Dark Phoenix

June 5, 2019 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender
Directed by: Simon Kinberg (debut)
Written by: Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Apocalypse”)

Here we are at the presumptive end of Fox’s X-Men series, and it all seems to be happening with a relative whimper. What started 19 years ago as part of the Big Bang of modern superhero movies draws to a close with a shrug in “Dark Phoenix,” the latest (and final?) film in the longest-running comic-book movie franchise ever—so far, anyway.

While all eight of the X-movies proper maintain a loose continuity with their immediate neighbors, the series has always been ready to throw it out the window at a moment’s notice. Which means to say, if the gist of “Dark Phoenix” seems a little familiar, it’s because this same storyline—based on a classic comic book arc—was sort of done back in 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

Following the world-shattering events of the franchise low point “X-Men: Apocalypse,” things seem … sort of normal? It’s 1992 and the newly-launched Space Shuttle Endeavour has suffered some sort of problem on its maiden voyage by way of a mysterious solar flare. It’s up to Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his X-Men to save the day. Led by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, who proves in this film to be completely over playing the blue-faced mutant) and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), the team flies into space to save the astronauts. In the process, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) gets caught in the explosion and the mysterious solar flare enters her body, sending her power off the charts.

Meanwhile, some aliens that are also after the power in the flare land on earth and mimic the humans they kill. One takes the shape of a woman (Jessica Chastain) and seeks out Jean, who has now discovered Charles has lied to her about her past, sending her over the edge.

In the age of world domination by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, these first-cousin-once-removed X-movies come across as downright cheapo and quaint. I mean, they’re full of physical stunts and JLaw is just wearing blue makeup and an unconvincing wig to play a shapeshifter, and Hoult has fake blue fur glued to his face. The goddamn Black Panther’s suit is CGI, even though there’s a real one on set! All in all, “Dark Phoenix” is entirely perfunctory, with confusing fight choreography, confounding character arcs, and completely unearned sentimentality. And even still, there are at least two worse X-Men adjacent movies. Now that Fox has been absorbed into Disney, all signs point to this being the wrap on a series that laid the groundwork for where the genre is today and created a bonafide movie star in Hugh Jackman. Thanks for your service, X-Men. We’ll see you in MCU phase 5, probably.

X-Men: Apocalypse

May 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac
Directed by: Bryan Singer (“X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “X2”)
Written by: Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Fantastic Four”)

When we last left the X-Men movie franchise proper, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine – forever the series’ MVP – had traveled back in time in “Days of Future Past” to undo some stuff that had been done in both the movie’s universe and the real world. “DoFP” brought together the differing timelines and actors, erased little-loved entries like “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and absolutely destroyed any sense of a coherent timeline, which “Deadpool” took a jab at earlier this year. The longest-running comic book movie series was reinvigorated and, 16 years after we first met the cinematic mutants, most of them are back (played by younger actors) in “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

This time around, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his team of mutants, including Hank McCoy (Nicolas Hoult), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), are pitted against the first and most powerful mutant ever, Apocalypse (Oscar Issac). After being buried under a pyramid for 5,000 years, Apocalypse is awakened in part by the bumbling of CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) that allows sunlight to activate his golden power pyramid, or something. Anyway, Apocalypse gathers his four horsemen, including Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to rid the world of humanity and rule whoever is left. Also in the mix is Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and her crusade to free persecuted mutants around the world, pulling Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from the clutches of an underground fighting ring. Oh, and don’t forget returning fan-favorite Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and an extended cameo featuring a berserk, metal-clawed hero we’re all too familiar with.

With so many new (well, new-ish) characters to introduce alongside the old ones, director Bryan Singer often leaves the narrative momentum of “X-Men: Apocalypse” standing around and waiting while different cast members are dropped in on. Fassbender’s time as a Magneto/Erik gone straight with a wife and young daughter is the most compelling plot line in the movie, but Singer and screenwriter Kinberg keep yanking us away to check in on boring stuff like Xavier and McCoy visiting Mactaggert at the CIA to remind us of a long-forgotten plotline that had Charles erase Moira’s memory at the end of “X-Men: First Class.” In another bright spot, Evan Peter’s Quicksilver gets a stand-out slow-motion sequence in the movie, this time set to the Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” along with some more screen time. But Lawrence’s plot line feels tacked on and unnecessary, the result of the producers trying to come up with something interesting for the megastar who they signed to a contract before her fame went supernova.

