‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ (Guest Review)

Hello Rachel! Yes, it is I, Patrick Beatty Reviews! Taking over your site to talk about Spider-Man: Far From Home (btw, thank you so much for having me on!). Directed by Jon Watts, who helmed the previous Spider-Man Homecoming, this sequel takes place sometime after Avengers: Endgame (so make sure you’ve seen it first. But who hasn’t at this point?). Peter Parker is going on a summer study abroad trip around Europe and is needing some serious R&R, and maybe a shot at romance with M.J. (played by Zendaya). But the work for an Avenger doesn’t end, as his vacation is cut short by Nick Fury, along with a new character Mysterio (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who need Spider-Mans help in fighting a slew of new villains called ‘The Elementals’. That is ALL I can say when it comes to this movie’s plot, but what I can say is it’s the most fun and exciting live-action Spider-Man film to date!

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First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Tom Holland is a PERFECT Peter Parker. His acting and physical performance as Spider-Man is perfect, and he truly embodies the character we know and love from the comic books. This is Tom Hollands 5th performance as Spider-Man, and you can see that he is in his element as the character. Holland has terrific chemistry with his friend Ned (who gets a great side story) but also with Jake Gyllenhaal and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury). Holland again proves he is up there with the greats with how well he is able to interact with these two acting giants.

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The side characters in the film are also very funny, with great additions, which I can’t spoil but really bring in the humor for this film. Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan) for the scenes he is in absolutely nails his part, and I liked his back and forth chemistry with Holland. Where I may get some flack is I didn’t love the chemistry between M.J. and Peter Parker. I honestly think of the “Spider-Men” and their significant others, the Holland/Zendaya pairing falls the flattest. I had a tough time understanding why they liked each other, but perhaps if they had more scenes together to flesh out the “whys” of their relationship I might buy into it more. Don’t get me wrong, I love both their characters, but I don’t see the sparks just yet.

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Far From Home feels like when a tv show goes on “Vacation”: where you are getting a completely new and fun experience than you’ve felt when the show sticks within its main location. I loved the road trip feel and it’s a fun break from the somewhat serious tone Marvel had with ‘Infinity War’ and ‘Endgame’. The special effects are also amazing, particularly in the 3rd act. A lot of 3rd act superhero films only result in punching and fighting. Far From Home, in contrast, they utilize Spider-Man and his villain in a perfect way, and really energized the entire ending.

So did Spider-Man break new ground in the Spider-Man film-verse? I would say for die-hard fans who have wanted the ‘full Spider-Man experience then yes. This is an exciting, fast-paced adventure, showcasing the best parts of Spider-Man. There are some twists that some may not be expecting, and honestly, I could see people going either way on liking them or not but I had a great time with Spider-Man: Far From Home. I’d love to know what you all thought of it once you see it! Thank you again Rachel for having me!

I’m giving Spider-Man: Far From Home an 8/10

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‘The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith’ REVIEW

Those who have been reading my blog for some time know I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or known by some as The Mormons). I don’t normally don’t talk about my religion on this blog but occasionally a faith-based film comes up for review and it is only natural then to share my religious perspective. The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith is actually a sequel to a very popular entry that came out in 2001 (when I say popular it got a Disney distribution, so more than just amongst my community).

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The first The Other Side of Heaven film tells the story of missionary John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) as he serves on a very small island in Tonga for 2 years as a young man. This sequel continues his story but it is a decade later. John with his wife Jean (Natalie Medlock) bring their large brood of children back to the islands to serve as a mission president. From the start they face many tests of their faith and must learn to love the Tongan people in a whole new way.

Overall if you are a fan of the first film I definitely think you will enjoy this sequel. It’s not perfect but it’s well made and Gorham is very strong and charismatic in the lead. I had the chance to interview director Mitch Davis for the Hallmarkies Podcast (see above), and I could see while watching the love and passion poured into the film by him and others.

