Dark Phoenix (2019)
Written & Directed by Simon Kinberg
If a superhero is released in theaters without the promise of a dozen sequels, does it matter if we see it?
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This is a legitimate question to ask ourselves in an age of perpetually existing cinematic universes. The X-Men franchise has always been an odd duck in the post-MCU landscape, with its muddled timelines and no strong throughline existing between films. Days of Future Past (2014) was the most successful in terms of box office crossing the $700 million line, but I don’t ever see too many people talk about how much they enjoyed that film. I found it to be okay, a competently made follow up to the much better First Class. The most successful movies in Fox’s superhero stable have the tangentially connected near-spoofs of Deadpool and Deadpool 2, with the bleak dystopian Logan not far behind. The X-Men team itself has suffered not just from a lack of continuity but in a stable roster of characters for audiences to become emotionally invested in. Nothing that Dark Phoenix does helps remedy these problems and leaves a sour taste in the mouth upon its conclusion.
Today marks the end of an era. Nineteen years ago on July 14th, 2000 the first X-Men film was released by 20th Century Fox. This was only the second Marvel property to be adapted to movie screens after 1998’s Blade, and it would go on to inspire a whole industry of comic book films that are still being made today. Since that first movie, Fox has continually come back to the well putting out more installments in the X-Men franchise as well as better and more successful spin-offs with the characters of Wolverine and Deadpool. With Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, it’s become inevitable that these mutant characters are going to be reintroduced as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What that means is that today’s release of Dark Phoenix will be the last Fox X-Men movie. I decided to present my list of best to worst X-Men movies to mark this moment. I will not include the Wolverine or Deadpool pictures because I want to focus solely on the X-Men as a team.
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Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Written by Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus
Directed by Anthony & Joseph Russo
Three weeks have passed since the mad titan Thanos gained the six Infinity Stones and snapped his fingers erasing half of all life in the universe. The Avengers were sent reeling as they watched their friends and loved ones dissolve into dust before their eyes. Having faced the greatest tragedy in human existence, Captain America feels powerless to solve the problem, and this is exacerbated when Tony Stark confronts him. The team manages to locate Thanos on the planet of his refuge but quickly find that only taking down the villain doesn’t solve the more significant existential problem. The greater goal would be to reverse the actions of the Stones, but this will mean they must gather them all. A journey begins that will span the entire scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and signals the final battle of many great heroes.
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A few days ago blurry cellphone footage of an early Avengers: Endgame screening leaked onto sites like Reddit and Twitter. Disney was quick to issue takedowns, but if you were fast or crafty enough, you could find it and watch it. My venue for watching it no longer has the video, but if you are patient, you likely can find the leak somewhere. I decided to write a post about what was in the footage, and my thoughts about what this means will happen in the movie.
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Captain Marvel (2019)
Written by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Nicole Perlman & Meg LeFauve
Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
Vers is a confused member of the Kree Empire, mentored by Yon-Rogg and member of the elite Starforce that seeks out the Skrull menace for elimination. A mission to a planet in the Kree’s vast empire ends up with Vers taken by the Skrull, and her memories probed for information on a woman whose identity is unknown to Vers. A series of memories are reactivated, and Vers realizes her destiny awaits her on planet Earth. After a rough crash landing, Vers meets SHIELD agent Nick Fury and the two team up to help the alien visitor learn more about the mystery woman in her past and who Vers truly is.
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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Written by Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, & Rodney Rothman
Spider-Man is the main hero of New York City and has been for decades. Meanwhile, Miles Morales is just a talented kid reluctantly attending a boarding school for the scientific minded. During a late excursion to tag a prime piece of real estate in the subway tunnels, Miles is bitten by a strange spider and begins to develop strange powers as a result. When Miles returns to the scene of the incident, he ends up dead center in a battle between Spider-Man and a host of villains in the employ of the Kingpin. The fight ends with Miles squarely set to inherit the mantle and in need of training. The result of Kingpin’s experiments is that the fabric of the multiverse is broken and a host of other Spider-people have found their way to Miles’ dimension. The clock is ticking as reality crumbles, and in a very short amount of time, our protagonist must learn to be the hero his universe needs him to be.
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Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018)
Written by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd & Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari
Directed by Peyton Reed
Scott Lang has been under house arrest for two years, captured and extradited back to the United States after his role in Captain America’s insurrection. Lang only has a couple days left in his sentence when he is hit with visions of Janet van Dyne, the presumed dead wife of the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym. Before he knows it Lang is sneaking out of his home aiding Pym and his daughter Hope. They are trying to keep ahead of the pursuing FBI, a criminal cartel, and the mysterious phasing villain Ghost.
Ant-Man & The Wasp is not a terrible film, it’s a perfectly middle of the road, formulaic forgettable fare. What keeps the movie somewhat engaging is the always charismatic Paul Rudd and the film’s willingness to acknowledge some of the absurd tropes of the superhero genre. These elements were present in the first film but here there are moments where the director allows them to run wild. There are some short improvisational moments involving the trio of fellow ex-cons that work alongside Lang. The humor feels strained to say the least near the end of the picture.
If you step back and look at the picture as a whole, you find there is very little there other than an extremely stretched out plot that amounts to about 90 mins worth of material made to work for over two hours. There’s a car chase that is prolonged by playing with the shrinking and growing powers of our title characters but after a few iterations you sort of get the point and wonder what else there is to offer. I wasn’t an overjoyed fan of Black Panther or Avengers: Infinity War however both of those films do a much better job of creating emotional investment in characters because the stakes feel genuinely high. I never once felt that Lang and his cohorts were actually in peril. Maybe this is by design, but after seeing how wide in scope Infinity War reached it causes Ant-Man to feel diminished.
All of this said, Ant-Man highlights one of the problems in the ongoing DC V Marvel film debate. Ant-Man & The Wasp has much more in common with Richard Donner’s classic Superman film than a single picture released by Warner Brothers in the last six years. Donner managed to balance humor and more serious material which is what makes Superman a very charming film. While Peyton Reed doesn’t ascend to those heights he does remember something Mr. Snyder has forgotten: These movies should be fun.