Blade Runner: The Depth of Sci-Fi (1982, Directed by Ridley Scott) English 10

Starring Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos, Darryl Hannah, William Sanderson, M. Emmet Walsh

(10-Masterpiece)

Stunning. Masterful. Provocative.

Science fiction can take the concerns of its time as well as timeless concerns and present them to an audience in a unique and entertaining way. British novelist H.G Wells played a huge role in jumpstarting this tradition. His works dealt with themes as diverse as man’s struggle versus technology, man’s fear of the unknown, and identity crisis like in The Invisible Man (1897). Jules Verne successfully foretold of the submarine, man’s ability to fly across the world, and space travel. E.M Forster in his novella, The Machine Stops, rather sagely wrote about a future society that would rely so heavily on technology that it would eventually be unable to function without it. The works of the early science fiction writers bore a complexity and a weight that made it a premier genre for boundary-pushing and exploration. Great science fiction has always challenged what society accepts, explored what is impossible to explore, and posed questions that aren’t often asked.

Science fiction film had its holy grail as early as 1927 in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. In its dystopian contours, we have a literal embodiment of high class to low-class society; the haves and the have-nots. Following its protagonist, Freder, from the high class pleasure garden to the oppressive urban sprawl of low society as he searches for the women he’s infatuated with, Metropolis introduced both political (social injustice, societal hierarchy) and philosophical (the nature of men, what separates man from machine) themes to science fiction film, and became the benchmark for all the films that followed.

This is where Blade Runner, with its vast urban dystopia, picks up, reflecting a sort of decline of human emotion. Based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, it was the first of Phillip K. Dick’s novels to be adapted for the silver screen. The novel, like classic works of noir, both in the form of literature and film, dealt with issues of identity, and the filmmaking team spotlight this aspect of it through noir-fused sets and style; Venetian blinds, hardboiled detective, dames who mean trouble but also have a soft side, and even voice over depending on which version you watch.

Dick’s story of a seemingly obdurate cop seeking to kill six near-perfect androids would become a film marvel in the hands of director Ridley Scott (fresh off of his first sci-fi hit, Alien), and, despite many glaring changes in the book’s transfer to film-the significance of animals is made vague and the principal character of J.R Isadora is lost completely-the main theme or question of what it means to be human is captured beautifully and provocatively. Blade Runner is a heavily philosophical film with religious undercurrents coloring its quiet moments. Is it any wonder then that upon release, the movie saw middling returns at the box office and was misunderstood by many prominent critics? Famed film critic Pauline Kael wrote, “It forces passivity on you,” in her review for The New Yorker. Janet Maslin for the New York Times opined, “A film that has neither strong characters nor a strong story.” And Roger Ebert said of Ridley Scott, “He seems more concerned with creating his film worlds than populating them with plausible characters, and that’s the trouble this time. Blade Runner is a stunningly interesting visual achievement, but a failure as a story. The movie has the same trouble as the replicants: Instead of flesh and blood, its dreams are of mechanical men.” Twenty-five years later, however, Ebert re-analyzed the film adding it to his canon of “Great Movies”, remarking on his earlier quibbles, “This seems a strange complaint, given that so much of the movie concerns who is, and is not, human, and what it means to be human anyway.” I believe this point is where any analysis and discussion of Blade Runner beyond the spectacular superficial elements should begin. While many of the themes of Do Androids Dream of Sleep are still present within Scott’s text, the latter feels more concentrated compared to the former which felt to me like a self-published work; brilliant but without the mark of a real editor.

Blade Runner stars Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a former detective with Los Angeles’ Police Department, who is brought back to expose and hunt down five replicants (androids bioengineered to perfection). Deckard gives every indication of being the hard-worn but duty-bound cop; incorruptible and without any apparent life outside of being a cop. On the trail of the replicants Leon, Zhora, Pris, and their charismatic and uber-Aryan leader Roy, Deckard is soon corrupted by the fifth android, Rachael. He knows she is an android and finds himself increasingly drawn to her against his better judgment. Deckard finds and terminates Zhora, Pris, gets help from Rachael with Leon and meets up with Roy on the rooftops in an extended climax with bizarre spiritual implications. He then runs off with Rachael into the unknown, and the credits roll over the uncertainty of our first viewing.  But Blade Runner gets better every time you watch it. It is the greatest embodiment of the question, what makes someone human?

Before looking at how the film addresses this question with the replicants and Deckard, I’d first like to point out its use of men and women in broad strokes to convey this theme. For one thing, the humans in the movie are highly individualistic, and that is a generous way of describing their solemn, lonely existence. Consider the character of J.F Sebastian (played by William Sanderson). As a genetic designer, he is one of three men responsible for the creation of the replicants. Pris accompanies him to his home, which is filled with animated toys that keep him company. His lone source of human contact seems to be the occasional chess game with the boss, Tyrell. He works constantly. Consorts with inanimate objects. Plays chess. Sits alone his massive apartment. This hardly feels like the life of a flesh and blood man. His appearance, too, lends itself to conspiracy theories of him being an android. The blood in his cheeks feels painted on and he wears the same clothes in the few scenes he occupies. But I interpret his solitude as an example of how isolated humanity is, and how the androids have picked up where humans have dropped the ball.

