Movie Review ~ Dark Phoenix


The Facts
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Synopsis: Jean Grey begins to develop incredible powers that corrupt and turn her into a Dark Phoenix. Now the X-Men will have to decide if the life of a team member is worth more than all the people living in the world.

Stars: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Alexandra Shipp, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jessica Chastain, Evan Peters

Director: Simon Kinberg

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 113 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Having never been someone that has done a deep dive into the comic book realm, I can’t speak to fan reactions when a franchise plays fast and loose with characters and story arcs. There are some that can’t look past a studio wanting to continue their cash cows by making financially motivated choices to keep their films alive and there are others (like myself) who don’t mind sitting back and taking in the movie for what it is – entertainment. It’s not for lack of interest or ambivalence on my part, it’s stepping back and seeing the big picture. Of all the superhero tentpole films, it seems the X-Men movies take the biggest beating from critics and fans that revolt at the slightest stray from where they want to see the action go and I find that so strangely fascinating.

I’ve gone on record multiple times saying that by and large I’ve enjoyed most all of the X-Men films and their numerous spin-offs. True, some have been problematic and less winning than others but they’ve been more consistent than most long-running series and have evolved from the silly seriousness of the original film (you know it’s true!) to something bold and musclar like 2016’s brilliant Logan. A new era of the X-Men began in 2011 with X-Men: First Class and I was not moved either way by that semi-reboot until X-Men: Days of Future Past arrived in 2014. That film was a grand return to form and while The Wolverine didn’t connect with some I appreciated what it was doing in advancing Hugh Jackman’s character toward Logan. Knives were unfairly out for X-Men: Apocalypse in 2016, even though I found it a weirdly fun film.

Arriving amidst an ominous cloud of bad buzz is the next film in the X-Men series, Dark Phoenix, and I imagine it will take the same beating from former fans and critics eager for an easy target. Delayed several times by 20th Century Fox due to highly publicized reshoots not to mention its pending purchase by Disney studios which had its own Marvel superhero movie to attend to earlier this summer, I’m not sure this ever would have had a fair shot when it was released. Honestly? The film has some major flaws and often feels like it’s held together by packing tape that’s long since lost its ability to keep things in place but when it works it works like a charm. For all the negative things I’d heard about it going in, maybe the bar was set low enough that my opinion couldn’t be worse than what people were saying.

When we last left our world-saving mutants, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) had unleashed the full force of her powers to destroy Apocalypse. After a brief prologue shows us the tragic beginnings of how Jean came to stay with Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Glass) at his school for teens with extraordinary talents we are thrown right into action set in 1992. The team, comprised of Jean, Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, Mud), Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, mother!), Beast (Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies), Storm (Alexandra Shipp, Love, Simon), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, ParaNorman), and Quicksilver (Evan Peters, The Lazarus Effect), is dispatched to save the crew of a space shuttle in the path of a solar storm. This is no ordinary space mission, though, and Jean is exposed to an energy source at the center of the storm.

Now possessing remarkable power that begins to consume her, Jean goes rogue to seek out answers from her past to help her decide what to do with her new gifts. At the same time, she’s pursed not only by Professor X, the X-Men, and a revenge-seeking Magneto (Michael Fassbender, Prometheus), but by alien huntress Vuk (Jessica Chastain, Lawless) who has arrived on Earth with a large number of her own warriors aiming to harvest the lifeforce within Jean that has the power to create new worlds…and destroy Earth in the process. It leads to a showdown that begins with Jean’s allegiance and ends with the lives of many hanging in the balance.

It’s clear this movie has been through many an edit and it shows not only in the hastily reshot footage but in the tonal shifts throughout. Looking at the success of grittier fare like Deadpool and its sequel, you can see where writer/director Simon Kinberg (Murder on the Orient Express) wanted to push the boundaries a bit by making this one more intense but without being able to go all the way with the blood, language, or violence it comes off as too tentative and neutered. There’s also a strange reliance on scenes with characters gulping down booze whenever they can’t cope with pressure or wanting to tamp down their own emotions. Normally good actors paint with broader strokes here, perhaps knowing this was their final time at bat they are really swinging for high camp. Chastain, Hoult, and McAvoy in particular seem to be trying to outdo each other in who can be the most ostentatious…until Fassbender shows up and puts them all to shame.

