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Josh Reviews Dark Phoenix

I still remember how thrilled and excited I was when I saw the final shot of Bryan Singer’s X2 back in 2003.  Jean Grey had sacrificed herself to save the X-Men in the battle at Alkali Lake, and in that final, blink-and-you-missed-it shot, we saw a hint of flame rising from underneath the waters.  That shot was an announcement to all the comic book fans out there that the X-Men movie franchise was about to take on perhaps the greatest of all the X-Men storylines from the comic books: The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.  That storyline played out over the course of many months in the monthly X-Men comic-books back in 1980.  I walked out of the theatre after seeing X2 out of my mind with excitement for seeing this extraordinary story play out on screen.  And then, well… we all know what happened.  Bryan Singer decided to make Superman Returns and Fox hired Brett Ratner to make the terrible third X-Men movie, X-Men: The Last Stand, that took the epic Dark Phoenix Saga and turned it into a subplot in a film telling a story about a potential “cure” for mutants (an idea taken from Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run from 2004).  I thought that film’s bungling of The Dark Phoenix Saga ruined any chance we had of seeing that story successfully told in a movie.  So I was surprised and pleased when the news was announced, two years ago, that Simon Kinberg (who has been a writer and producer involved with the X-Men film franchise for years) would be giving the story another go, featuring the First Class-era cast of younger X-Men characters.  After all this time, would we finally be getting the film adaptation that The Dark Phoenix Saga deserved…?

Well, sigh.  No.

Dark Phoenix isn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared from the lackluster trailers and repeated delays to the film’s release.  It actually has a lot going for it.  I really enjoy this cast, and in particular it’s a delight to see James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender back for one more go-round as Professor X and Magneto.  The film wisely sets Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey as its main focus, and I appreciated Simon Kinberg’s oft-stated goal to focus on intimate character scenes over CGI spectacle.  There are a number of dramatic moments between characters that are very effective, and the film does have a decent amount of exciting action.

But.

Sigh.

Shockingly, the film winds up making a number of the same mistakes that 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand did.

Most importantly, I was quite surprised to discover that Dark Phoenix is really barely more faithful to the original … [continued]

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I loved M. Night Shyamalan’s film Unbreakable back when it was released in 2000.  I was excited for a superhero film that took superhero films seriously.  (Two decades ago, I could count all the decent superhero movies that had EVER BEEN MADE on one hand.)  I rewatched Unbreakable a few weeks ago, and even when viewed in the context of today’s golden age of superhero films, I think the film holds up well.  It’s got a compelling story, a terrific cast, it’s gorgeously shot (the way Mr. Shyamalan composes the images and stages his scenes is amazing), the dialogue is rich and multi-layered.  It’s great!  It’s still one of my very favorite superhero films.

In my opinion, its only weakness is that it feels like it’s missing its last 30 minutes.  The film is all set-up, but no payoff.  It feels like a perfect first two acts of a film… that is missing act three.  To this day I can’t believe the film ends when David Dunn (Bruce Willis), discovers the truth about what Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson) has been up to.  I was expecting an exciting confrontation between these two opposites to unfold… but instead, Elijah just gives himself up and the film ends!  And so, ever since 2000, I felt that Unbreakable was a film that was crying out for a sequel.  But as the years passed, I had long ago given up hope that one would ever arrive.

Then, out of nowhere, Mr. Shyamalan surprised the world by revealing in the closing scene of his 2016 film Split that it was, in fact, a stealth sequel to Unbreakable!  Since that film was a hit, it allowed Mr. Shyamalan to finally return fully to the world of Unbreakable with his latest film, Glass.

Glass serves as a sequel to both Unbreakable and to Split.  Split’s villainous character, Kevin Wendell Crumb (nicknamed “the Horde”) is still on the loose, and he has kidnapped more young women.  We learn that, in the years since Unbreakable, David Dunn (now nicknamed “the Overseer”) has continued to seek out wrong-doers, assisted by his son Joseph.  David sets out to find and stop Kevin.  When the two meet, they battle to a standstill which is interrupted by the police, who take both men into custody.  They bring David and Kevin to a psychiatric facility, overseen by Dr. Ellie Staple.  Elijah is also being kept there.  Dr. Staple believes that all three men suffer from a mental illness, deluding themselves into thinking that they are super-powered.

I was extremely excited for Glass, but I was also dubious that Mr. Shyamalan would be able to craft a satisfactory sequel.  I loved Mr. Shyamalan’s first three … [continued]

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Josh Reviews X-Men: Apocalypse