And for a being with god-like power, Isaac’s Apocalypse sure does a lot of pointless dicking around in his quest to take over the world, perched atop a pyramid for what seems like 20 minutes making a new helmet for Magneto out of sand while the plot spins around to everyone else in the cast. Even what should have been a quick cameo by the so-called Weapon X drags on minutes too long, and, like the rest of the movie, ends up feeling like nothing more than table-setting for whatever is next. Fox had righted the X-franchise ship, so let’s hope this crummy mutation doesn’t affect the series again.

Fantastic Four

August 7, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan
Directed by: Josh Trank (“Chronicle”)
Written by: Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”), Jeremy Slater (“The Lazarus Effect”) and Josh Trank (debut)

During various stages of production, there were whispers that the reboot of “Fantastic Four” was turning into a bit of a mess. Though there were reshoots and rumors that director Josh Trank was causing all sorts of on set issues, it was hard to tell if this was true or just Hollywood hearsay. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Trank left his job as director of one of the upcoming “Star Wars” spinoffs. Again, reports cited his erratic behavior and directorial performance on the set of “Fantastic Four” as one of the catalysts for the decision. Fox entered damage control mode, but the chatter hasn’t subsided as Trank’s “Fantastic Four” finally arrives in theaters, mired in all sorts of controversy.

After finding a way to send objects through other dimensions and return them back, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is given a scholarship to a research institute. Once there, he along with scientist Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and technician Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) finalize a full size model of the project. Under the threat of losing the project, the team sneaks out to claim their stake of the newly developed alternate universe. Disaster strikes, however, and the team find themselves altered, with unexplainable new powers.

It may seem like with Teller, Jordan, Mara and Jamie Bell, “Fantastic Four,” Trank put together a great cast of likeable actors who can each shine in their own way and as an ensemble. Unfortunately, that isn’t even close to being the case. Bell is barely in the movie and adds nothing, Jordan has almost no character arc, and Mara just kind of exists in the background. Teller is the only one that gets any semblance of character development, and even he is a blank slate compared to charismatic roles in many of his other films.

In fact, almost anything character related in “Fantastic Four” goes absolutely nowhere. There’s an attempt to find connection through friendships, family strains and relationships, but nothing ever develops in any meaningful way. It’s the fault of a pretty mediocre script that is somehow both slow developing and way too accelerated. “Fantastic Four” spends most of its 100 minute run time in exposition mode, giving the full origin story treatment. It then hits the gas and clumsily stumbles into the climax, which takes place over a span of merely minutes, wraps up neatly, and ends with one of the worst scenes in a comic book movie in recent memory.

The strange thing about “Fantastic Four” is that there are a few glimmers of hope. There is something oddly refreshing about its early scenes, where we see members of the team as somewhat normal people, working research jobs. There are no suits, no super powers, and most importantly, no super vague world ending threat. It’s a situation that is ripe for creating a character driven, intimate superhero movie that we haven’t seen much of. It isn’t great by any stretch, but there are moments where Trank creates almost an anti-comic book movie atmosphere. Of course, this is something that is short lived and once it takes off into generic comic-book movie territory, complete with obligatory gaining of powers, lame villain turns (minus the head-exploding powers of Dr. Doom which was, admittedly, awesome), super lame one-liners, and shoddy CGI, anything unique about the film vanishes into a puff of smoke.

“Fantastic Four” is perhaps best described as an incredibly frustrating experience. There are moments throughout the film where the viewer can actually see what Trank was trying to do. The problem is that they are fleeting, and have no lasting impact. The actual experience of watching “Fantastic Four” is not agonizing, but under scrutiny, and as soon as the credits role it becomes abundantly apparent that literally nothing about the film works. It’s a waste of talented actors, a well-known property, and perhaps most valuable, our precious time.

Sherlock Holmes

December 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams
Directed by: Guy Ritchie (“RocknRolla”)
Written by: Anthony Peckham (“Invictus”), Simon Kinberg (“Jumper”), Michael Robert Johnson (debut)

It’s really not necessary to walk into the hip new version of “Sherlock Holmes” knowing anything about the legendary 19th century detective stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Actually, it might benefit moviegoers to forget anything about the English gumshoe they might have learned in prep school.

