X-Men: Dark Phoenix – A Movie Review

I just go out of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and I’ve got some good news for you – it’s not that bad!

Sure, that’s not a huge compliment, but, to be honest, I expected it to be terrible.  Why did I have such dire expectations?  First of all, the constant delays in release is never a good sign.  Furthermore, those delays were, in part, due to the Disney acquisition which makes Dark Phoenix something of a lame duck.  We all know Disney plans to reboot, recast, and generally redo the X-Men sometime in the near future, so Dark Phoenix had a little problem with making us care about it.  Finally, judging from the previews and posters, Dark Phoenix looked far too similar to the ironically titled X-Men: The Last Stand.  That was, for all intents and purposes, the Dark Phoenix story line mixed in with a lot of other … stuff.  In other words, we’ve basically seen this movie … sort of.

I’m happy to tell you that, really, there weren’t that many similarities to The Last Stand.  There are some, true, but those familiar beats are better fleshed out in Dark Phoenix than they were in The Last StandDark Phoenix is only concerned with the plight of Jean Grey.

Also, let’s face it: Dark Phoenix has star power.  Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain – these are big names!  Let’s not forget up-and-comers like Nicolaus Hout, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, and Kodi Smit-McPhee.  These are fun people to watch, and in the case of McAvoy and Fassbender, there is some serious acting being executed.

Dark Phoenix has very strong special effects as well.  We get to see Magneto perform some impressive feats, as well as Jean Grey.  Cyclops’ optic blasts have never looked better, nor have Nightcrawler’s “bamfs.”  Beast looks fantastic even if his movement still feels a little awkward.

Of course, Dark Phoenix has some issues.  The biggest issue is that, well, to a fairly large degree, we’ve already experienced the major themes of this movie.  Jean’s struggle with the Dark Phoenix was dealt with in The Last Stand, and while I think this movie did it better, it’s still well-covered territory.

Furthermore, Dark Phoenix didn’t seem all that interested in explaining much.  I know from my misspent youth that the cosmic energy that Jean absorbs is called “The Phoenix Force,” but the movie barely touches upon it at all and never calls it by name.  If I’m a casual movie goer, I have no idea what that’s all about.  Consequently, we’re given no reason for the arrival of the cosmic force at all – it just kind of made its way to Earth.  The movie also skipped a pretty important step in telling us why Jean Grey is the only entity capable of utilizing this cosmic energy.  They constantly talk about how “strong” she is, but that’s a pretty lazy cop out.

Jessica Chastain is a movie star, no doubt, but she was given very little to work with.  Look, I’ll watch Jessica act no matter what movie she’s in, but her character was about as thin as you can get.  There’s ample tropes and cliches regarding her motivation, but it doesn’t amount to much.

Speaking of character, is anyone else tired of sad Jean Grey?  Jean Grey is a wonderful, multi-dimensional character, but the movies can’t seem to get past this whole “Dark Phoenix” thing, which was a seminal moment for her character, to be sure, but not her only moment.  It seems as though no one can do anything on film with her other than depict her as a tortured spirit, crying most of the time, and always on the verge of losing control.  Jean Grey is so much more than that.  I wish Sophie Turner got to show us Jean Grey the teacher, the leader, and the heart of the X-Men.

Another note about character – I love what they did with Professor Xavier.  They really made him interesting in a way I haven’t seen before.  Everyone else, though?  Not so much.  Cyclops is just kind of there, likewise with Storm.  Magneto is still Magneto doing Magneto things.  Quicksilver is barely in this film at all, which is a real tragedy.  And I hate what they did with Nightcrawler.  Hate it.  He’s one of my favorite characters and they really dropped the ball with him.

Best moment?  A brief, ever so brief, blink and you’ll miss it moment featuring a certain X-Men favorite.  I’m not sure how many people will know her when they see her, but it was great.  It was true to her character, fun, and – like I said – brief.

If you’ve enjoyed McAvoy and Fassbender’s X-Men movies, go ahead and see this.  It’s not as good as the first two but better than Apocalypse.  I wouldn’t consider this a “must-see” movie, but it’s probably better than you expect.

Oh, and don’t bother sitting through the credits.  There’s nothing there.

One last word of warning.  If you’re taking kids to this thing, there is an F-bomb dropped near the ending.  It’s completely unnecessary, but it’s there.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past – A Movie Review

Though it took me far longer than I intended, I’m glad I finally made it to the theater to see this film.  I’ll go ahead and say it: it’s the best of the X-Men movies thus far.  Why is it the best, you ask? How can it be better than X-Men 2?  Let me explain …

In the past, the X-Men movies perhaps tried to do too much with too many actors – actors that weren’t always up to the challenge.  Not so with this installment.  I think we all agree that Hugh Jackman owns Wolverine.  It’s not a direct comic book adaptation, but that’s okay.  He’s made the cinematic Wolverine his own.  Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are untouchable.  James McAvoy, with this movie, certainly won me over as a younger, less capable Professor Xavier.  I’ll watch anything with Michael Fassbender, and he makes Magneto somehow noble and terrifying at the same time.  The villian, Peter Dinklage, can steal the scene from anyone, anytime.  And finally, I have to give Jennifer Lawrence props.  They knew what they were doing giving her Mystique the heart of the film.  That young woman has proven time and again that she can act!

