The Fox X-Men Film Series Burns Out With Dark Phoenix

dark phoenix poster

It’s been interesting to read and watch all the negativity and vitriol hurled against the final Fox X-Men film, Dark Phoenix. Yes, technically there is still the unreleased film The New Mutants, but from all accounts that upcoming film (if it is ever released) does not appear to be connected to the Fox X-Men films and it will be radically retooled. Who knows, now that Disney owns the film property, The New Mutants could be retconned to be part of its own Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), though that is a risk.

Getting back to Dark Phoenix, the reaction to the conclusion of the X-Men film saga has been harsh, perhaps a bit too harsh. It’s not that bad and has its moments, though it is flawed. It certainly isn’t a Logan or X-Men: Days of Future Past, just a missed opportunity, which is sad.

Dark Phoenix takes place in 1992 where the X-Men are revered celebrities with their heroics, thanks to the efforts of their leader Charles Xavier'(James McAvoy) to show the world that mutants shouldn’t be feared. By this time, he even has a direct phone line with the U.S. president. Xavier gets called for help with stranded astronauts onboard an orbiting space shuttle. The X-Men are dispatched to go rescue them with the team consisting of field leader Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Nightcrawler (Kodie Smit-McPhee). They are able to save the astronauts from a coming solar flare, but Jean Grey is blasted by the flare which turns out to be the elemental Phoenix Force. This transforms her, increasing her telepathic and telekinetic powers beyond measure and leaves her struggling to control them and her fragile emotions. Her plight draws conflict not just from outside forces wishing to either kill her or control her but by the X-Men themselves, who are divided on how to deal with Jean Grey.

The film is very loosely based on the monumental “Dark Phoenix Saga” from the Marvel Comics X-Men books, which is widely considered to be one of the greatest comic book stories of all time. The previous attempt to bring this story to film, X-Men: The Last Stand, was a poor one and the latest attempt is only marginally better. Unlike Last Stand, Dark Phoenix is solely centered on the Jean Grey’s story, but the execution feels pedestrian many times. By itself, Dark Phoenix is competent but lacks the true epic scale of the comic book story and needed a better visual and filmmaking punch from a more competent and experienced director.

magneto and dark phoenix

For some bizarre reason 20th Century Fox deemed it OK to give this film about the beloved story to a first-time director (Simon Kinberg) who just lacks the skill to give us the epic story this X-Men film saga deserves. By the time the film series was nearing its conclusion, the upper management of Fox must have known they were to be sold off to Disney, so if they wanted to conclude their successful film series why hand this finale off to Kinberg? Yes, he wrote and produced the previous films and has clout, but allowing someone who never directed anything at all to handle Dark Phoenix was a risky move that blew up in their faces. The direction is very workman-like and too safe. Many pivotal and emotional scenes lack the flair shown in other X-Men films and shockingly the film is shot like a low-budget or TV film. To be fair, the third act of Dark Phoenix was re-shot because it was too similar to another recent film (probably Captain Marvel) and its done quite well, but it will disappoint comic book fans looking for the original story’s spectacular space showdown. Still, the confrontation between the X-Men, Jean Grey and other forces was exciting and probably the best part of the film.

There are many good elements in the film, aside from the final act. Chief among them is the acting by Sophie Turner in the pivotal role of Jean Grey. Her character is the core of the film and it was vital that we be invested in her struggle and we are. In spite of some actions that she carries out in the film, it is hard to see Grey as evil and she comes off as sympathetic. Most of the other actors bring their A-game to the role including McAvoy, whose Xavier must come to grips of mistakes he’s made with his disciple Grey when she was younger and how he let fame get to him. Other standouts are Hoult as Beast, who takes a less understanding view with Grey, Michael Fassbender who is always great as the conflicted Magneto, and Smit-McPhee, who while not getting much screen time manages to make his Nightcrawler a standout, sympathetic superhero with awesome teleporting powers.

mystique and jean grey

Other actors don’t fare as well. The worst of which is Lawrence, who is so checked out with playing the shapeshifting Mystique that you could tell she was counting down how much longer she had to play the role. Another one is Jessica Chastain, who portrays Vuk, a mysterious alien that is invested in the Dark Phoenix. Unfortunately the subplot involving Vuk and the aliens she leads is very uninspired and dull. Chastain basically sleepwalks through her lines and has zero charisma. While Magneto is one of the best supervillains on film, Vuk is clearly one of the worst. The problem here is that the alien angle is a major story point and a detriment to the film.