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They also did an incredible job casting Russell Dixon to play Thomas Monson who would later go on to become prophet of the LDS Church. The resemblance is uncanny both in looks and mannerisms and as someone who loved President Monson, it warmed my heart to see him portrayed so well.

I also thought the second half of the film when the whole island begins to fast and pray together was very touching. Most anyone will be inspired and moved by those moments of shared faith.

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My only flaws with the film is I wish they had brought in that sense of community earlier to help balance out the portrayal of a very angry, even violent, Methodist pastor. If it hadn’t been resolved so tastefully I would have been annoyed. (It was touch and go there for a bit because his behavior is close to unredeemable. He really should be in jail not leading a congregation).

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Also I didn’t love Natalie Medlock as Jean. In the promo footage she mentioned she’s not much of kid person and unfortunately it shows. There was an awkwardness in her scenes that made it hard for me to buy her as the mother of 6. (Although I did like a moment in the script when she tells John “I’m all prayed out”. It was a human moment). The performance just wasn’t my favorite.

The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith is opening on 200 screens, so if it sounds like something you’d enjoy, go out and support it. Rarely does a film like this get such a wide opening, and it’s got enough heart and a great lead performance to be worth a watch. People of faith can’t complain about the depravity of modern films and then not support inspirational, well-made offerings like this and expect their concerns to be taken seriously.

The film is rated PG-13 for some violence but it’s nothing a good chat with your kids can’t address, and I like I said, it ends on a hopeful note. Take your family and enjoy yourself at the movies!

7 out of 10

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Pixar 43: ‘Toy Story 4’ (Spoilers)

Like many people I was a bit anxious when I heard the announcement of Toy Story 4. How could Pixar bring another entry into their treasured franchise after Toy Story 3 ended in such a satisfying way? It seemed like an impossible task but the Pixar folks have always said they only do sequels if they have a story, so I trusted them to get it right! Today I am happy to tell you my trust was not in vain. Toy Story 4 is another wonderful addition to our team of toys and a fitting conclusion to our best friend Woody’s story.

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It’s impossible to talk about Toy Story 4 without discussing the trajectory of the previous 3 films. In Toy Story we have a confident Woody who learns to be a friend to the new and different Buzz. He begins the story as a good leader but as many leaders are, he’s also self-interested and prone to jealousy and deep insecurities. It is only through becoming friends with Buzz that Woody learns to let go of his pride and serve others.

Then we get to Toy Story 2 where Woody learns to think of Andy, and his commitment to letting Andy play with him as long as he wants. It’s his mission and calling and it is more important than being worshiped in a Tokyo museum. In Toy Story 3 the team has struggled and become a family and that deep and abiding bond gets them through the prison that is the daycare center.

So what about Toy Story 4? What is left to learn? Well, to answer that question we have to think about the nature of toys in this universe. As far as I can tell their sentience is eternal. They have no bodily fluids so arms can be removed, they can be reassembled into new toys without any reduction to their sentience. This leads us to the question of how can Pixar retire the toys if they can’t be killed?

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We could leave Woody to be played with by Bonnie but doesn’t that lead to the same cycle over and over again? Is that a happy ending for our friends? There has to be a way for them to progress or what once gave them joy (playing with a child) will become miserable. I think the people at Pixar realized this and that Toy Story 3 could not be the actual ending for these characters because as happy as it was for Bonnie it wasn’t really a happy ending for Woody.

So, that’s where we get to Toy Story 4. As an old cowboy doll Woody is not a favorite toy of Bonnie. She is kind to her toys but prefers other toys like playing with Jessie. One day she goes to kindergarten and makes a toy out of trash she calls Forky. Creating her own toy seems to give her comfort during the scary time of a new school and she loves Forky dearly. Woody sees this and decides to watch over Forky and make sure it learns how to be a toy for Bonnie (a thing it rejects as it isn’t used to being sentient). Basically Woody becomes Forky’s father, and like a baby rejects things that are good for it, so does Forky.

