Back in 1998, I was talking to Matthew Broderick about the then-remake of “Godzilla.” He remarked that when he was in New York City shooting that movie, there was a guy that followed him around one day muttering, “Old Godzilla is better than new Godzilla.”
That phrase is truer now than ever before. With the recent “Godzilla: King of Monsters,” and upcoming reboots/sequels of “Shaft,” “Men in Black: International” and “Toy Story 4” all set for the next few weeks, do you think any of them will exceed the potential much less the originality of the originals?
“Dark Phoenix,” opening wide this week, represents the latest in the “X-Men” series, a franchise that’s coasting along on progressively deflating tires. Simon Kinberg, who has penned previous X-movies including the last two installments, also directs.
There are more lows than highs, although a finale that pits the X-Men against aliens on a moving train definitely shines with true comic book beats.
Jean Grey is the titular Dark Phoenix, whom she transforms into after a mission to save a Space Shuttle. The arc of her alter ego resembles the Marvel comic book series of the same name, with the slight change of the villains being a race of aliens intent on taking over Earth. Grey, portrayed by Sophie Turner, magnificent after her “Game of Thrones” run, carries the film with a magnetic presence emphasized by a cold-hearted attitude towards her fellow mutants.
On a side note, an Elton John song from the mid-1970s, “Grey Seal,” contains the lyrics: “The Phoenix bird will leave this world to fly.” Coincidence? I think not in the world of cinematic synchronicity.
The whole shebang starts with a pre-teen Jean Grey killing her parents in an auto wreck. Grey has anger management problems that escalate throughout the film. Complicating matters are a troop of alien shape shifters whose leader takes over the body of Jessica Chastain, outfitted with an albino blonde countenance and stiletto high heels.
Parts of the film feel undernourished, such as a military base reception scene that has so few extras it makes the sequence look second rate. A neighborhood that Grey has destroyed looks a little better, yet there’s so many close-ups it takes away from establishing a sense of greater destruction.
Part of the problem is that the alien invasion plot is so much more interesting that the X-Men squabble amongst themselves storyline, yet the two plots rarely converge.
Of all the various mutant characters we’ve come to know throughout the franchise, it feels like most of them have been played by so many other actors that it’s like watching some English rock band from the 1960s with one original member and a long list of replacements providing rhythm backup.
James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender are serviceable enough, but you know who really deserves their own movie is Quicksilver, only because when he goes into action mode the special effects evolve into that super cool slow motion that actually looks appealing on the big screen.
Beast (Nicholas Hoult) comes off as a bore, and perhaps I’m projecting Hoult’s recent bomb “Tolkien” into the mix. Alexandra Shipp as Storm conjures up a few flimsy lightning bolts, while Tye Sheridan as Cyclops remains unrecognizable under his laser glasses. Kodi Smit-McPhee may have the shortest end of the stick, as his blue face make-up does nothing for his personality.
Kudos to the film actually killing off a major player, and unlike “The Avengers” leaving no doubt that they’re actually on a permanent vacation.
Now that 20th Century Fox, the distributor and current license holder of the franchise, has been absorbed by Disney, the fate of humanity may not be safe from the next sequel.