Those are the actors most visible in the film, those are the actors most focused upon, and that is why the film is so very good.  Ellen Page, Halle Berry, Shawn Ashmore, and others get some screen time, but they are nowhere near the actors mentioned above, and the powers that be recognized this.  Days of Future Past primarily gives us the best actors for the majority of the film, and it proved to be a smart move.  Quality is always better than quantity.  They made me care about their characters.  For me to enjoy a movie, I have to care.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a comic book movie, so certain things must apply.  The special effects are flat-out amazing.  It’s so wonderful to see Sentinels actively menacing mutants in an X-Men movie.  Colossus and Iceman finally look the way we all demanded – their powers, and the other characters’, look organic.  The special effects are certainly better, by far, than previous films, but they are also far less obvious.  I forgot I watched special effects and simply accepted what I saw as the story.

Of course, the film is not perfect.  I’m still not sure why Kitty Pryde is suddenly able to send people through time, nor do I understand why Anna Paquin got top billing for a film she’s basically not in.  There are a few scenes where mutants were tossed in for the heck of it, especially during the Saigon scene, but it’s nowhere near as superfluous as it’s been in the past (X-Men 3 and Wolverine: Origins spring to mind).

But wait, what about the whole Quicksilver thing?  Okay, Quicksilver is in the movie for twenty minutes, and he ruled the entire twenty minutes.  Is he in there to piss off Disney?  I don’t know, and I don’t care.  He was the only character I was really leery of seeing in this movie.  His silver clothes looked ridiculous in the photographs.  But it works.  The clothes work with the character, trust me.  His speed is mesmerizing.  I love what they did with it.  Evan Peters put the Avengers on alert.  Right now, he is Quicksilver.

By and large, though, the film sets up a premise, sticks to that premise, plays the premise out, and offers a satisfying conclusion to the premise.  The actors provided heartfelt, passionate performances, and the action could not have been better.  It captured much of what made X-Men 2 work so well, and took it up a notch with better everything.  (I won’t lie, though, I long for the day Alan Cumming returns as Nightcrawler.)

On a final note, I adored the ending.  I won’t go into detail, in case someone has yet to see it, but I actually felt great relief and joy by the ending these characters earned.  Wherever they may take the franchise from here with Apocalypse, I’m glad I got to see where these characters’ iterations ended up.

 

 

X-Men Origins: Wolverine – A Movie Review

Wolverine disappointed, and that’s even with already low expectations.

It started out well enough (but for a goofy child screaming in rage at the sky).  The opening credits were very cool, detailing James (Wolverine) and Victor’s participation in every major war since the late 1800s.  Then it progressively got worse.

Here’s the main problem: they tamed Wolverine.  In the X-Men movies, he was the wild card.  He was the animal, the one willing to go as far as needed.  In Wolverine, James/Logan is caged and made to be the one with the conscience among men far more bloodthirsty.  They took away the danger and unpredictability that makes Wolverine engaging.

I like Hugh Jackman.  He seems like a decent person who really cares about the fans and it saddens me that he failed to deliver a movie that I know he wanted us to like.  However, for Wolverine to have worked, it had to be darker than even The Dark Knight.  Instead, they tried to make James/Logan a good man with flashes of savagery (instead of a savage with flashes of goodness).  All this effectively did was transform Wolverine into the most boring character in his own movie who screams a lot.  And I do mean a lot.

Moreover, what really disappoints is that they had the recipe figured out well enough in the first two X-Men movies.  Wolverine wasn’t perfect in those, but he was far more accurate than what we got in this movie.  In the X-Men movies, he was snarky, hateful, and downright rude.  He might leave you in a fight to pursue his own goals.  Heck, he might even punch you if you made him mad enough.  In Wolverine, he’s the voice of reason among madmen, and that didn’t make one bit of sense to me.

Okay, I went off on a rant.  Let’s get back to the movie.  Some high points were Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson (Deadpool).  Though Reynolds’ scenes were brief, his perfectly delivered sarcasm and physicality stole the show.  I found myself far more interested in him than Wolverine.  Kevin Durand’s lovable and detestable turn as Fred Dukes (Blob) thoroughly entertained as well.  Finally, Liev Schreiber as Victor Creed (Sabretooth) delivered the only somewhat soulful performance in the film.  Schreiber’s character had a depth and charisma that James/Logan sorely lacked.  Keep in mind, it wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing, which was by-and-large what we got.