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Woody decides that taking care of Forky is his new role in the bedroom. He even says at one point that ‘it’s all I have left’. He knows his playing days are minimal and this is the most important thing he can do to help Bonnie. He even jumps out of a moving car window in order to help save Forky. (This is quite different than his response in Toy Story. He would have been happy to see Buzz in the trash back then).

Eventually Forky and Woody end up in an antique store in a small town where to their surprise they run into an old friend Bo Peep. She had been given away by Molly (Andy’s sister) years before and to Woody’s surprise she has figured out a whole new way to live. She’s strong, confident and happy with an almost pirate-like existence. She still gets to be played with at the park but as she says ‘I am not lost’. Every day she determines her destiny and how she is going to contribute to the world.

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At first Woody is shocked by this and has difficulty understanding her way of living. But as the mechanics of the plot go forward he starts to see how independent Bo is which is very attractive and eye-opening. Most of the shenanigans with Gabby Gabby and Duke Caboom are fun in their own right but more importantly they are opportunities for Woody’s room-based view of the world to expand.

That’s not to say these events aren’t amusing because they are absolutely hilarious. Duck and Bunny in particular create some of the funniest sequences in the history of the Toy Story franchise. There are also some decent scares from the ventriloquist dummies named Benson and a lot of beautifully animated action while saving Forky. I also appreciated that Gabbby Gabby wasn’t a surprise villain like we’ve gotten so often from Disney lately. Her story was more of a surprise hero, which was really sweet in the end.

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But all that fun isn’t going to be enough if Woody is back in the closet at Bonnie’s rarely being played with. That’s no way to end our hero’s story! Just as the toys became a family in Toy Story 3, they, led by Buzz, understand that part of being a family is letting our loved ones follow their dreams. We send our children off to college or on a mission knowing our world’s are never going to be the same but we know it is what is best for them. We send them on their way with a hope and a prayer that they will be ok but we also let them know that everything at home will ‘be ok’. Such is the case with Woody and Buzz.

‘Bonnie will be ok’ Buzz tells Woody. In other words ‘go and have your adventure. Everything at home will be ok. We love you’. So off Woody goes and Buzz and friends stay behind to make sure they keep their promise to Woody. It’s no surprise the toys learn to listen to their inner voice throughout the story because goodbyes are hard (I just had one with my Grandma’s funeral this weekend) and it is only through a lot of practice do we have the spiritual strength to help our loved ones go down their path no matter how badly we will miss them.

A perfect ending to a story that started with our friend only thinking of himself. Well done Pixar. Well done.

A+

smile worthy

Current Mini Reviews

Today I recorded a podcast with 2 of the ladies at the Filmotomy Podcast. The topic was a  ‘Film Festival Survival Guide’ and we had a great time discussing all of the tricks of the trade for getting the most out of your festival experience. It all made me a bit nostalgic for my time at Sundance, so I decided to head out to my local arthouse theater (Broadway Centre Cinemas) and watch 3 independent releases. Here are my quick thoughts on all 3:

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The Souvenir-

First up is The Souvenir by director Joanna Hogg. It stars Honor Swinton Byrne as a young film student named Julie who gets caught up in a toxic relationship with an older man named Anthony played by Tom Burke. Anthony is a deep thinker so of course he is also a heroine addict and extremely manipulative. Julie is a naive young girl who gets caught up in the mystique of Anthony and enables his terrible behavior because it feels dangerous and exciting. The Souvenir also stars Tilda Swinton as Julie’s mother and she is in fact Honor’s actual mother so that’s kind of fun.

This film has received huge acclaim from critics and is already scheduled for a sequel shooting this year. All I can say about this film is it is not for me. There are some stunning bits of cinematography (I particularly liked a sequence where we see Anthony and Julie talking not up-close but through a mirror across the room). I also liked Honor and Tilda Swinton’s performances. However, the couple have no chemistry and the story is extremely repetitive. The film is 2 hours long, and I felt every second of it. I didn’t care about either Anthony or Julie and their cycle of abusive behavior was not interesting.  I can see how it would be appealing for others but for me it was a piece of indie slog.

