going audience by adding another separate Batman franchise next to the standalone Joker movie and the DCEU proper. It’s just messy.

As far as Battinson (see what I did there?) goes, I’m rather excited. No, he wasn’t a very good sparkly vampire, but his work in the Twilight franchise was a decade ago, and he was working from a not-great screenplay and source material. Compare the Twilight books to the larger Batman comic books. If you agree that Batman’s source material is better, then you have to assume that a better screenplay and director at the helm can only help.

If you’ve seen Battinson in films like The Rover or Good Time, then you’ve seen a range that will separate him from his Twilight days quite effectively. Hell, he wasn’t half-bad in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

To put it simply, and to paraphrase Spongebob Squarepants’s thoughts on Krabby Patties, the only people who don’t like Battinson have never tried him.

I think I’ve made my point.

 

UPDATE: Just as this was set to be published, as with all news stories from DC, it appears there is more to this than previously thought. It would seem that Nicholas Hoult, known for his work as Beast in the X-Men films and also playing J.R.R. Tolkien in the new biopic, is also in the mix for Bruce Wayne/Batman. Now, I don’t have any funny nicknames for Hoult as with Battinson, so that’s one strike.

On the other hand, though, Hoult has proven himself time after time to be an excellent actor with a wide range similar to that of a Michael Keaton. Keaton was a controversial choice back in the 80s to play the Caped Crusader, but with turns from Beetlejuice to things like Mr. Mom, he proved he had the right mixture of professional acting and insanity, something I would argue Hoult also has. Don’t believe me? Check Mad Max: Fury Road to see that level of Let’s-Get-Nuts that a Keaton would have. There are indeed similarities.

So what it boils down to is that both of these choices would be inspired, and in Matt Reeves I trust, so whatever he decides, I’m down for the ride.

So what do you think? Who should play Bruce Wayne/Batman? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-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

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

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Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images.

 

X-Men: Apocalypse is proof that the internet will freak out about anything. When footage first debuted of Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) in costume as the villain En Sabah Nur, or Apocalypse, everyone started losing their minds over the look of the mutant, comparing him to Ivan Ooze of The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Movie fame. In the finished product, he looks and feels fine. The internet went crazy over nothing. They should have been worried about other problems that the film would actually have…

It’s been ten years since X-Men: Days of Future Past, and now, in 1983, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Wanted, Victor Frankenstein) has been running his school for gifted youngsters smoothly for years. With the assistance of Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult, Mad Max: Fury Road, Kill Your Friends), Charles has taken in countless young mutants like the brilliantly gifted Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, TV’s Game of Thrones, Barely Lethal). But when an ancient evil, En Sabah Nur (Isaac), rises in Egypt and threatens to cleanse the Earth and rebuild a better one, the young students of the school must band together to protect themselves and the world from total annihilation.

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Let’s start with what really works in Apocalypse. Once again, McAvoy and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds, Prometheus) play perfect foils to each other as Xavier and Erik Lensherr, respectively. It is Fassbender that truly shines as the sins of his past come back to haunt him and he is forced to confront his anger over the loss of his parents once and for all. I also really liked Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse. I think when seen in context, he does what he can with what he has to mold his performance. That isn’t to say that the villain is great, but that Isaac capably plays to what he can. I also liked the reemergence of Jean Grey, Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan, Mud, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

I, of course, have to call out the incredible one-upmanship from the previous film in the form of another terrific Quiksilver sequence featuring Evan Peters. This time around, the soundtrack updates and the effects come flying into the 1980s for an absolutely fascinating and fun action scene that steals the whole movie.

Since the shared universe hit a reboot with Days of Future Past, it’ll be interesting to see how certain events play out. Apocalypse hit on a few squandered moments from earlier in the franchise in a fairly stylish way, paying homage to the original comic books. It doesn’t always succeed in its attempt to right the wrongs, as the film creates a convoluted mess of some of the renewed elements. For example, it makes no mention of the ending to DOFP where we discover that Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games, Joy) is mimicking Stryker. Then, we get a new version of several characters who are strikingly different ages than they were in the previous timeline. Granted, this shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but it only seeks to the concerning question of whether this franchise has learned from its mistakes.

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Then there’s the big conundrum of setting this film in the 1980s. In doing so, I didn’t feel a lot of tension for the Earth-shattering destruction as I was fully aware that we saw present day at the end of DOFP and in this year’s Deadpool, both of which exist in the new timeline. Again, small complaints perhaps, but bothersome nonetheless.

