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

Alien: In Space No One Can Hear You Scream 40 Years Later

This month marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most influential sci-fi/horror films, Alien. Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O’Bannon from a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the film shocked and thrilled unsuspecting audiences in theaters and continues to scare us to this day.

Alien is still regarded as a landmark film that successfully merged two of the best genres in cinema, science fiction and horror. Its success is evident in the way that it showcases a universe that seems real and almost used up in a way and draws us in with its terrifying premise. The movie starts with a crew of interesting characters that are in basically an outer space version of a tug ship called the Nostromo carrying ore back to Earth. Their journey is interrupted by a signal from a planet along their path that gets them to stop at a desolate world that houses what turns out to be a parasitic alien life form that impregnates one of their crew and then kills him as it bursts out of his chest in one of the most iconic and horrifying scenes in movie history.

The claustrophobic atmosphere of the ship gives off the vibe of a haunted house in outer space that builds tension as the crew is killed off one by one until only Lt. Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) is left to fend off the creature. The death of Captain Dallas (played by Tom Skerritt) earlier in the film was shocking and let audiences know that no one was safe and ratcheted up the tension even more.

The setting of the movie is also interesting from a sci-fi standpoint. It is very different from previous films that came before it such as 2001, which had a very clean, almost sterile look to it. Alien basically features a group of truckers in space flying what looks like an oil rig, trying to make a living hauling fuel for a faceless corporation that ultimately sees them as expendable.

Alien is set in the near future (early 22nd century), but still has a somewhat familiar feel with the bridge and living quarters having a lived-in look. The tension and mistrust between the crew members, caused by things like pay disputes and later on the threat of the alien, is also realistic and puts the characters in a relatable light. This universe would be expanded in subsequent sequels, some more successful than others, that further explored this unique take on our future that featured colonial marines and prison planets that always had humans facing off against the insidious aliens trying to wipe them out.

Another landmark of Alien is the design of the creature itself. Designed by H.R. Giger, it is both hideous and beautiful at the same time as well as incredibly original. Its dual mouth and razor sharp teeth and skeletal appearance is the stuff of nightmares and stands with any other horror icon.

The slow but methodical way in which the alien kills off the crew of the Nostromo builds the suspense of the film until the very end. The design of the crab-like creature that plants the alien xenomorph in unfortunate crew member Kane is also something that is instinctively unnerving to the audience, as well its brutal way of giving birth to its offspring. Later movies would add some wrinkles to the xenomorph design but the basic look of the creature is still based on Giger’s incredibly unique design.

All of these unique qualities resulted in a new genre of film, sci-fi/horror, which led to such films like Event Horizon, and Life and even influenced other mediums like video games such as popular fare like Doom and Dead Space that also feature humans in space facing off against similar alien threats. Alien’s success also inevitable led to a veritable industry of cheaper knockoffs that has the same basic plot of space crew finding an alien that wipes them out. Obviously none of them could match the seemingly perfect combination of chills, mystery and monsters in space that makes the original Alien still a classic film four decades after its release.

Weaver’s portrayal of Ripley is iconic as well and served as the blueprint for subsequent strong female leads in movies such as Linda Hamilton’s role of Sarah Connor in the Terminator series, Katniss Everdeen, Kira Nerys, Furiosa, and most recently the film version of Alita.

Needless to say, Ripley is one of the many influential aspects of Alien and among the greatest on-screen heroines that re-shaped the role of the female protagonist in cinema.

The franchise spawned by this movie is still ongoing as well, all these years later. The first sequel Aliens is a classic sci-fi action movie. Subsequent entries and spinoffs such as Alien 3, Alien: Covenant, Prometheus, and Alien vs. Predator were not as well received, but I have enjoyed all of them and look forward to more movies that take us back to this rich universe populated by arguably the scariest creatures in space ever imagined.

C.S. Link

Game Of Thrones: The Wheel Is Broken As The Series Concludes

Game of Thrones

It is hard to believe that George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy yarn has come to a conclusion, but it has. Of course, the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, is still a couple of books away from being published, but the HBO series it inspired, Game of Thrones, aired its last episode in an appropriate way. Ever since Game of Thrones debuted back in 2011 it has been a source of controversy in terms of how its story arcs developed and this final season and episode weren’t any different.

Before going further, a fair warning must be stated that spoilers will follow. With that out of the way, the final episode of Game of Thrones, “The Iron Throne”, concluded long-running character arcs that already left many fans reeling or feeling satisfied. But that is typical with this fantasy show. Game of Thrones stood out from normal fantasy fare with its brutally graphic and grounded depiction of its world. The good guys more often than not did not win the day, honor and duty were burdens and life was not fair, just like reality. We’ve seen this time and time again with incidents like the death of lead character Ned Stark, the infamous Red Wedding or the rape of Sansa Stark.

