The X-Men struggle to the end
in ‘Dark Phoenix’
This image shows Sophie Turner in a scene
from “Dark Phoenix.”
(Twentieth Century Fox via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) -
The good news is “Dark Phoenix” is neither an apocalypse nor is it
“X-Men: Apocalypse,” but this latest installment is not exactly a solid
step forward or a satisfying ending for anyone.
It’s supposed to be the culmination
of 20 years of X-Men movies, and yet it feels more like a rushed and
inconsequential spinoff than something that we’ve been building toward
for two decades. Perhaps that’s because we’ve barely gotten to know this
version of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), whose transformation into the
all-powerful Phoenix is the thing that divides the X-Men into a tiny
A brief flashback to 1975 shows a
young Jean’s defining trauma, when the telekinesis she can’t yet control
results in a horrific car crash and her becoming an orphan. She’s taken
in by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) who offers her help and guidance and
tells her that she can decide to use her powers for good, which is not
exactly top of mind for her when, 17 years later, she absorbs a deadly
cosmic energy field.
The main action is set in 1992, a
decade after the events in “Apocalypse” and 30 years after the events in
“X-Men: First Class,” and Charles is riding high on a tide of public
goodwill. The X-Men are finally being regarded as heroes and he’s become
the public face of the operation, with a direct line to the President of
the United States and everything.
Yet he’s getting a little cavalier
with his people, sending them off on an impossible rescue mission to
space which will render Jean into the Dark Phoenix. Even his longtime
allies like Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Hank/Beast (Nicholas
Hoult) are starting to question his motives. This, frankly, is the more
interesting thread but the film, written and directed by Simon Kinberg,
instead uses Jean/Phoenix — who, again, we don’t know very well — as the
embodiment of all of his ambition and failings.
Essentially, Jean discovers that
Charles has been hiding some information from her about her childhood
and she gets angry (dangerously so) and starts racking up a body count.
Even Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who is living in what looks like a
dystopian sleepaway camp, doesn’t want any part of it and she becomes an
outcast. So when an intense alien with nefarious plans and sky high
stilettos, Vuk (Jessica Chastain) tells her that she’s just
misunderstood and to follow her, Jean is all ears.
It’s a lot of fussy plot with not
much heart behind it, and while Turner is excellent at looking like a
woman in distress, she needs a character to back up all that conflict
and make us care. Even a pretty shocking death barely registers
emotionally. It probably also doesn’t help that this is coming on the
heels of “Avengers: Endgame.”
“Dark Phoenix,” a 20th Century Fox
release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for
“intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay,
disturbing images, and brief strong language.” Running time: 113
minutes. Two stars out of four.
‘Godzilla’ is back
and doing just fine
image shows a scene from “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
London (AP) -
It’s been a bit since moviegoers had the chance to catch up with
Godzilla, five years in fact, which in cinematic franchise time feels
like at least a few decades. In other words, it’s understandable if you
go into “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” a little rusty on just what
went down in Tokyo and San Francisco back in 2014.
To help us along, the filmmakers
have shifted the focus to another family entirely for this installment,
from the inert Brodys (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) to the
Russells, a now-broken family of scientists who lived in San Francisco
during the 2014 attack. There are a few holdovers though, mostly
employees of Monarch, the secret multinational organization that studies
the titans, like Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Graham (Sally
Hawkins), who are being accused of hiding Godzilla from world
governments who’d rather just destroy them all.
As far as the newcomers go, Dr.
Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) also works for Monarch and has developed a
machine called the Orca, which simulates the sounds of the various
titans. She believes this can be used to help manage them. Emma lives
with her 14-year-old daughter, Madison (“Stranger Things’” Millie Bobby
Brown in her first major film role), who is precociously enchanted by
her mother’s work and admires the primordial creatures.
Madison’s father Mark Russell (Kyle
Chandler, whose intensity is at level 10 for most of the movie) is not
really in the picture, having left after the San Francisco incident, but
is drawn back in when Emma and Madison (and the Orca) are kidnapped by
some militant eco-terrorists led by Jonah Alan (Charles Dance).
This group wants to use the titans,
of which there are now “17 and counting” including a pretty dazzling
Mothra and a less-enchanting three-headed “Monster Zero,” to help reset
the planet and reverse climate change and overpopulation. There’s some
convenient explanation of why the radiation from the titans actually
helps revitalize vegetation, which, like many of the silly plot devices
in this movie, you kind of just let slide. That said, anyone currently
watching “Chernobyl” on HBO will likely be very stressed out about the
amount of radiation all the humans are likely absorbing just by being in
proximity to all these creatures.
Michael Dougherty has taken the
directing reins this time, from Gareth Edwards, and has done a fine job
capturing the grandness of the titans, keeping the action coherent and
balancing the human element thanks to a terrific cast that also includes
O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Thomas Middleditch. His script is also pleasingly
light and often funny, although Bradley Whitford’s Dr. Stanton goes a
little overboard trying to be the comic relief.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” a
Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association
of America for “sequences of monster action violence and destruction,
and for some language.” Running time: 131 minutes. Two and a half stars
out of four.