Frown Worthy

4 out of 10

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American Woman-

Next up we have the drama American Woman directed by Jake Scott and written by Brad Ingelsby. This film stars Sienna Miller in one of the best performances of the year.  She plays a woman named Deb who is grinding out her life in suburban Pennsylvania with her sister (Christina Hendricks- who is also strong) living across the street.

For some reason the working class woman seems to be challenging for the movies to portray accurately. They are usually all damage and no joy. In American Woman they avoid this by showing over a decade of Deb’s life with all the joys, sorrows and all the in-between. Some pain is self-inflicted and some is caused by others, but either way it is gripping, and we feel empathy for her.

There were so many times I worried the script was heading into tired twists and then it didn’t, which made me very happy. This is the kind of script and lead performance that will be ignored come awards season and that’s a real shame because it’s great. In my opinion, this is MUCH better than the similarly themed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri  which won all the awards. Oh well.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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All is True-

My last film of the day is the fictionalized look into the latter part of William Shakespeare’s life entitled All is True. There is perhaps no human being on earth more qualified to play the Bard on screen than Kenneth Branagh. He also directed the film and it hopefully won’t put an end to his long career of adapting the works of Shakespeare because this film is an entertaining mess.

If your brand of historical drama is fluffy films like The Other Boleyn Girl or Tristan and Isolde than this might be the movie for you. The actors deserve awards for elevating such hammy dialogue and selling it as if it was one of Shakespeare’s great soliloquies. Judi Dench is particularly great as his humble wife who can’t read and Kathryn Wilder is big and boisterous as their rebellious daughter Judith. They all do what they can with this inane material.

Honestly there were times when it seemed a half step away from a Monty Python or Blackadder sketch. Even Branagh’s ridiculous hairpiece and beard made me laugh. I was entertained by All is True but probably not for the reason the creators intended.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

‘PRODIGY’ (2018) REVIEW

It’s always a fun experience to go into a film knowing as little as possible about it. It is one of the things I love about attending the Sundance Film Festival. Occasionally a movie will get some hype during the festival but most of the time I know only the name and a brief summary.

Recently I had a similar experience watching a small indy film called Prodigy, which has just landed on Netflix US for all subscribers to enjoy. At first I thought it was the 2019 horror movie The Prodigy, which I didn’t have a ton of interest in  (I’m not a big horror movie fan). Fortunately, this film, Prodigy, turned out to be an entertaining scifi thriller that does a lot with a very small budget.

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Prodigy stars Richard Neil as a psychologist named Fonda who is sent to a government facility to psycho-analyze a mysterious young girl named Ellie (Savannah Liles). She is straight-jacketed and under constant observation for her erratic behavior. Both Fonda and Ellie’s past comes into play  and they develop a little bit of chemistry as they talk.

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I won’t tell you any more of the story but Prodigy is one of those films that feels more like a play than a movie and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Most of the time is spent between 2 characters talking and yet the tension builds to some satisfying and surprising moments.  I also thought Neil and Liles do a good job in their roles.

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Where the movie fails is with the other characters and some of the script. In particular a military man who becomes angry at Fonda’s methods, and a man who is operating the observational room they are in, had some very cringy dialogue. It’s also not a very cinematic movie in its production and special effects, so it is perhaps best at a place like Netflix.

That said, I enjoyed watching Prodigy. It’s a clever scifi thriller with 2 good performances so if you are jonesing for something fresh and new to watch on Netflix give it a shot.

7 out of 10

smile worthy

‘Men in Black International’ Review

Lately the big blockbusters have been a bit hit and miss for me. I didn’t enjoy Shazam, Aladdin, X-Men Dark Phoenix or Godzilla: King of the Monsters but I did enjoy Avengers: Endgame and The Secret Life of Pets 2. The movie Gods taketh and giveth I suppose! Well, today I went and saw the latest blockbuster offering from Sony: Men in Black: International. I was skeptical because the previous 2 Men in Black installments were awful, but to my surprise this reboot was charming and a fun time at the movies.