The final season was eagerly awaited as it promised to conclude many story lines but many fans were disappointed, which is natural given all the hype and anticipation Game of Thrones has received. Careful and observant viewers should not have been surprised or dismayed too much by how the arcs and characters developed. For instance, a major source of contention is with how Daenerys Targaryen descended into savagery in her quest for the Iron Throne and her birthright. We’ve followed Daenerys’ story from the first season where she was a timid princess in exile who overcame her inhibitions and rose to power by becoming a savior of people in the lands of Essos. She and her followers liberated slaves and vanquished evil people throughout the show and we all were eager for her to take on the evil forces holding the Iron Throne in King’s Landing, Westeros, namely the Lannister family who killed her father during a rebellion. But as viewers cheered her journey, many overlooked the clear signs that Daenerys had a dark side that was kept in check by close advisers and friends. When she and her forces finally stormed King’s Landing and slaughtered its innocent citizens, Daenerys was largely alone. Most of her confidants were dead or driven away, sometimes by her doing. This applied to her Queen’s Hand, Tyrion Lannister, who was appalled by her behavior. Even though the forces defending King’s Landing surrendered, a blood lust overtook Daenerys and she laid waste to the city with her magnificent dragon, Drogon and her army. This was too much for many people who realized she was beyond redemption.

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A Closer Look At Avengers: Endgame & The Future Of The MCU, Part Two

We’re continuing our look at the superhero film event, Avengers: Endgame. This time we’ll speculate on a major plot device, what lies ahead for the team and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and even who will be in the team later in the future. As before, major spoilers will follow, so turn back now if you have not seen Avengers: Endgame yet.

 

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The Smallest Hero with the Biggest Impact

Avengers: Endgame didn’t just feature story arcs about the OG Avengers but on allies that joined the team and their mission to undo Thanos’ snap. Nebula and Rocket Raccoon from the Guardians of the Galaxy, along with everyone else were at the end of their rope, feeling defeated after Thanos’ victory in the previous film. There was significant time spent on them and they had their special character moments. While they made important contributions to the team’s quest to reverse Thanos’ snap, one of other ally became the most unlikely Avenger of them all: Ant-Man. He is not only the smallest MVP in Endgame but the most important one because the Avengers’ ultimate victory would not have been possible without Ant-Man.

Lang shows up

When Scott Lang aka Ant-Man re-emerged from the quantum realm after the film’s five-year time jump, he quickly realizes that time travel is possible due to the way he experienced time differently in the micro-dimension. He goes out of his way to locate the Avengers and presents them with this idea. Lang, fresh and eager from his experience in the quantum realm becomes a beacon of hope and new-found resolve for a defeated team. He inspires everyone into believing that the devasting effects of the Decimation could be undone.

ant-man in Avengers Endgame

To think this was all possible because of a rat. This anonymous rodent just happened to step on the controls of the quantum tunnel machine in a storage unit that brought Lang back into the world. Coincidence? Sure. Blind luck? You bet! But sometimes all it takes is the right circumstance to change everything. Even if some rat didn’t accidently save the universe, Lang would have been released some other time, what is important is that his re-emergence happened at the right time. Given his contribution, including his actions which later saved the Hulk, Rocket Raccoon and War Machine, Ant-Man is a shoe-in not only for another solo film, but as an Avenger in the team’s next film.

A Soldier’s Final Mission

At the end of Avengers: Endgame, Steve Rogers traveled back to different time periods to return the Infinity Stones and nip the creation of alternate timelines.

His final journey raised many questions given how his mission ended. As mentioned in part one of this post, Rogers decided to spend his days in the past with Peggy Carter and grew old with her. We know this because moments after he disappeared into the quantum tunnel, he turns up nearby as an elderly man.

This started rampant speculation about how he returned since he didn’t use the same quantum tunnel machine he left in. Some theorized he was in the Prime MCU all along and never created a new timeline. The writers for the film agree with this, but it’s hard to believe because given his heroic nature, there isn’t any way that Rogers, whether or not as Captain America, would not interfere with history. He would have prevented Bucky from becoming the Winter Soldier, stopped the Hydra infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., or Thanos’ quest for the Infinity Stones, let alone real-world tragedies like the JFK assassination or 9/11. The Avengers: Endgame directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, contradict this notion and believe that Rogers lived out his years in an alternate timeline. Good evidence for this is the fact that he comes back with an intact shield. Remember that his shield was broken during his battle with Thanos. Rogers must’ve obtained the new shield in the alternate timeline. Perhaps that timeline’s Captain America died or the shield was no longer needed in the brave new world Rogers created.

The question is how did he return? The temporal/quantum technology in the new timeline must have advanced more significantly than in the Prime MCU. Or that timeline’s Doctor Strange could have used magic to transport Rogers back to his native timeline. This and how did Rogers return the Stones are intriguing material for a potential film or series on Disney+, though we’ll probably never know.

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