Yet somehow the movie checked off enough of the right boxes on my score sheet to emerge a winner and that’s mostly due to a fantastic finale set aboard a train. Usually a reshot ending can be one big eye roll since it often is an afterthought that rarely gels with the rest of the film but this one felt like it came after the filmmakers had some distance from the work and came back refreshed. There are some crowd-pleasing moments to be had here and it provided the requisite thrills some other parts of the movie lacked. Also, it showed once again that Shipp’s Storm (and just the character of Storm in general) needs her own movie, like, yesterday.  I still long for the filmmakers to spend more time at the school so we can see more of the youngsters and their burgeoning abilities — anytime we’re in the school and we see hints at the comic-books fringe characters people recognize you can tell people want more.  Now that 20th Century Fox is owned by Disney, perhaps Disney will get a series together for their streaming Disney+ service that’s all about the school?  Might be a good idea.

I’m still grappling with these recent X-Men movies not totally lining up with the original three X-Men films that started off this whole series of films. Don’t think too hard that the first X-Men movie is set a mere eight years after this one is to take place…or wonder what happens to Fassbender and McAvoy in those eight years to turn them into Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Instead, take these movies as the prequels they were always meant to be and for what they are, casual entertainment. Perhaps if you go in with the lowered expectations like I did you’ll set yourself up to get something more out of this than others who went in prepared to hate it. Give it a chance.  I’m not totally sure where the series goes from here.  There’s absolutely room for more sequels but based on the struggle this one had to get to theaters and the boos and hisses already coming from the Twitter-verse, a reset might be in order to restore some faith in this franchise.  Clearly, I’m easier to please than most and found the fun in this Phoenix…but I’m also not a hardcore fan that had a great investment in it either.

Movie Review ~ Logan

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Boyd Holbrook, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Richard E. Grant

Director: James Mangold

Rated: R

Running Length: 137 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: We should all be thanking Mission: Impossible 2.  It may be hard to fathom now, but had his filming as the villain in that sorry sequel not stretched beyond its original shooting schedule, Doughray Scott and not Hugh Jackman would have been the one that wound up playing Logan/Wolverine in nine films.  Well, actually, I’m not sure Scott had the charisma necessary to have lasted as long as Jackman has in the role.  Though he’s ably stretched beyond the superhero universe, Jackman will always be favorably associated with this character/franchise and rightfully so.  Showing a willingness to be a team player (popping up in a cameo during X:Men – First Class) or going his own way in two stand-alone Wolverine pictures, Jackman has seen this role through to the end.  We may see Wolverine again in some form but if Logan is truly the finale Jackman has promised, he’s gone out in a burning blaze of glory.

It’s not worth going back and trying to connect the dots between the X-Men movies when thinking about Logan.  Taking place in the near future shortly after a catastrophic event that dramatically decreased the number of mutants roaming the globe, we meet a weary Logan living under the radar and showing his age.  Moonlighting as a limo driver for extra cash and with his earth-saving days seemingly behind him, he acts as a guardian to Professor X (Patrick Stewart, Green Room), now suffering in an advanced state of dementia.

Crossing paths not only with a silent but deadly pre-teen mutant (Dafne Keen) but the bounty hunter (Boyd Holbrook, Gone Girl) intent on tracking her down, the aged man with adamantium claws that spring from his knuckles doesn’t want to be anywhere near the action.  Resistance is futile, though, and Logan begrudgingly becomes a foster parent of sorts to the girl, committing to delivering her to a protected area in the upper Midwest while keeping Professor X close by.  The trip is rocky with many unexpected detours, all leading to a surprisingly emotional climax that feels justly earned.

With all the “last time as Wolverine” talk surrounding Logan, I’ll let you find out for yourself where our hero is when the credits roll but don’t be surprised if Jackman, reteaming with The Wolverine director James Mangold, has a few tricks up his sleeve as he closes this chapter.  The previous two solo Wolverine films have been a mixed bag.  The first was an outright miss, stumbling out of the gates and pretty much nixing several planned X-Men spin-offs at the same time.  2013’s The Wolverine was a much better film than most gave it credit for but in the end the third time really is the charm because Logan represents the best of what all involved have to offer.

