Exes (Dark Phoenix, 2019)

Dark_Phoenix_posterSo…after a long delay that has pretty much reached the point where the X-Movies from Fox seem to be just getting pushed out to clear the slate, Dark Phoenix has been released.  This is the series second attempt at pretty much the same story.

Set about ten years after X-Men Apocalypse, Dark Phoenix opens with the X-Men as fairly beloved by the public. They are now celebrities, but on a mission in space, this is all jeopardized as Jean Grey is hit by a strange cosmic anomaly that causes her powers to grow exponentially.

This results in her finding out facts about her past that drive a wedge between Jean, resulting in a character dying due to her actions. A second group, expressing interest in her power tries to seduce Jean while the X-Men are fractured between those that want to save Jean and those who feel she should be dead.

And honestly…the second shot is not a redemptive one.  The whole ten year jump deal seemed to cause more problems.  There are plenty of indicators of interesting story stuff going on between the past two films. But it almost seems like they forgot about stuff they established in Apocalypse. They had established stuff like the Hellfire Club as far back as First Class and yet, leave them aside for a bland sub-story threat.

The film introduces a new threat that has never been seen before in the X-Men franchise…the series has never even suggested this type of threat is out there.  It seems logical that it could exist in a universe of mutants, but it also feels entirely out of left field.

We have yet a new world ending threat that honestly…feels kind of boring. Characters are used blandly, Storm and Nightcrawler feel like characters that Kinberg forgot were in the movie until the big fight.

Apparently they had their big end fight in space and reshot the film to set it…um…on a train.  And the train fight is pretty cool. But not enough to save the film.  The effects work fine, and the mutant effects work fine.

A lot of the performances feel like the actors are kind of ready to be done with this series.  Sophie Turner’s performance is the best…she gives a genuinely strong performance.

As the film likely to be the finale for the Fox Franchise, Dark Phoenix is a pretty weak send off. I was disappointed that they could not recover from the failings of Apocalypse. but hey…we finally got Dazzler…so that is something?

Dark_Phoenix_Dazzler

As an aside, I am a bit amused at just how everyone appears to keep ignoring the New Mutants and are treating this as the final Fox X-Men film. But let’s face it…we don’t know if we will ever see that one released.

Temporary Apocalypse (X-Men: Apocalypse, 2016)

X-Men-Apocalypse-IMAX-posterThere is a scene in X-Men Apocalypse where, as a group of students are leaving Return of the Jedi, Jean Grey states “But we can all agree the third movie is always the worst.”  It is a pretty clear shot at X-Men: The Last Stand.  That was the movie Apocalypse Director Bryan Singer skipped and is pretty widely seen as a disappointment after X2.  Except, whether they realized it or not, the joke is kind of a jinx.

See, X-Men: First Class and X-Men:Days of Future Past?  They were quite good.  They are entertaining and filled with terrific performances and nice use of characters from the vast history of the X-Men Comics.  After the Last stand and the damage done by X-Men Origins: Wolverine the series went back to the beginning.  Introducing us to Young Charles Xavier and Magneto.  McAvoy and Fassbender brought characters we knew as aging leaders to young men trying to make the world a better play, but always coming to odds with how to do that.  Then, in Days of Futures Past, they brought the past and future together, to try and fix the timeline, fixing the flaws of Last Stand and Wolverine.

And this brings us to X-Men Apocalypse.  I was looking forward to it, as it was most of the team that brought us the last two installments.  Yet again, the central focus is the relationship between Xavier (McAvoy), Magneto (Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).  Beast (Nicholas Hoult) retuns, as does Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne).  We are also introduced to a younger Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), young Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Jubilee (Lana Condor).  Of course, smartly, the film brings back Evan Peters as Quicksilver…and he steals the show a lot…again.

First, the good.  Again, as I said, Quicksilver is just fantastic.  Yeah, he is not really like his counterpart from the comics.  In the comics, he is arrogant, impatient and snippy. This is explained in the comics by Quicksilver essentially seeing life as being a continuous wait at the DMV, at least when he has to move at the rest of the worlds pace.  Evans approach is more of a lighthearted goofball who enjoys and savors his speed.  And it really works.

