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Update June, 2019


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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)

Lindsey Bahr

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 civil war.

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

 

This image shows a scene from “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Lindsey Bahr

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.
 


UPDATE

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

The X-Men struggle to the end in ‘Dark Phoenix’


‘Godzilla’ is back and doing just fine