The X-Men film franchise began with such promise but it’s been a big mess for quite a while now.  Bryan Singer’s 2000 X-Men film launched the golden age of super-hero films that we’re still living in.  No one had ever before brought a super-hero team to life on screen.  Mr. Singer was able to distill the head-spinningly complicated X-Men mythology into a movie with adult, complex themes that still contained a boat-load of super-hero fun.  The near-perfect cast brought the X-Men characters, and their universe, to glorious life.  That film was quickly followed up by the 2003 sequel, X2.  That film hasn’t aged so well, but at the time many/most saw it as a brilliant expansion of the world of the first film.  With its fan-pleasing ending (depicting the death of Jean Grey and final-shot tease of her return/resurrection of the Phoenix), I thought we were on the verge of an epic, multi-film saga that would continue for years.  Sadly, that never was.  Bryan Singer left to do Superman Returns and Fox, unwilling to wait, hired Brett Ratner to helm the disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand.  Rather than continuing with an ongoing series of X-Men films, Fox seemed unwilling or unable to see past that initial trilogy, and it quickly became clear that the studio had no idea what to do with the property.  There was talk for a while of a series of individual X-Men: Origins spin-off films, though the only one that actually got made was the dreadful X-Men Origins: Wolverine Years past, and eventually the planned X-Men Origins: Magneto film morphed into the prequel film X-Men: First Class.  I hate prequels and when announced this seemed to me like a bizarre step backwards for the franchise, but I was surprised by how great the film, directed by Matthew Vaughn, wound up being.  I would have been happy to follow this fun new cast through a new trilogy helmed by Mr. Vaughn, but once again the series changed tracks as Mr. Vaughn stepped away and Bryan Singer returned to direct X-Men: Days of Future Past.  While I would have loved to have seen a more-faithful adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s classic story — one of the defining X-Men stories — I loved the way that film was structured to combine Bryan Singer’s original X-Men cast with Matthew Vaughn’s First Class cast.  Days of Future Past was very solid, but what made me love the film was the final five minutes, in which we see that the events of the film have re-set the timeline of the X-Men films, giving a sweet happy ending to the cast and characters who had begun in 2000’s … [continued]

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“What’s the Last Thing You Remember?” Josh Reviews X-Men: Days of Future Past

Bryan Singer’s first X-Men film, released in 2000, was a revelation, proof to me that the complex, wonderful world of comic book super-heroes could indeed be brought to life on-screen in a fun, serious way.  There had been some great comic book movies before X-Men, of course.  Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) was and still remains a magnificent interpretation of the character, and I’ve always loved the flawed but still great Superman II (1980).  Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) also was a fun film that had a huge cultural impact.  But while those films were great, even as a kid they seemed to me like totally different versions of the characters I knew and loved.  These were the “movie” versions of those characters.  They were fun, but not at all like the “real” characters.  I also recognized early-on that, while all of those films had moments of grandeur and lots of visual-effects magic, they were severely constrained by the limits of physical reality.  The sprawling stories and epic nature of my favorite comic book series were far beyond the reach of any movie adaption.

Then came Bryan Singer’s X-Men, and suddenly the impossible seemed possible.  Mr. Singer and his team (including screenwriter David Hayter and many other uncredited writers who were involved with the finished screenplay) took the X-Men, possibly the most sprawling and epic of all the different comic-book series and universes, and brought them to life in a way that on the one hand preserved their complexity (the film is jam-packed with different characters, each with their own back-story and power-set and motivation) while also boiling down the decades of comic-book story-lines into simplified versions that worked on screen.  2000’s X-Men took the property seriously (more seriously than some of the various bad X-Men spin-off comic-books over the years had done), anchoring the story in Magneto’s past as a survivor of the Holocaust.  (The decision to open the film with a prologue set in Auschwitz is an incredibly gutsy move, and is I think a critical key to the film’s success, because that scene gives a weight to Magneto’s point of view.)

Almost a decade-and-a-half later, it’s easy to look back at X-Men and see everything that the film got wrong.  We’ve been blessed with some incredibly faithful comic book adaptations lately.  Looking at how well the Marvel Studios films have brought their characters to life, we can look back at X-Men and bemoan the dull, Matrix-inspired leather look to all the characters.  While the film nailed Wolverine, Professor X, and Magneto, we can complain about the characterizations that missed the mark (Storm, Cyclops).  We can comment how small-scale X-Men is, how it lacks in any real crazy … [continued]

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Josh Reviews X-Men: First Class!

I was beginning to think I’d never get to see another great X-Men movie!

I’m a big, big fan of Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men films.  I think they’re pretty much perfect, the first two steps in what seemed like an epic cinematic saga.  When the final shot of X2 tantalized viewers with the promise of the Dark Phoenix saga (probably the single greatest X-Men storyline ever), I was overcome with gleeful anticipation.  I think I’m still recovering from the disappointment at how badly the film series fumbled things from there.  The studio rushed X-Men 3 into production with another director, as a big up-yours to Bryan Singer, who had been hired to direct Superman: Returns.  X-Men 3 has a decent first 45 minutes or so but then things totally collapse, and the brutally awful handling of the Phoenix storyline was crushingly disappointing.  And in the years since, the only new X-Men movie we’ve gotten is the abysmally terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine (share the pain and read my review here).

When I heard that they were finally putting together a new X-Men film, and that it was a prequel, I was not pleased.  I really hate prequels, as readers of this blog are probably aware.  I think it’s a lazy approach to story-telling, and I’d always rather see a story move FORWARD rather than circle back upon itself.  That we’ve been so deluged with prequels these past few years makes me absolutely crazy.  Why do I want to see the young versions of characters I love?  I want to see the experienced versions of these characters, in their prime, kicking ass and going on new adventures.  Why has that seemingly been so difficult for the masterminds behind the X-Men film franchise?  Can no one in Hollywood think past a trilogy?  X-Men 3 was flawed, but it still made a TON of moola.  Hire some new writers and get to work on X-Men 4! Of all the franchises in the world, the X-Men seems like the easiest no-brainer in the bunch.  There are SO MANY great characters and story-lines in the comics to choose from.  Is Patrick Stewart getting too expensive?  No problemo!  The comics were constantly writing Professor X out of the stories for long periods of time.  Let’s see the films adapt some of the great X-Men stories from the eighties, in which Prof X was gone and Magneto tried to reform and take over the X-Men.  That would be awesome!  It just seems so simple to me — we should be getting brand new X-Men films every 2-3 years, like clockwork.

But, obviously, that hasn’t happened.  Just one god-awful Wolverine solo flick and a prequel.  … [continued]