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The biggest thing Men in Black: International has going for it is the tremendous chemistry between stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson (thankfully they keep the ‘she’s a girl’ jokes to a minimum). We all knew this would be the case from their great work together in Thor Ragnarok and it continues here. Their roles are fairly standard (she’s the new girl, he’s the cocky veteran) but they elevate it with their witty banter and chemistry.

In fact, the whole cast brings great work to the film. I enjoyed Emma Thompson, Rebecca Ferguson and Kumail Nanjiani in their roles. Kumail’s character will probably be divisive but I thought he was cute and funny.

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I also thought all of the alien design was creative and in keeping with the original Men in Black film. There are times the cgi isn’t the best but that was usually in action or on backgrounds (green screen can be seen) rather than characters so it is easy to ignore.

The action set pieces started to drag a little bit and the plot is extremely predictable, but I was enjoying the characters and the witty banter enough to shrug such problems off. It’s definitely a film I would like to see again and I hope it does well enough to get more films with this cast. Director F. Gary Gray did a wonderful job injecting some life into this franchise and it has loads of potential for the future.

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I will be very curious to see how critics and audiences respond to Men in Black: International. Like I said, it is predictable and has some technical flaws, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching it and I think you will as well.

It is a pretty family friendly film except for a scene at a night club, a flirty minx of a woman played by Rebecca Ferguson and a few tense sequences. Certainly if your children can handle the original Men in Black they should be fine with this one. Let me know what you think if you get to see it.

7 out of 10

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BLIND SPOT 42: ‘GIDGET’

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When I decide on my Blind Spot picks each year I try to select a variety of films both for my own enjoyment and the interest of my readers. As important as it is to check the epic sagas and masterpieces off of my ‘to watch’ list, I also find guilty pleasures, cult hits and popcorn films of the past rewarding to discover. For June I picked the bubbly coming of age comedy from 1959 called Gidget.  It’s a really interesting movie which could be easily criticized as an example of pre-feminist filmmaking, but I actually found it surprisingly modern and a delightful watch.

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Gidget stars Sandra Dee in the lead role as a 17 year old girl who is struggling to balance her feminine and tomboy sides. She wants to be appealing to men but also laments the time when she could hang around with her girlfriends without much worry. On a trip to the beach she decides to give “manhunting” a try, but she ends up discovering that she loves to surf instead. Of course, she also gets more motivation when she meets handsome surfer Moondoggie (James Darren) and his group of beach bums. Immediately smitten she works all summer to become part of their group.

At first the boys do not treat her differently as a woman and some may find this surprising. They even try to drown her at one point as some kind of initiation which gives her a sore throat and fever. The whole time she puts up with all this to be accepted in the group but also in hopes that particularly Moondoggie will notice her and make her a ‘real woman’. She even talks with her Mother openly about her desire to explore her sexuality. This surprised me for a movie made in 1959.

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Some may want to discount Gidget as too much a of a bubble-head or silly woman pining after undeserving men, but I disagree. From the beginning of the film she knows what she wants, and she goes after it. This is true in surfing and with the boys.

In many ways she reminded me of Baby in Dirty Dancing, just swap out surfing with dancing. She’s young and awkward, but she still always knows herself and doesn’t change even in the end, unlike other heroines like Sandy in Grease. If anything the surfing bros change more from her influence not the other way around. What’s more modern than that?

There wasn’t as much music in Gidget as I was anticipating. I assumed it was similar to Grease or Bye Bye Birdie in that regard. However, the 2 songs they have are pleasant if a little corny. James Darren has a nice voice and The Four Preps bring a poppy 1950s style to the opening credits.

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As far as any negatives to Gidget go her father can be a bit of a patriarchal cliche but it was made in 1959 so I’m fine with him. Also Cliff Robertson plays a surfer named Kahuna and his character seems a little creepy and out of place with the tone of the rest of the film. Gidget is smart enough to deal with him but it comes very close to going over the line into uncomfortable territory especially with her being only 17 and him being much older.