While there are some glimpses of Doyle’s source material, director Guy Ritchie (“RocknRolla,” “Snatch”) attempts to amp up this Holmes tale for the next generation, but fashions it around a mass-appealing storyline that becomes more soupy that scholarly.

That shouldn’t take anything away from two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr.’s stylish portrayal of the title character. As Holmes, Downey Jr. commands the screen as the world’s most famous, fist-fighting detective. Here, he is matched up nicely with actor Jude Law, who is a solid casting choice for Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. Watson. Despite the impressive paring and chemistry, screenwriters Anthony Peckham (“Invictus”), Simon Kinberg (“Jumper”), and newcomer Michael Robert Johnson can’t match the magnetism of Downey Jr. or the menacing art direction that turns London into a tarnished locale.

In the film, Holmes and Watson are on the heels of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a serial killer involved in black magic who apparently rises from the dead after the duo watch him hang for the murders he committed. From there, the film falls into a tale of world domination that is hardly unique on any level. Blackwood wants to bring down Parliament with a chemical weapon. Holmes must find him before he does. Where’s Guy Fawkes when you need him?

An under-used Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook”) plays Irene Adler, a secondary character only mentioned in one of Doyle’s numerous writings but is undoubtedly high on the Holmes hierarchy. The always-reliable Eddie Marsan plays Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade with his usual bitter approach to his characters.

Set pieces aside, “Sherlock Holmes” goes as far as the supernatural-themed narrative allows it. There are some highlights in the film including the rousing action sequences Ritchie is known for, which work well for a while before we’re reminded that all the loose ends and twists still have to be revealed before the bloated story pops. Then, there’s the fantastic score by Hans Zimmer that is far removed from his usual extravagant musical offerings. The funky piano playing throughout reminds us that not every period blockbuster needs a swelling orchestra to be effective.

But when a film feels like all it’s doing in the final act is setting up for a sequel, something is wrong with its cinematic logic. There’s far more story to tell in the mystery series, but it’s insane for “Holmes” to stop short without a concrete promise of a follow-up or without earning the right to dole out cliffhangers. It really acts more self-important than it should. Just be thankful Holmes never utters the word “elementary” or things could have gotten really ugly on Baker Street.

Jumper

February 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Hayden Christensen, Jaime Bell, Rachel Bilson
Directed by: Doug Liman (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”)
Written by: David S. Goyer (“Blade”), Jim Uhls (“Fight Club”), Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: The Last Stand”)

Imagine not having to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic, being able to wake up five minutes before an important meeting on the other side of town and getting there on time, or traveling anywhere in the world without ever buying a plane ticket. With the power of teleportation, you could do all of that and more. That’s exactly what David Rice (Christensen) does in the new slick-looking but prosaic action flick “Jumper.”

During a near-death experience, David’s life is spared when he somehow teleports away from danger and to another location. With his new-found talent to travel beyond space and time – and because he is unhappy at home with his verbally abusive father – he decides he can survive on his own by “borrowing” a few bucks from the bank and getting his own place. Hey, if you could move in and out of anywhere without opening a door, wouldn’t you visit a vault?

Flash-forward eight years and David has perfected his skill to teleport across the world. From having lunch on top of the Sphinx in Egypt to surfing the biggest waves in Fiji, David can do anything he wants with the power that has been granted to him. His trouble-free life, however, is interrupted when he finds out he is being hunted by a man whose soul purpose in life is to kill “Jumpers” like himself.

Roland (Jackson), who has been searching for David ever since he heard about his first bank robbery, is part of a unit of hunters known as Paladins. Unbeknownst to David, Jumper and Paladins are at war with each other and have been for thousands of years. Call it jealously or call it their mission, Paladins hate Jumpers because they feel no one should have the gift Jumpers do except God.

Now on the run, David returns home and visits his childhood crush (Bilson), who he strikes up a relationship with again by wooing her with weekend trips to Rome. The script is at its weakest here as David is never questioned about where he has been for the last eight years. Everyone thought he was dead, but who cares now? When you have an endless supply of money and can charm a girl by flying her out to the most extravagant cities, you can get around just about anything.

Excessive on the special effects but sputtering tremendously on the storyline, “Jumper” is illogical and a poor attempt at science fiction. Where the movie could have found its appeal was through David’s actual leaps through wormholes and dimensions. Instead, it becomes a drawn-out chase scene with far too many plot holes and flimsy characters.