It was a good move on the part of 20th Century Fox, emboldened by the smash success of Deadpool, in okaying Mangold and his screenwriters to make Logan a hard R, a rating it earns within the first five minutes thanks to a gory bit of violence and a barrage of colorful language.  I’ll admit to enjoying hearing Stewart swear like a sailor and while I generally favor the less is more approach, free from ratings restraints it seems like everyone and everything is much looser and less cautious.  The violence is exceedingly vicious and no flesh, blood vessel, bones, or skulls are spared.  And it never feels forced, just that the studio finally allowed the audience to see this world as it was always meant to be.

Admittedly, the X-Men aren’t quite in my wheelhouse and it’s taken me a while to come around to their place in the superhero universe.  I feel they’ve improved as they’ve gone along, feeling less comic book-y and more wholly formed with each passing entry (I know you all hated X-Men: Apocalypse but I dug it just fine).  While Logan isn’t directly tied to those previous films (like Apocalypse was to X-Men: Days of Future Past), it’s clear they are all operating in the same timeline and for that Logan feels like a step in the right direction.

Coming so far from just chomping on a cigar and trimming his mutant mutton chops, Jackman knows this character inside and out.  He takes the opportunity (and lengthy running time) to bring out every nuance he can, not letting Logan be changed from a grumpy old man overnight.  He’s matched well by Stewart, doing his best acting than in any previous X-Men film. Crippled by his disintegrating brain, his grizzled appearance is a far cry from the wheelchair bound gleaming cue ball in a designer suit we have come to enjoy.  Holbrook manages to make his villain nicely vile without alienating the audience in the process but the real find here is Keen who is able to handle some pretty heavy material and handily go claw-to-claw with the leading man.

Featuring several super charged action sequences and just gorgeously filmed in general, if there’s one thing I could ding Logan for it would be a nagging sense of familiarity to its tale of redemption.  While it has its fair share of original moves, you’ll likely be one step ahead of its protagonists on multiple occasions.  No matter, the movie hums along so nicely that even at nearly 2 ½ hours the time will fly by.

For my money, Logan is the best of Jackman’s outings as Wolverine and I’m glad it doesn’t wind up feeling like a tired final act.  This is what true character completion looks like and I applaud not only the entertainment value of the movie but the cast and crew that were allowed by their studio the freedom to give a proper send-off.  Highly recommended and likely worth a second viewing as well.

Movie Review ~ The Wolverine

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Summoned to Japan by an old acquaintance, Wolverine becomes embroiled in a conflict that forces him to confront his own demons.

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hal Yamanouchi, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Brian Tee, Famke Janssen

Director: James Mangold

Rated: PG-13

Running Length:

Trailer Review: Here and Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  It’s hard to imagine it now but audiences very nearly had a different actor playing Logan/Wolverine when the original X-Men movie was released back in 2000.  Though several A-List stars were sought for the role, their fees provided intimidating and newcomer Dougray Scott was cast as the mutant hero with the Adamantium claws.  When Scott’s work on Mission: Impossible 2 ran long he was swapped out for total unknown Hugh Jackman and the rest, as they say, is cinematic history.

Thirteen years later Jackman (Les Misérables) has suited up again, marking his sixth appearance as the man with the questionable sideburns and some serious anger issues.  Though he stumbled with 2009’s misguided X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Jackman isn’t one to throw in the towel easily so it was back to the drawing board.  After several stops and starts his mea culpa is here, simply called The Wolverine and it’s a much more enjoyable outing, taking the character into some needed dark territory which gives Jackman a chance to infuse a fair amount of gravitas to a character born from a comic book.

Still…a little bit of brooding goes a long way and ever since Christopher Nolan re-invigorated the Batman franchise by giving The Dark Knight a dark arc it seems like every superhero action film since feels the need to follow suit.  That resulted in a troubling Man of Steel but The Wolverine just makes it out from the heavy pathos unscathed…though often times the Man with the Iron Claws gets dangerously close to being dragged down alongside the Man of Steel.

