Film Review: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Also known as: X-Men: Dark Phoenix (alternative title)
Release Date: June 4th, 2019 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Simon Kinberg
Written by: Simon Kinberg
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont, John Byrne
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Halston Sage

Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, 114 Minutes

Review:

“You’re always sorry, Charles. And there’s always a speech. But nobody cares!” – Magneto

Well, I guess there’s a new rule. That rule is that if an X-Men film tries to tell a Phoenix story, it’s going to be the worst movie in the series.

I honestly didn’t think that the regular X-Men films of the rebooted/prequel era could get worse than Apocalypse but this one takes the cake.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy parts of it, I did. However, for the most part, this movie is a fucking mess and ignores previous continuity more than any other X-film from either era and this comes after they tried to course-correct five years ago with Days of Future Past.

The big narrative problem for me is that it was established that the Phoenix Force in the film universe was dormant in Jean Grey all along. When Days of Future Past corrected the wonky timelines of the film, that shouldn’t have been a reboot of every aspect of the film series. Otherwise, that’s just some J. J. Abrams Kelvin Timeline bullshit.

In this film, Jean Grey gets infected with the Phoenix Force during a space mission. It’s more in line with how it happened in the comics but it doesn’t make sense with what was already established. Also, in just the previous movie, she sort of taps into the Phoenix Force when she’s battling Apocalypse. So it was in her but then it wasn’t? Fuck, these movies are a goddamned clusterfuck of epically biblical proportions!

Anyway, like the three films before this one, this takes place in a new decade: the ’90s. Somehow though, no one fucking ages in these movies even though First Class was thirty years earlier than this chapter. Cyclops and Quicksilver were in their late teens in the ’70s in Days of Future Past. Here they look like they’re maybe in their early twenties. But whatever, it’s not like the filmmakers cared, as Dazzler is wearing her disco outfit in 1992 and everyone else is dressed like its 2019.

Another thing that irked me somewhat, is that I love Michael Fassbender’s Magneto but it took an hour for him to show up. Also, three movies into the subplot with Quicksilver and Magneto still doesn’t know he’s the kid’s father and it’s actually just dropped in this movie and not mentioned.

It seemed pretty apparent that the regulars didn’t want to do this movie. Other than McAvoy’s Professor X, the rest of the main cast were only in half the movie, got killed off or got beat up and put on the shelf. That being said, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique was insufferable in this installment and I’m glad she got impaled.

The main characters that did actually appear for the entirety of the film were completely misused, however. Professor X was a careless prick and didn’t act like himself, Beast was super emo and almost became Dark Beast and Magneto switched his allegiances on a dime because he conveniently didn’t have all the information.

The threat in the film other than the Phoenix Force was a bunch of shapeshifting aliens that were obviously written to be the Skrulls but probably got changed late in production because Disney bought Fox and they couldn’t have Skrulls in an X-Men movie just after they introduced them in Captain Marvel.

Everything in this film feels scaled down as well. Every big battle is in a small area. There’s the fight at Jean’s daddy’s house, the confrontation on a small island, the big second act battle in front of a modest sized New York City building and its generic lobby and then the big finale which takes place on a train. They definitely didn’t do anything epic in scale, which seems like a missed opportunity considering that this is a movie that features the Phoenix Force trying to cleanse the Earth with fire.

Sophie Turner is also the focal point of the movie and I’m still not sure if she can act or not. This movie doesn’t help her case, as she was monotone in every scene, barely conveyed emotion and just acted like she was completely disinterested in the whole project.

While it sounds like I’m bashing the film and honestly, I probably am, I did like a few things.

For one, the Hans Zimmer score was damn incredible. It’s rare that I even notice music in movies anymore but I noticed it here and it actually made some scenes better and more emotional when some of the actors couldn’t even do that themselves.

I also liked the opening sequence, even if these teens going into space, untested, at the request of the United States President seemed strange.

Some of the new mutants in Magneto’s camp were also pretty cool additions in the New York and train battles but they were just kind of there and then discarded. The dude with the killer dreads was pretty badass; think Omega Red… but with dreads instead of hand tentacles.

I was really happy to see Dazzler show up too but she’s completely wasted in a cheap cameo. She sort of just hangs out in the background and doesn’t do anything else. Fans that have wanted Dazzler since 2000’s X-Men will probably feel cheated, especially since she was played by Halston Sage, who is dynamite on The Orville.