 

To be clear, Dark Phoenix is not the disaster that some hyperbolic and offended critics are claiming it to be. Seriously, this is not the worse Fox X-Men film. That dishonor still belongs to X-Men Origins: Wolverine. However, the Dark Phoenix story needs to be properly told or not at all. Kinberg probably should have chosen a more low-scale story to tell which would have been suited to his limited skill set. It is easy to tell that Fox and many of those involved were burned out of the X-Men and ready to hand the film rights to Disney. It’s a shame really, the X-Men films had a suitable conclusion with Logan and the Fox X-Men film series deserved a better send off than Dark Phoenix. But the film is OK to watch if you keep in mind the film won’t properly re-tell the classic comic book story. But at least we get to see some terrific actors play their iconic roles one last time and see the film series come to a conclusion.

José Soto

 

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All Hail Godzilla: King Of The Monsters

Despite what many critics are blaring, the latest American Godzilla film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is quite enjoyable. There are issues with the film, which is part of Legendary Entertainment’s Monsterverse cinematic universe, and I was hoping we would have gotten the definitive Godzilla film from Hollywood. That goal still evades us, but this film is a solid B, which is kind of appropriate given this can be considered a B-film even though Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a blockbuster event film.

The film’s plot is not complicated. A bunch of giant monsters are awakened from their prehistoric slumber; these include the famous kaijus Rodan, Mothra and the big baddie himself Ghidorah. These monsters start vying for the top spot as the apex Titan and joining this conflict is humanity’s most unexpected hope: the king himself, Godzilla.

To be clear, this film is a continuation of the Garth Edwards Godzilla released in 2014. The events from that film are mentioned here with a couple of characters returning, though this film focuses on a largely new cast. Godzilla was an enjoyable reboot of the Hollywood version of Godzilla and comparing the two, I’d have to say I prefer Godzilla: King of the Monsters because of all the epic kaiju battles. The monster scenes are the film’s best parts, they’re just amazing and beautifully choreographed. Their scale is simply jawdropping. The special effects are topnotch and the super powerful fight scenes are meant to be seen on the big screen!  Even compared to the Japanese versions, this film has the best Godzilla fight scenes I’ve ever seen. Godzilla: King of the Monsters also does an interesting job of showing the monsters’ place in world history and expands upon the mythology shown in the previous two films of the Monsterverse, Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island.

Believe it or not, the scenes with the humans are well done for the most part except for a flaw I’ll get to. The actors like Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown turn in fine performances that are not one-note like in Godzilla. The first Monsterverse film was hobbled with forgettable actors except for Bryan Cranston and he was not around too long in Godzilla. The big issue with the humans in this sequel, which bogs the film is that the humor falls flat most of the time. It feels forced and annoying. We came to see the film for giant monsters not bad attempts at comedy. Another problem with the film is that it lacks a suspension of disbelief. There a many scenes where the characters are right in the middle of intense monster action or are interacting directly with the kaiju and nothing happens to them, even though there is debris flying all around them. In previous kaiju films, the humans were always far away from the action and it was believable that they did not get hurt. But here, they’re right in the middle of the action and nothing happens to them. Sorry, but this is unbelievable and took me out of the film.

Putting the gripes about the film aside, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is an enjoyable blockbuster. It has its issues and deserved to be better but it is what it is, a big romp of a kaiju movie. While not as great as other cinematic universes, the Monsterverse is delivering consistently entertaining films and hopefully next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong will up the ante and be an improvement.

Walter L. Stevenson

Avengers: Endgame Is A Grand, Epic Finale Of The MCU—No Spoilers

Endgame poster

That moment is finally here. Dread it, run from it. Destiny still arrives. The 22nd film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Avengers: Endgame, is a fitting conclusion to the 11-year Infinity Saga.

This will be a non-spoiler review of Avengers: Endgame, the fourth Avengers film which concludes the brilliant set up of Avengers: Infinity War.

Thanos endgame

Without giving too much away, the film revels in the disastrous consequences of the last film where the mad Thanos (Josh Brolin) used the Infinity Gauntlet to wipe out half of all life in the universe. Our heroes grapple with the magnitude of their defeat in Avengers: Infinity War and how they cope with the Decimation (or Thanos’ Snap) is quite dramatic, emotional and unexpectedly grounded. Some may complain that the pace of the film is slower than usual for an Avengers film, but it is necessary for the epic payoff later on.