What helps the movie immensely is the nice amount of distance from everything else in the world of X-Men.  Though I love a good mash-up of characters as much as the next geeky fanboy, Jackman’s haunted character needed some room to stretch his claws.  Taking place largely in Japan, the script from Mark Bomback and Scott Frank feels more like a moody crime drama than it does a large-scale action film – don’t be scared by that statement because trust me, the film works more often than not.

That’s mostly thanks to Jackman who also seems more invested in the film this time around. Jackman is an engaging presence both on and off screen but in this film he doesn’t shy away from letting his dark side show, especially as Logan continues to be haunted by memories of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen).  When he’s located by a mysterious woman (plucky newcomer Rila Fukushima) and brought to Japan, he gets neck deep into trouble over unsettled scores and family secrets that turn out to involve him more than he thinks.

Aside from Jackman, the women in the movie are the most memorable.  I was pretty fascinated with Fukushima as well as model-turned actress Tao Okamoto as the daughter of a man from Logan’s past.  Though both actresses are very early in their careers, they acquit themselves nicely…even if Okamoto is somewhat clumsily thrown into a “I saw that one coming” romance with Jackman.  As a viper-like villainess, Svetlana Khodchenkova (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) looks the part right down to her perfectly placed evil mole but her voice is unfortunately awkwardly dubbed.  This makes most of her work fairly distracting and one wonders why director James Mangold couldn’t have figured out a better solution.

Perhaps a tad overlong and lacking the larger than life action sequences that the franchise would seem to dictate, The Wolverine begins to run out of steam around the 90 minute mark.  With about 40 minutes left, that isn’t great news but thankfully several batteries are recharged near the end and through a not-to-be-missed-if-you-know-what’s-good-for-you credits sequence.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t really mind the last stand-alone Wolverine film.  Yes, it wasn’t the right movie for anyone involved but it wasn’t a disaster like many that have come before and after it.  I know that Jackman wanted to get it right this time and for the most part the film accomplishes what it wanted to.  It corrects some past mistakes and sets up future installments for not only more Wolverine films but other X-Men adventures in the years to come (X-Men: Days of Future Past is set for release in May of 2014).  Is it the best film that could have been made…no, it’s not.  Still, it’s an entertaining entry that rates high on the popcorn scale.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Wolverine – Trailer #2

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Synopsis: Wolverine makes a voyage to modern-day Japan, where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future.

Release Date:  July 26, 2013

Thoughts: While some wrote off 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine completely as a missed opportunity, I did enjoy parts of the film but not enough to have made a return visit to the movie since I saw it in theaters.  Going back to a story that’s been floating around star Hugh Jackman’s wheelhouse for a while, this new film featuring the adamantium clawed anti-hero is supposedly a darker affair than we’ve seen before.  Consciously moving the action forward to a time when Wolverine is all alone the filmmakers have given Jackman (Les Miserables) and company the chance to right some past mistakes and make the first step in really moving this character and franchise forward.  Let’s see if a refreshed story and directing from James Mangold will do the trick.

                                                                                        View Trailer #1 here

The Silver Bullet ~ The Wolverine

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Synopsis: Wolverine makes a voyage to modern-day Japan, where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future.

Release Date:  July 26, 2013

Thoughts: After 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine failed to ignite the kind of box office that Marvel Studios and Twentieth Century Fox had hoped, plans were scrapped for future installments of similar X-Men Origin films.  But you can’t keep an appealing superhero down and of all the X-Men that have graced the screen, Hugh Jackman’s haunted hero Logan/Wolverine has always been the most appealing to me.  After the huge success of 2011’s X-Men prequel, Fox decided another go ‘round was worth it.  With gritty director James Mangold (Cop Land, Knight and Day) on board and coming off of Jackman’s Oscar nominated turn in Les Miserables, expectations are once again high for the franchise.  I didn’t mind the previous stand-alone Wolverine film but did find it a tad uninspired…so I’m curious to see where this film will take us.  It certainly looks to hit all the right notes for a successful run but if it doesn’t another X-Men prequel is on its way in 2014.