Additionally, I can’t say enough about how good Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are in these films. Their bond transcends the screen, it truly does. It just sucks that the material they had to work with here was so fucking lackluster.

On a side note, I really liked Nicholas Hoult too. He’s a solid Beast, even if I wasn’t initially keen on the casting. But like the other two great actors in this, he also had shit to work with in this picture.

To be fair, a lot of this film’s issues might not be the fault of the actual filmmakers. Simon Kinberg can do some solid stuff and he’s mostly handled this franchise well. However, Disney bought Fox just before this movie was slated to come out. It’s pretty well known now that they meddled with it in post-production because they thought it was too similar to Captain Marvel, which they were banking the entire future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on.

In the end, though, we got a really mediocre movie made by people that don’t seem like they care anymore. I guess it’s fitting that this incarnation of the cinematic X-Men franchise is now dead.

So I guess we’ll have to wait a few more years (or longer) to see what Disney does with the X-Men once they are rebooted into the MCU.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: all the other Fox X-Men films and spinoffs.

Film Review: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Release Date: May 9th, 2016 (London premiere)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till, Alexandra Shipp, Hugh Jackman (cameo), Caleb Landry Jones (archive footage)

Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Kinberg Genre, The Donners’ Company, 20th Century Fox, 144 Minutes

Review:

“[sends the world’s nuclear weapons into space] Always the same, and now all this. No more stones. No more spears. No more slings. No more swords. No more weapons! No more systems! No more! No more superpowers… So much faith in their tools, in their machines. You can fire your arrows from the Tower of Babel, but you can never strike god!” – Apocalypse

At this point, the X-Men films don’t give a crap about continuity and I don’t care that Days of Future Past was used to try and fix that. Fox still dismisses a lot of what’s happened and just does what works well for each movie as a standalone picture. Because you can’t have Angel appear as a late teen in a 2006 movie and then have him in his twenties in 1983, regardless of whatever Doctor Who timey wimey shenanigans you try to pull. But truthfully, I don’t care at this point. I sort of just see each film as its own reality where each movie just shares some similarities. Sorry, I’ve got to make it make sense for my brain or I have to just dismiss the absurdity of it.

That being said, I don’t hate this chapter in the X-Men movie franchise. In fact, I liked it quite a bit in spite of its flaws, continuity hiccups and the underwhelming way that they presented Apocalypse.

What made this film work for me was the evolution of Magneto, who is the best character in these films and who seems to be handled with great care. I don’t care so much about all the teens and the constant influx of new characters every time I blink my eyes. It’s the core characters that matter in these movies. That being said, I think McAvoy’s Charles Xavier is damn good too.

When I first saw this film in theaters, my initial reaction was worse than it is now. Having time to digest and reflect on Apocalypse, it really isn’t as bad of a movie as I thought it was at first glance. It is the weakest of the newer generation of pictures but it is certainly better than 2000’s X-Men and 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. Don’t even get me started on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as I find it less enjoyable than a piranha enema.

The plot in this is a bit rushed and shaky. Apocalypse, one of the most powerful forces in the entirety of the Marvel Universe just shows up, learns all about human history by touching a TV and starts taking over the Earth and brainwashing other mutants to be his “Four Horsemen”. It was interesting that Oscar Issac played Apocalypse because it wouldn’t have really mattered who played him, as he was just a dry, one note tyrant. Frankly, he should have been the X-Men‘s version of Thanos, at least in their movie universe.

The sequence with Wolverine is, by far, the high point of the movie. Hugh Jackman only shows up for about ten minutes but it is some of the best Wolverine action ever put to celluloid. Granted, Hollywood is allergic to celluloid now.

This is an epic film but it doesn’t feel as grandiose as its predecessor. It isn’t as good as its predecessor either and I think that is why I was disappointed with it initially. But the main players in the cast add more to their stories in a good way and ultimately, this enriched the modern X-Men movie universe.

I can’t say that I’m excited about the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix movie but I’ll still see it because these films still have more positives than negatives. But really, it’s just time for the X-Men movies to get a much needed reboot and join the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The current crop of X-Men movies since James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender took over the lead roles. Also, the last two Wolverine pictures.