The actors portraying Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are at their best in Avengers: Endgame, which has many scenes that allow them to display their thespian skills. Chris Evans (Captain America/Steve Rogers), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man/Tony Stark), and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) form the emotional triumvirate of Avengers: Endgame, as it should since they are the heart and soul of the MCU. Other characters like Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) also have their dramatic moments in the sun. Again, as mentioned above, these emotional beats have a dramatic payoff and underline the desperate nature of their mission.

Avengers in Endgame

This film lasts three hours with three distinct acts that have their own separate tone. As interesting as it sounds, it doesn’t always flow as well as say Infinity War. The previous film had a more consistent and intense feel throughout. This will probably disappoint casual fans expecting Avengers: Infinity War, Part Two, but this fourth Avengers film serves as a love letter to the MCU.

Fans of the beloved MCU film franchise will just be delighted with all the references, cameos and callbacks to the past 21 MCU films, even the mediocre ones, which can now be seen in a new light. The film seems at times to be a Who’s Who of the MCU, but it is never confusing except for an important plot device. It won’t be said what it is, we’ll save that for the spoiler discussion coming soon, but let’s just say that sci-fi fans are familiar with it and have dealt with the headaches it causes. The same thing occurs in Avengers: Endgame and it leads to many questions and plot holes, but honestly by the time the last scene is unfurled no one will care too much.

Instead viewers will be taken aback by the sheer EPIC scale of the film. Avengers: Endgame pulls no stops in its final act with a spectacular battle scene that will go down in cinematic history as one of the greatest, if not the greatest battle scene shown on film. The final battle is confidently and explosively has the scale of an all-out war that is sprawling and visceral! While the pyrotechnics and the effects are a highlight (and better nab this film an Oscar for best special effects!), just as impactful are all the dramatic moments showcased in the finale. There is a satisfying feeling of payoff, whether we’re celebrating or mourning or are left hanging on the edge of our seats. The final act seriously induces tears not just because of the fate of some characters, but because one can’t help but rejoice in the level of glory displayed on the screen. This film truly feels like a work of art to be savored.

Already some are proclaiming Avengers: Endgame to be the best MCU and superhero film of all time. To be fair, it’s too soon to bestow that honor. Let time pass and genuflect on how this film resonates. But it certainly is the most epic superhero film that sticks the landing. That was something this film had to accomplish and somehow pulls this off so powerfully.

Avengers in Benatar

By the time Avengers: Endgame ends, there is a feeling of completion. The story of most of these characters has come to an end. By the way, don’t bother waiting around for a post- or middle-credits scene. There isn’t any, although after seeing the film one will have to agree that none were needed. At the same time, we are left with tantalizing glimpse of how life goes on with an eye towards the next great phase of the MCU. For some this will be a good point to stop following the MCU, but there is so much to look forward to. For now, let this epic event called Avengers: Endgame sink in and permeate our hearts as we celebrate the greatest film franchise of all time.

José Soto

Star Trek: Discovery Finds Its Space Legs In Its Second Season

 

*Warning: Major spoilers will follow, do not read until you have seen season two of Star Trek: Discovery.

The sophomore season of Star Trek: Discovery just concluded with its epic two-part episode “Such Sweet Sorrow” and what a way to cap off a successful season!

The episode concluded the season-long “Red Angel” arc where it was revealed that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was the mysterious Red Angel that appeared throughout the galaxy during pivotal moments in recent history. In “Such Sweet Sorrow”, Burnham used the Red Angel suit to time travel into the past to mark her appearances in the second season and to lead the starship Discovery and the show into its bold new direction for season three.

The second season of Star Trek: Discovery was a marked improvement over the first one with compelling stories, strong characters and a respectful acknowledgment of the original canon established in previous Trek shows. Due to the many stylistic changes done to the show, even though it’s a prequel to the original Star Trek, the setting looked too advanced and didn’t gel with the original. This was unavoidable given the original show is over fifty years old, and Hollywood magic advanced considerably since then.

This led many outraged fans to dismiss Star Trek: Discovery as not a real Trek show, even though the showrunners insisted it was set in the prime timeline. The episode “If Memory Serves” reiterated this point by having an episode recap from the very first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage”, which proved once and for this show is set in the original Star Trek universe. People had to either accept the visual changes and move on or reject the show altogether. Those that accepted the show were rewarded with a well-crafted season.