But what I really didn’t like about the film was that in creating a new unique villain, director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, Jack the Giant Slayer) didn’t really give us one worth fearing. I mentioned earlier that I liked Oscar Isaac as En Sabah Nur, but he is given virtually no character building other than dialogue in the film. Singer removed the space entity treatment of the character to focus on the religious connotations, but he ended up creating a flat villain to place the burden of the film on. I would have liked to have known what Apocalypse was capable of. He mostly just threw stuff around the screen and created lovely debris tornados. His horseman are further treated with no imagination. Magneto and perhaps Storm are the only one pitched with any realy interest. Angel and Psylocke (Olivia Munn, Magic Mike, Zoolander 2) were virtually wasted, Munn being perfectly miscast and her character extremely mishandled. If Psylocke was meant to usher in an X-Force film down the line, I’m more than a little concerned.

I won’t even really go into detail on the dismal work of Jennifer Lawrence because I feel like so many others have already mentioned her lack of trying. It appears like Lawrence is having blockbuster fatigue after finishing The Hunger Games last year. She spends no time in her costume, presumably from something in her contract, which ultimately leaves Mystique in a rather uninteresting situation.

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There’s a throwaway reference in the film when the young mutants are exiting a showing of Return of the Jedi. They remark how the second film is often the best and the third is often the worst. It is seen as a reference to the disappointing reviews from critics and viewers of X-Men: The Last Stand back in 2006, a film Singer left to pursue Superman Returns. It seems like a bad idea to put a joke like that in a film that is essentially the final piece of a trilogy started with First Class and DOFP, especially when considering that next year the Wolverine trilogy is also coming to an end. Apocalypse clearly proves the joke to be true here, and fans can only hope that the minds behind this uneven franchise can learn and right the ship in time for Hugh Jackman’s last outing in the series in next year’s Wolverine 3.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen X-Men: Apocalypse? What did you think? And we have seen four of the six big superhero releases of the year (the other three being Deadpool, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Captain America: Civil War). Which one is your favorite? Let me know!

 

 

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 Tim Miller’s Deadpool, click here.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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Director: George Miller

Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoe Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton

Screenplay: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris

120 mins. Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images.

iMDB Top 250: #68 (as of 7/10/2015)

 

How often does a film get a good sequel 36 years after its initial release? Not often. That’s the answer, and it was my worry when I heard that Mad Max would be continuing the franchise with a fourth installment, Mad Max: Fury Road featuring a new Max in Tom Hardy (Inception, Child 44). In this new chapter, Max Rockatansky is captured and used as a blood bag by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, Moby Dick, Sleeping Beauty) and his War Boys. When the War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies, X-Men: Days of Future Past) takes Max along on his hunt for Joe’s missing wives, stolen from him by his Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, Prometheus, Dark Places), Max gets caught in a war on Fury Road and his alliances to only himself must be put into question.

APPROVED BY - SJE(Tom Hardy)

Director George Miller (Happy Feet, Babe: Pig in the City) proves that age is only a number as he controls the most high-octane action spectacle that I can recall in recent memory. His unique blend of story with nonstop action gives audiences a personal tale of freedom, redemption, and the ability to survive in a world without laws.

Tom Hardy is a great new Max. He doesn’t need to speak often to convey the complex emotions and depression that Max struggles from after the loss of his wife and child. His leadership struggle with new ally Furiosa, played excellently by Theron. Just like the previous films, this film isn’t entirely about Max. It’s a Furiosa movie all the way. Many have complained that the focus should be on Max, but what they should realize is that this series is rarely ever focused on Max. Each adventure is usually told as a legend from another’s perspective and in Fury Road, that perspective is Furiosa’s.

Hugh Keays-Byrne and Joe’s brides, including Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) and Zoe Kravitz (Divergent, Dope), all do great work as well, with a standout crazy performance from Nicholas Hoult as Nux.

The usage of 80% practical effects over computer-generated images helps create an astoundingly realistic yet overwhelmingly fantastical view of the apocalyptic landscape. The screenplay, a combination of sequences storyboarded and story written to format it, works so well. And then there is Miller’s reliance on trying new things, like hiring wife Margaret Sixel to edit the film. Sixel has no experience editing, but he entrusted her to use her novice skills to create something new and interesting, coupled beautifully with the furious score from Junkie XL.

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Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best times you will have at the theater this summer and contains some of the best action sequences ever put to the screen. Miller’s creative decision to devise something new rather than fall back on remakes and rehashes helps to bring in fans of the original while attracting new attention from non-fans.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of George Miller’s Mad Max, click here.

 

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