Film Review: Deadpool 2 (2018)

Also known as: DP2 (promotional abbreviation), Daisy, Love Machine (both fake working titles)
Release Date: May 10th, 2018 (US limited)
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Ryan Reynolds
Based on: the character of Deadpool created by Fabian Nicieza, Rob Liefeld
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Jack Kesy, Leslie Uggams, Karan Soni, Terry Crews, Lewis Tan, Bill Skarsgård, Rob Delaney, Brad Pitt (cameo), James McAvoy (cameo), Evan Peters (cameo), Tye Sheridan (cameo), Nicholas Hoult (cameo), Hugh Jackman (archive footage), Alan Tudyk

Marvel Entertainment, Kinberg Genre, The Donners’ Company, 20th Century Fox, 119 Minutes

Review:

“I was born into war, bred into it. People think they understand pain, but they have no concept of it. What’s the most pain you’ve ever felt? Maybe the kind that leaves you more machine than man. ” – Cable

*There be spoilers here!

After what felt like too long of a wait but was actually only 27 months, Deadpool 2 has arrived. I guess if I were to sum up the experience in one word, that word would be “consistent”.

The film is very consistent to the first movie but it had a few things that were better and a few things that weren’t, which makes it break even, as to whether or not it was better or worse.

The positives were the addition of new cast members and the genesis of what is going to become the X-Force team.

Josh Brolin’s Cable is everything you would want a Josh Brolin Cable to be. I think the casting of Brolin was perfect and one hell of a great move and lucky break for this pocket of the X-Men film franchise.

Zazie Beetz’s Domino was really fun to watch and while I love the old school X-Force comics, which Domino was a big part of, this version of the character eclipses the comic book version. Plus, most of the Domino stories I remember were actually just Copycat posing as Domino because I stopped reading X-Force about a year after Rob Liefeld left and the X-Cutioner’s Song crossover ended.

The negatives or really just the one big one for me was that the plot seemed all over the place and kind of aimless at times. Lots of things happened that seemed way too convenient despite the film actually making note of that once or twice, especially with Deadpool’s “lazy writing” jab at his own film. Joke aside, poking fun at it doesn’t necessarily excuse the parts where it happens.

It’s just that the first film felt more refined and more fluid. This one propelled forward at a good pace but it seemed like it was all over the place. There also wasn’t a clearly defined villain, which isn’t a necessary component but I felt like Deadpool and Cable’s first meeting and eventual team-up should have come with a real threat other than just trying to save a kid from his anger. I was kind of hoping that Stryfe would at least appear, even if only to setup the X-Force film.

Juggernaut shows up and his bits are great but he’s really just there to setup a cool fight with Colossus. Also, you get Black Tom Cassidy but he was totally wasted and just sort of a prison thug that ends up getting killed in the lamest way possible. We didn’t get to see the BFF pairing of Black Tom and Juggernaut like we got to see in the earliest Deadpool solo stories and in the original X-Force run. I really hoped we were going to get to see Cassidy and Juggernaut form their villain tag team that was a thorn in Deadpool’s side back in the early ’90s.

My favorite part of the film was the mid-credits sequence, actually. This is packed full of some really cool stuff and more great moments of Ryan Reynolds poking fun at himself.

Deadpool 2 was good but it was a wee bit of a disappointment. With the mythos getting richer with new characters people have wanted to see for years, this should have taken the franchise to the next level. They had a solid foundation, new tools to work with and a world to branch out into. I’m hoping that X-Force, whenever that arrives, takes things to that next level.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Obviously the first Deadpool film and Logan for being the only other R rated X-Men related film. I’d also pair this up with Legion, which is TV’s more mature take on the X-Men universe, although it’s nowhere near as hilarious as Deadpool.

Film Review: Ready Player One (2018)

Release Date: March 11th, 2018 (SXSW)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Based on: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Letitia Wright, Clare Higgins, McKenna Grace

Village Roadshow Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, De Line Pictures, Farah Films & Management, Warner Bros., 140 Minutes

Review:

“People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.” – Parzival

*There be spoilers here!

The first thing that people who read the book are going to ask is, “How much did they change?” The short answer is, “Everything.”

In fact, there is so much that has changed that it’s too much to list out. As my friend Greg said once the credits started rolling, “They should change it to say ‘vaguely inspired by Ready Player One.'” And that’s pretty much how I feel, as someone who read the book first.

The main thing that this film is lacking is heart and soul. The book did a decent job building up characters and making the first time meetings meaningful and sweet, the film just drops the real humans in with no warning, halfway through the story. In the book, none of these people actually meet until the very end, as they unite in the real world for the big final battle.

