[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.

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.

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

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Director: Brett Ratner

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellan, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Rebecca Romijn, Shawn Ashmore, Aaron Stanford, Vinnie Jones, Patrick Stewart

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn

104 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language.

 

After X2: X-Men United, the superhero series was invigorated and raring to go again. Bryan Singer left to direct Superman Returns, so Brett Ratner took over the chair and creative control of the franchise. This has often been seen as a bad idea. Brett Ratner, not to be blunt, is terrible.

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It’s the story of the mutants dealing with the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, GoldenEye, Taken 3) in the previous film. Logan (Hugh Jackman, The Prestige, Prisoners) appears on the surface to have gotten over her death and has taken on a more important role within the school alongside Ororo Munroe (Halle Berry, TV’s Extant, Cloud Atlas). Meanwhile, Eric Lensherr (Ian McKellan, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Golden Compass) has been recruiting new mutants to join The Brotherhood in the fight against the government, which has created a new treatment or “cure” for mutants. Rogue (Anna Paquin, TV’s True Blood, The Piano) is interested in the cure, but her boyfriend Bobby (Shawn Ashmore, TV’s The Following, Frozen).

There a lot of moving plot points in this movie, but the script is far too weak to fully explore them all. There are multiple times when dialogue is unreal, too much exposition is given (or sometimes, not enough), and characters are doing things that betray their character traits.

The actors are trying to perform to a weak script, and most of them do as well as they can, but Brett Ratner focuses too much on trying to be a spectacle, often sacrificing character moments under piles of action. Now, the action is good, and leads to a solid climax which is handled nicely, but we have a conflict of style. On one hand, we have the previous film, which establishes a seriousness and a stake in what happens. On the other hand, we have a goofy style which pushes against and a more-comic-booky look to the film, something that was handled much better in the prequel X-Men: First Class.

While the climax is handled nicely, Ratner chooses to play down the denouement, which, considering this was supposed to be a closing of the trilogy, is what really kills this movie. We have so many plot threads untreated and ultimately unthreaded that it set the series up for several films of trying to fix the damage, before finally X-Men: Days of Future Past was able to do.

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This isn’t the worst X-Men movie of all time. That honor is currently held by X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but that doesn’t mean that this wasn’t an epic letdown from X2, and served to topple the franchise for a couple years.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of X-Men, click here.

For my review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

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Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, Shawn Ashmore

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg

131 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language.

 

Wow, we have a lot to cover here. If you aren’t big on comics or superhero movies, let me catch you up on this real quick. Days of Future Past is pretty much one of the biggest and most important arcs in the entire X-Men series, and now its a movie.

Okay, so real quick, I will be discussing spoilers about previous X-Men films here as it is really the only way to properly review Days of Future Past. Okay? Begin…

 

Alright, let me catch you up to speed here. It is the future (the film doesn’t designate what year, but I’m told through interviews with the filmmakers that it is roughly 2023). Mutants have been mostly captured or killed off and there are precious few left fighting for their freedom against robotic beings called the Sentinels that the government has unleashed on the mutant population. According to the series chronology:

1. & 2. X-Men Origins & First Class (technically First Class exists within the large reach of Origins)

3. X-Men

4. X2: X-Men United

5. The Last Stand

6. The Wolverine

7. Days of Future Past

 

Okay, so it comes down to this. Wolverine was intercepted by Magneto and a somehow still alive Professor X at the end of The Wolverine. He is told that he is needed and that the war they all feared is here. In the past, Raven/Mystique killed a man named Bolivar Trask, who is responsible for creating the Sentinel program. Yes, the Sentinels were previously seen at the beginning of The Last Stand. Wolverine joins together with Xavier, Magneto, Storm, Kitty Pryde, and Iceman, along with some powerful newcomers to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time to thwart the murder before it happens and save the timeline of the future. Back in time, he meets up with a younger Professor (James McAvoy, post First Class) and Beast who have their own problems. Young Professor has created a serum that obliterates his mutant powers but allows him to walk again, and also allows Beast to be “normal” looking. There is a lot going on in this film, and it is phenomenal filmmaking that helps to fix a lot of the problems that the previous have created. Overall, I love the story, but it still irks me that there is little to no explanation about Professor X’s survival and rebirth. I’ve seen a lot of info on the internet, but I still don’t feel like that can be considered fact in this series.

I feel like I don’t need to discuss Hugh Jackman’s performance in this film. He knows the character. He holds the record for most performances as a superhero with all seven films featuring him.

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James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender take their characters to new levels in this film. McAvoy’s young Xavier is so broken and destroyed by the direction his life has taken. It is absolutely heartbreaking to watch. Fassbender shows a lot of signs on the way to his metamorphosis into adult Magneto. I think what really elevates these two performances is that these got to work with the originators of the roles for the first time in the series.

Ellen Page turns in a very quick and very well-done performance returning to the series as Kitty Pryde.

One of the scene-stealers here is Peter Dinklage (TV’s Game of Thrones, Knights of Badassdom), who plays Bolivar Trask. This man could’ve been a regular old evil man villain, but Dinklage has transformed him into a man who has motives and faults. This is a true character.

As far as editing goes, this story could’ve been a big mushy mess of timelines, but it is placed very well together with key images to designate exactly where we are. Compare it to the confusing time-jumper Oculus out last year.

I wouldn’t be too surprised if Days of Future Past takes away an Oscar nod for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, if only for the scenes with Quicksilver.

One thing I do want to know before finishing this review is the possible confusion with Avengers: Age of Ultron, which releases next year. So, Quicksilver is featured in this film. Quicksilver is featured in that film. Let me point out that, from a film standpoint, these are different characters. The two series are separate and exist in separate shared universes. More on this later.

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Anywho, X-Men: Days of Future Past is the best X-Men yet and, personally, the best film I’ve seen yet this year. Have you seen it? What did you think? Is your brain melting from all the stuff? So much stuff!

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of X-Men, click here.

For my review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of The Wolverine, click here.

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