I’m afraid there were many low points.  The dialogue was just plain goofy and poorly delivered.  The clichés were numerous, including the walking away from the fire, walking into the sun, a motorcycle chase, and screaming into the sky (there was also a scene stolen almost exactly from First Blood).  For such an expensive film, the special effects looked rather cheap.  Furthermore, something about Wolverine’s claws didn’t seem right to me, and I later found out they were digital—go figure.  Also, Wolverine was far too slavish to the X-Men movies when concerning William Stryker.  He was fine as a plot tool in X:2, but I’d seen all I wanted of him in that film.  Connecting his dots in Wolverine became distracting and the time spent on him should have been spent rounding out James/Logan.  Finally, James/Logan was among the least interesting characters in the film.  They took away his edge and tried to make him a romantic lead, yet they didn’t bother explaining how he and Kayla fell in love nor did they develop that relationship on screen enough for me to believe James/Logan actually loved her beyond simple words.  This was a problem considering his “love” for Kayla was unbelievably his only motivation.

***SPOILER ALERT***

One last note about what didn’t work: I hated—HATED—their explanation for why Wolverine lost his memory.  Adamantium bullets to the brain?  Seriously?  This premise insults basic logic.  I’m supposed to buy that an adamantium bullet could pierce Wolverine’s adamantium skull?  Why?  Why wouldn’t they cancel each other out?  He clanged his adamantium claws together and they didn’t slice each other in half, so why should a bullet be able to puncture his skull?  Consequently, Stryker said the brain would heal, but his memories would not.  What?  What does that mean?  That makes no sense at all.  Also, we never saw the adamantium bullets pop out after the brain healed; are they still in there?  Does Wolverine have two bullet holes in his adamantium-laced skull now?  Even if the brain and the skull healed, the metal wouldn’t reform.  I’m sorry if I’m nitpicking, but the loss of Wolverine’s memory is integral to the character and they offered such an unreasonable account for it … it frankly angers me.  It’s just lazy writing and shows no respect for the audience.

***END SPOILER ALERT***

I understand they wanted to make a “popcorn” movie, but Wolverine tried to do so much with so many mutants and so little character development that it failed to entertain.  As with any story, the audience must care about the character before they can get lost in the movie, no matter how action-packed, and Wolverine failed to hunt down my interest.

The LOST X-Man: A Brief Comparative Study of Wolverine and Sawyer

As a connoisseur of all things unimportant, I recently contemplated the similarities between The X-Men’s Wolverine and LOST’s Sawyer.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Both men were born with the name James.
  • Both men have a predilection for beer.
  • Both men took the name of his father’s killer as an alias.
  • Both men think nothing of murder.
  • Both men have anger-control issues.
  • Both men tend to lust after his leader’s love interest.
  • Both men enjoy assigning unflattering nicknames.
  • Both men display amoral behavior.
  • Both men will assume leadership when the chips are down.
  • Both men killed his father’s killer.

Did I forget anything?  Feel free to add your two-cents.

X-Men: The Last Stand – A Movie Review

So the fanboys and the critics have been telling me that X-Men: The Last Stand is awful, yet the movie going audience has been flocking to this baby.  Like the responsible movie fan I am, I had to see for myself.  Read on for my spoilerific review of X-Men: The Last Stand… 

I have to tell you, when Bryan Singer, the director of the first two X-Films, left to direct Superman Returns, I was a little concerned about the fate of our favorite mutants.  I don’t have any antagonistic feelings toward the replacement director, Brett Ratner, like so many people seemingly do, but I believed the quality would drop just a hair because Singer was so loyal to the source material. 

Ratner, on the other hand, is loyal to making a summer blockbuster.

What I mean by that is that X3 is an entertaining, fast-paced, short, action-filled thrill ride.  What it is not is an in-depth story with well-rounded characters.  In fact, Ratner seemed to feel quite comfortable with breaking routine X-Convention, especially any foundation the first two films laid.

That is part of what made this film so fun, but also part of what made it so frustrating.  Let’s just get a big spoiler out of the way:  Ratner kills off some major, major characters in X3.  So many big characters that an X4 seems pretty unlikely.  The heart of the X-Men are gone, and they were gone pretty early into the film.  That being said, I knew then and there that all bets were off and no one was off-limits.  That certainly increased the tension and suspense for my movie going experience.

But, the deaths of the characters were so out of place, so out of character, they truly seemed forced and rushed.  And that is my ultimate summation of X3-forced and rushed.  It had great moments, some were actually genius, but overall the film had many, many holes.  The sheer number of heroes and villains required four hours of story to avoid any shortcomings, and as the film lasted only an hour and forty-five minutes, well, you can imagine how crammed things got.

However, what worked, and worked wonderfully, were the special effects.  If you want to see these mutants using their powers in all the glory of your wildest imaginings, you will not be disappointed in X3.  It truly felt like a comic book come to life.  You get to see the powers of Iceman, Beast, Phoenix, Colossus, Shadowcat, Pyro, Magneto, and Juggernaut in their full glory, just the way you want to see them.  The only problem is you just don’t get to see enough of them.

Would I recommend this film?  You bet I would.  The spectacle and special effects alone are worth it.  The acting of Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Kelsey Grammar, and Patrick Stewart are top-notch for those moments where they’re actually allowed to act.

I think if you are a hardcore X-Fan you will be very disappointed with the directions they took with some of the characters in X3, but if you look at it as just another summer action movie, you’ll be more than entertained.