And for some reason, maybe because Spielberg is besties with George Lucas, this version has some sort of “rebellion” that already exists and abducts Parzival in an effort to get him to join. This leads to him meeting Artemis before the midpoint of the film. In the book, she’s so freaked out by her own appearance that she won’t actually meet Parzival until the very end. Here, her birthmark was something that could be easily covered up with foundation. I’ve seen plenty of girls who have looked far worse without makeup… hell, with makeup. And in a world where most people are poverty stricken and dirty with facial tattoos, the whole thing is ridiculous.

The biggest problem with the movie is it took a decent book with some good ideas and it made them worse. I was hoping that Spielberg could put his hand in the story and use his magic to fix up the weaker bits. But the story is so different than the book that those weak bits are gone. Sadly, they’re replaced with something much more superficial, artificial and monotonous.

Every time that something with real weight happened in this movie, it didn’t have the weight that it did in the book. I think the book benefits from having Wade/Parzival tell his story from the first-person point-of-view. The movie is just a movie without any narration, internal monologue or anything that can really add more the the story. You just don’t feel anything for these people, their situation or the events themselves. The film needs a lot more seasoning.

Additionally, the challenges were terrible. The first one is a motor race with a small detail no one was able to crack for over five years. Yet anytime a new video game comes out in the real world, our real world, some guy on YouTube finds all the Easter eggs and secrets within the first 24 hours of playing it. But in a future world where the population is probably double what it is now, where everyone is obsessed with solving the first challenge, not one single person thought to themselves, “I wonder what will happen if I drive backwards?” In reality, some noob would’ve done it by mistake and solved the puzzle.

The second challenge brought the characters into a recreation of The Shining but as cool as it was initially, it still didn’t measure up to the similar sequences in the book, where Parzival had to reenact a role in a film from start to finish. Whatever. We ended up with The Shining being populated by dancing, green glowing zombies for some reason.

The final gate was the closest to the original version but was still a heavily altered and simplified version.

One thing I was hoping would make it in the movie was the battle between Ultraman and Mechagodzilla during the big finale. Ultraman was replaced with a Gundam. Mechagodzilla was there but the design was something new and looked more like a generic metal dinosaur than any version of Mechagodzilla we’ve ever seen.

And what the hell was with Sorrento leaving his password right on his pod? Make your password something you can remember that way you don’t get easily hacked? You’re the top dog in the second largest corporation in the friggin’ world and you basically wore a t-shirt saying, “Please hack me! My password is…” I can’t accept the stupidity of this plot point, he’s not an assistant principal from a John Hughes movie. Plus, in the film they dumb him down and make him rely solely on the knowledge of his minions, as opposed to being savvy on his own and only calling for backup when stumped.

The film fails in comparison to the book and the book was hardly a literary classic. I could pontificate about all the shit I didn’t like and take this review to 5000-plus words but I think I’ve made my point about the negative side of the equation here.

On the side of positives there is sadly only really a few.

One, Mark Rylance was fantastic as Halliday and played the character in a way that was even better than what I saw in my own head while reading the book. He was really the only character I felt a connection to by the end of the film. Which is sad, as he’s barely in it.

Another positive is that it was fun in the right sort of way but it still wasn’t enough to make up for the soullessness and randomness of this adaptation.

I can’t think of another positive.

The biggest highlight of the film was the big battle at the end but it was still a mess. There were so many pop culture references running around on the screen that it was hard to focus on any one of them and you just sort of see this mish mash of shit where if the camera stops moving for one second, you might make out a Battletoad, Spawn, Ryu or a Ninja Turtle. But at least Chucky from Child’s Play got to kick some ass for a few seconds.

I don’t know, man. I had high hopes for this and I left the theater feeling empty and completely unemotional. This was like a vacuum that sucked everything out of me for well over two hours. I walked out of the theater a dumbfounded blank.

This film is like an excited toddler showing you all their toys by throwing them at your face with the speed of the Flash for two hours and twenty minutes. There is no real semblance of a plot, just toys bouncing off of your face and incomprehensible toddler rambling.

Also, Spielberg produces those terrible Michael Bay Transformers movies. This was the perfect opportunity to use accurate looking Autobots and Decpeticons. I mean, what the shit, dude?! You’re telling me the G1 versions of Optimus Prime and Megatron aren’t avatars in the Oasis?

Between the execution of this film and Spielberg’s weird comments about Netflix the other day, I think homeboy is starting to show his age.

Lastly, Zak Penn is awful. Truly, awful. How does he keep getting hired to write shit?

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Maybe the novel it is “based on” but the book is superior.