Fortunately these are only minor quibbles. I thoroughly enjoyed Gidget, and I look forward to catching up with the sequels this summer. I don’t think I will make it to the beach so why not enjoy some surfing fun in the movies? Sounds fun to me!

Gidget is also recognized as a key player in popularizing surfing in the United States and the ‘beach party film’. I absolutely love the ocean and had the thrill of learning to surf on one of my trips to Hawaii. It is a favorite memory of mine and you can read about it here.

8 out of 10

smile worthy

 

 

 

‘Dark Phoenix’ Review

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If you have been following my site for a while you know I’ve had a very rocky relationship with Fox’s X-Men series (For my best shots of the series click here). I like about half of them (I haven’t seen Deadpool or Logan but I strongly disliked Once Upon a Deadpool if that counts). However, I loved X-Men Days of Future Past but was very disappointed by X-Men Apocalypse. I found it irritating and extremely frustrating to watch (I hated the character of Apocalypse soooo much). I actually prefer Batman v Superman over X-Men Apocalypse.

Now we have Dark Phoenix, which has gone through development hell and has been dumped by Disney after their acquisition of Fox. It also features the beloved ‘Phoenix Saga’ storyline which was so poorly handled in X-Men: the Last Stand. One would hope they could learn from their mistakes and end on a high note. Unfortunately Dark Phoenix is a weak movie that even franchise fans are likely to forget very quickly. It’s not the worst of the group but certainly not one I can recommend.

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I must start by saying nothing in Dark Phoenix irritated me the way Apocalypse did in X-Men Apocalypse. In fact, nothing got much of any reaction. It was all pretty bland. Most of the actors do a good job with what is asked of them. The problem lies with the script and terrible dialogue. The one exception is Jessica Chastain: who really needs to be more careful with her big budget film projects. She is terrible in this film.

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The rest of the cast feels laden with a dull and robotic script that even they can’t elevate. For example, James McAvoy does a fine job in his scenes but they decide to write Charles Xavier as an insufferable egomaniac for some bizarre reason. He’s supposed to be the moral center of the saga and it feels very odd to end his character by literally replacing him as leader and calling into question all he has accomplished.

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Michael Fassbender as Magneto does his normal ‘I’m a villain but actually not a villain’ routine that is so tired but he’s a good actor and handsome enough for me to give him a pass. And then Jennifer Lawrence is so obviously done in her role as Mystique that her scenes are a snooze. Nicholas Hoult (Beast) has a super cringe-worthy use of the F word, and Tye Sheridan (Cyclops), Alexandra Ship (Storm), and Evan Peters (Quicksilver) are just arm candy or tools for exposition. The script doesn’t allow them to be anything more.

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As far as the ‘Phoenix Saga’, Sophie Turner is fine as Jean Grey (I also think Famke Janssen is fine in The Last Stand). Unfortunately the script doesn’t allow us to connect with her character, as it takes us from one action set-piece to another. It’s a strange choice because they established her powers in Apocalypse, so they had a jumping off point for her dealing with those powers from the beginning of the film. Why they decide to retcon all that I will never know. The whole point of Jean Grey’s character is she is battling between the light and darkness and here she comes across as more of an unstable crazy person, which isn’t as interesting.

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The only version of Jean Grey that’s gotten it right is X-Men: the Animated Series and perhaps that’s where it belongs? On television a complex character like Jean can have many episodes to flesh out the struggle in a way a movie can’t (yes I am actually recommending television over movies!!).

There are some entertaining action set pieces in Dark Phoenix, and like I said, the acting is decent, but it leaves the viewer wanting more. It’s not a disaster. It just feels like a weird way to end the franchise and a missed opportunity. I liked it better than the other ‘bad’ X-Men movies, but I certainly can’t recommend it.

Frown Worthy

4 out of 10

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