June 19, 2019

New Toys and an X-Dud: Movies to See This Week

Movie Dope

Dark Phoenix

AthFest is on the way, so the movies might not be atop your to-do list. However, if you have kids, you best believe they are going to bug you until they have seen Toy Story 4, in which a new toy, “Forky” (v. Tony Hale) joins Woody (v. Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (v. Tim Allen) on a road trip. New toys include Duke Caboom (v. Keanu Reeves), Gabby Gabby (v. Christina Hendricks), Bunny (v. Jordan Peele) and Ducky (v. Keegan-Michael Key). Also this week, another ’80s horror icon gets the reboot, as Chucky returns in a brand new Child’s Play. Franchise creator Don Mancini is not involved, and Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill takes over for Brad Dourif as the new voice of Chucky.

Excitingly, Athens gets a mystery of its own courtesy of the Movie Mystery Marathon at Flicker on Monday, June 24. The screenings, along with trivia and prizes, start at 4 p.m., and every movie will be a surprise. Come back the following evening, June 25, for the Count Zapula Summer Triple Adventure starting at 7:30 p.m. Kick off the adventures with Treasure of the Four Crowns, an Indiana Jones knockoff best remembered as one of 1983’s attempts to cash in on the 3D phenomenon. You have probably caught the middle pick, Firewalker, on TBS. Chuck Norris and Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr. are a pair of treasure hunters seeking gold in the movie from J. Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navarone). If you are still awake, cap off the evening with 1986’s Eliminators, starring Bing Crosby’s granddaughter Denise as a military scientist, Colonel Nora Hunter, helping a Mandroid she unwittingly helped create save the world.

Now for some X-talk.

DARK PHOENIX (PG-13) As Fox’s X-Men franchise ends, let us not forget the groundwork it helped lay for the superhero movie renaissance. Before 2008’s Iron Man planted the seeds of the now-indomitable MCU, the X-franchise began an extended universe, eventually including three films, four prequels and six spin-offs, including the still-unreleased New Mutants. Of those 12 films, only two have been deemed unmitigated disasters. Fortunately, Marvel’s mutants belong to them again. (Avengers vs. X-Men, please?)

Knowing brighter days are ahead for Homo superior bestows an odd brand of closure on watching Dark Phoenix—one of those two “disasters.” The movie is less sequel than series finale, yet it is airing after news of the reboot already got out. For the second time theatrically, longtime X-writer and producer Simon Kinberg adapts the beloved Dark Phoenix saga of telepath Jean Grey’s ascent to cosmic-powered madness. (It made up half the tale in 2006’s ho-hum X-Men: The Last Stand.)

After the more-forgettable-than-awful X-Men: Apocalypse introduced Sophie Turner’s new Jean Grey, Dark Phoenix suddenly mines her for its central tragedy, a tactic that would have had far more impact had Jean been enrolled since Matthew Vaughn’s excellent X-reboot, First Class. Instead, Dark Phoenix takes emotional shortcuts, much like Last Stand. After Jean nearly dies in a space accident, she comes back more powerful than ever. After discovering the lies Professor X (James McAvoy) used to protect her from her tragic past, Jean goes nuclear on everyone from friends, like Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), to foes, like Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, who is almost as powerful a supervillain as he should be.

But the real baddie is Vuk (Jennifer Chastain), a shapeshifting alien after whatever is inside of Jean. Now, a Wolverine-less X-team of the aforementioned mutants, plus Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), are all that stand between evil aliens and humanity’s destruction.

Overall, Dark Phoenix has as many standout moments as previous series low Last Stand, and more than franchise nadir X-Men Origins: Wolverine. (The prevailing opinion, even amongst comic apologists? That movie stinks.) The climactic train fight, apparently reshot, is expectedly thrilling, and an earlier Jean Grey/Magneto showdown does not disappoint. Not much else happens, though, and little action plus a dispirited combination of X-Men and cast leave little to recommend, even with nothing much to vilify. Every one of these X-Men can be improved, though replacements for Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and a woefully underused Evan Peters have a thankless task ahead. The movie is also rather gloomy—tonal struggles have struck better X-movies than this—and feels longer than its surprising sub-two-hour runtime.

Thankfully, we assume Marvel will work its humorous-heart formula on an eventual, entertaining X-integration. Still, some angst is crucial to establish the X-Men as the MCU’s Anti-Avengers. Just maybe not as much teen spirit as Dark Phoenix. Somebody needs to act old enough to fly the Blackbird, after all.