At the start of the season with premier episode “Brother”, Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), the original Enterprise captain beamed aboard the Discovery and took command. His mission was to investigate unknown red signals that appeared throughout the galaxy. It turned out the signals coincided with appearances of the enigmatic Red Angel. This figure would show up at a pivotal moment that aided the crew of the Discovery. Pike and Burnham realize that the Angel is tied in to the disappearance of his science officer Spock (Ethan Peck), who apparently went insane and murdered people. For the first half of the season, they track him, and this quest culminated with the now-classic “If Memory Serves” which took Pike and Spock back to the planet Talos IV. It turned out that Spock was framed by the secretive Section 31 organization and that Section 31 was taken over by Starfleet’s AI, Control.

The AI wanted to get access to ancient alien knowledge recently stored in the Discovery to gain sentience and Burnham received warnings that Control would eventually destroy all life in the future. This plot propelled the second half of the season and led to the truly monumental “Such Sweet Sorrow” where Control took the Section 31 fleet against the Discovery and the Enterprise. The only way to keep this knowledge away from Control was to send Discovery into the future. This led to a busy, crowded and spectacular starship battle that was simply brutal and dizzying at times. The battle sequences looked like they could have been lifted out of a modern Star Trek film that involved drones, refitted shuttles as fighters, zero-g fist fights, Klingons (who are now thankfully more in line with the traditional Klingons), and even repair droids (!).

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Captain Marvel Is A Solid MCU Entry

Captain Marvel is here at last, satisfying our desire for new content from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), being that it’s been several months since we had anything from the famed MCU. At the same time, the latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe sets us up for next month’s Avengers: Endgame.

As many know, Captain Marvel, based on the Marvel Comics character, has been mired in controversy lately thanks to Internet trolls and people with their own agendas. It’s a shame really, because all this noise is distracting from the film itself. It’s bad enough that so much is expected from an MCU film these days that unless the film is an absolute epic, it is bound to disappoint. With all this going on it may be difficult to judge Captain Marvel on its own merit.

Looking at the film objectively, it does have its faults but it’s not a disaster at all. In fact, on the whole, Captain Marvel is a solid entry to the MCU and has so much to enjoy. Part sci-fi space adventure, part fish-out-of-water story, part mystery and part buddy cop yarn, the film bridges the cosmic part of the MCU with the Earth-based part. It introduces us to Vers (Brie Larson), who lives on the Kree homeplanet Hala and is part of the Starforce, dedicated to peacekeeping throughout the Kree Empire. She and her squad routinely hunt the Kree’s mortal enemies, the shape-shifting Skrulls. Early in the film, Vers crash lands on Earth in 1995 and meets S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson sporting some amazing deaging CG). The two team up to find out why the Skrulls are infiltrating Earth until she is recovered by Starforce. Along the way, she has flashbacks that reveal she is actually Carol Danvers, a human test pilot and this revelation has her questioning her allegiance to the Kree.

Captain Marvel is an enjoyable film with some interesting twists and character moments. Some plot developments can be seen light years away but they’re well executed and the film is highlighted by the cast who are quite good, especially Jackson, who portrays a less jaded version of Nick Fury, and Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, the main Skrull in the film. Talos is an unexpectedly complex character and Mendelsohn’s acting is exceptionally good here as he is able to emote so effortlessly through the heavy Skrull makeup.

As for Brie Larson, her performance is rather stoic and comes off as a largely unemotional hero and not very interesting despite her personal dilemma. Larson is OK as Danvers/Captain Marvel. but one has to wonder if anyone else could have done the role better. This could be a problem because she is supposed to be a major player from here on out. But there is room for growth and Larson is a talented actor. She does have some good banter and chemistry with Jackson, but Jackson is the more charismatic of the two. Larson’s performance is just part of the problem the film has. It’s slickly made and has many fun moments, but the direction is bland at times and some pivotal scenes are poorly lit, which detracts from their impact. Marvel Studios has a penchant for hiring largely inexperienced, but talented directors and this usually works. In this situation, perhaps the film studio should have gone with someone other than Ann Boden and Ryan Fleck. The two don’t seem to have distinctive voices like James Gunn or Taika Waititi.

The film is not bad by all means, its merits easily outweigh its problems. It’s quite awesome with dazzling special effects, a great ’90s soundtrack,and hits most of its marks. Plus, the mystery behind Danvers’ identity and what happened to her are done well. Despite what some trolls are proclaiming it doesn’t have some kind of feminist agenda. It’s a straight up superhero adventure. Also, Captain Marvel is an important entry of the MCU because it explains how many aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to being. Plus, its post-credits scene is vital to Avengers: Endgame. On the whole, Captain Marvel is a respectable, flashy high-middle tier entry of the MCU that adds new wrinkles to the ever-growing film universe.