The performers are good choices.  I like that they kept the faith element for Nightcrawler.  I know his creator never cared for that addition…but I always liked the combo of swashbuckler swordsman Christian who happens to look like a demon.  Setting young Storm in Cairo was a nice touch, acknowledging her history from the comics.  There are a lot of great visuals. And yet…

The story is just a mess.  There is so much going on, so many introductions, characters get lost.  Jubliee, who was a pretty big character in the comics for over a decade is barely a side character.  We never even see her mutant powers in action.   Angel is just a random passerby in the film, for all intents and purposes.  Both he and Psylock (Olivia Munn) get precious little to do and zero character development.  The film routinely feels like it is advertising “There will be a deleted scene on the blu-ray fans!” as it transitions from moment to moment.  Maybe those deleted scenes will make Apocalypse feel threatening.  When some of us expressed concern about the pictures of Apocalypse on Entertainment Weekly’s cover last year, we were told to not assume this was the final look, they will Fix It In Post, so to speak.They did not.  Or at least not enough.  In spite of hiring a terrific actor (Oscar Isaac), Apocalypse just never feels as frightening as the film keeps telling us he is.

And it is clear the film is going for epic.  But it just never feels that way…because the film takes forever to get through it’s big dramatic moments.  There is a sequence that is supposed to be the big Jean Grey moment.  She walks dramatically into battle towards Apocalypse.  There is a standoff going on the mental plane involving the psychic characters…and the film spends a ridiculous amount of time on dramatic shots of Jean Grey walking.  And walking.  And walking.  Instead of being thrilled by a big moment, I was just wanting them to get to the moment.

And there is a dramatic image from the trailers…that turns out to be the filmmakers taking a cue from Superman IV: the Quest for Peace.  The film just shambles along from scene to scene, never feeling coherent or particularly great.  And after the last two films?  A pretty big disappointment.  I mean, it is okay, but it was a real drop after the last two films.  And Deadpool.  It is okay for an X-Men movie means it might be slightly better than the Last Stand.

The Argh of Apocalypse

The X-Men films started off strongly (X-Men was decent, X2 was very strong) faltered in the middle (X3 and X-Men Origins Wolverine were big stumbles),  X-Men:First Class started the films back to a solid footing that X-Men: Days of Future Past continued with.  The Setting in the past helped give the films a sense of purpose.  And as they go into the 80’s with the X-Men: Apocalypse, introducing Apocalypse makes a lot of sense.

In the Marvel comics world, Apocalypse was the first mutant.  He is ancient.  And he looks like this:

x-men-apocalypse-coming-in-2016Entertainment Weekly recently revealed the look of Apocalypse for the film:

ew-x-men-leg-05ApocalypseHeaderAnd it just feels…off.  People slammed it quite harshly.  My own reaction was that it looks like a lame Doctor Who villain or a rejected idea from the Wishmaster franchise.  I mean, maybe there is going to be a barrage of digital yet.  But some folks quickly jumped up to point out that folks complained about Quicksilver and look how that turned out.

And, this is fairly true.  People howled loudly about how awful Quicksilver’s outfit looked.  And yet, Quicksilver was one of the most engaging characters in the film.  His sequence in Days of Future Past was a real standout.

And so, folks are understandably saying, the character could still be awesome.  And true, the performance may turn out to be awesome.  I am not expressing a dissatisfaction with the performer.  But I am rather unexcited about the characters look…and no performance is going to suddenly make it look cool.  I may like the performance and character, but unless there is a lot of post production touch up, I cannot see the character looking less comedic.

As an aside, the inclusion of Jubilee feels odd… Jubilee is really very much an element of the 90s X-Men comics. Yes, she technically first appeared in the 80s.  May of 1989.  The actress seems like a good choice and they do seem to have hit her style near perfectly.

Oh yeah, Moira McTaggert is in this one…if it’s not archival, there is a 20 year jump in time since we last saw her…are they aging Rose Byrne (the character would be pushing 50, if not older)?  And really Entertainment Weekly and Filmmakers…if Scott Summers is a “bad boy” in your film…crap, that is a big misunderstanding of the character.

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