Similarly, there is the master himself. The grand designer, sitting alone atop his own private tower of Babylon. Again we have the motif of humanity isolating itself; cut off from other humans, cut off from relationships, cut off from emotions. Dr. Elden Tyrell is the creator; the life-giver. Before I get to the religious connotations of that, let us first look at him as simply another human in the story. No wife; no children; no house pets. He is married to his work, and I believe he says something about Rachael being like a daughter or something. What does it say about humanity when people are seeking artificial means of forming relationships rather than organically finding love and companionship? That is if they are even seeking, which most characters are not. How many married couples are seen in the film? How many children? I don’t remember any, and I would guess the notions of family and togetherness have migrated to Off-world colonies along with the people of means. Sci-fi films have long envisioned nightmarish futures and dystopias, but Blade Runner’s vision isn’t as off-kilter visually compared to the present. Its nightmare concerns the muted emotional aspects of humanity under the influence of some unknown conformity. The third human responsible for the androids is Hannibal Chew. He rounds out and drives home the point about the characters we can most safely assume are humans, as he too is seen working robotically at his work designing the eyes of the androids. Is there nothing left for humans but their work? We don’t get any sense of three-dimensionality out of any human character. We get no sense of them aspiring to anything.

Now we come to Rick Deckard, who I like to believe is a replicant, but will read as a human for this discussion. He lives to work, and the only hint of extracurricular interests comes about halfway through the film when we see he has a piano in his apartment. Deckard in that same scene quite cruelly breaks down Rachael’s faith in her own memory and identity; memory and identity also being crucial themes. He proves to her that her memories are manufactured, and the film later whispers questions about his memories when another cop leaves an origami folding of a unicorn that harkens back to Deckard’s dreams on the subject. How much can anyone trust their own memory?

Deckard has a foolproof way of identifying androids. No matter how convincing, how thorough the established illusion, he can identify a replicant based on their inability to empathize. To this effect, he administers the Voight-Kampff test described in the film’s original press kit as, “A very advanced form of lie detector that measures contractions of the iris muscle and the presence of invisible airborne particles emitted from the body. The bellows were designed for the latter function and give the machine the menacing air of a sinister insect. The VK is used primarily by Blade Runners to determine if a suspect is truly human by measuring the degree of his empathic response through carefully worded questions and statements.” He needles his subjects about various strange things happening to animals and gauges their response. This sets up a very convenient line between humans and androids-humans can empathize, replicants cannot. Except this delineation falls apart throughout the film. Take the scene where Zhora is retired by Deckard for example. She is gunned down in the street with dozens of people breezing by. They keep moving. Most significantly, at the film’s end, Roy saves the man who killed his friends and tried to kill him. Is this a sign of grace from a being that has killed its creator and become its own judge of life and death?

In the novel, maybe the movie as well, Tyrell asks Deckard if he has ever used the Voight-Kampff test on himself. Aside from just being another occurrence where the text plays with our conception of who is and isn’t a human, the moment also points to a level of reflexivity that is lacking in the human characters but present in the androids. In essence, does Deckard ever question? Does he ever doubt? Apparently not for much of the film, until Rachael introduces it to his life. We see Deckard struggle with his emotional ties to someone he needs to kill, plus the physical aspects of that situation. Then, in the love scene in the apartment, he struggles to remain detached while convincing her that she is not human. He appears to waver a little as a result of his action, and I think we can see him empathize with her and her newfound knowledge. The combination of these doubts and frustrations lead to him taking her forcefully. It is an unusually attractive, aberrant, problematic, enigmatic scene as at a base visual level we have an attractive male movie star forcing his way with an attractive woman that raises all kinds of questions of consent and misogyny. For me, the scene represents Deckard’s awakening, wherein you have a male character flooded with an overwhelming load of novel feelings not knowing what to do with them, and trying to convince himself that she is merely a tool that can be used as needed. You can see how that comes close to not distant enough levels of misogyny present in films past, but here, I feel there is a dire subtext that makes the segment absolutely necessary. First, as repulsive a notion as it may be depending on your reading of the scene, this is the first time where we can begin to empathize with Deckard. He is flesh and blood after all, and he accepts her gift of love (albeit in a brutal manner) at long last. The scene also harkens back to classic noir where women are constantly getting pushed around and having to prove their angelic interiors to violent brooding male protagonists. We like those male protagonists and begin to like Deckard precisely for those flaws that are so apparent because it makes the characters more human.

Next, we have Roy, the super being/replicant/more human than human/Christ-figure.“We’re not computers, Sebastian, we’re physical,” he says. He is dying. He feels his time coming to an end and wants more. This is a deeply human trait, and because his time is so finite, he searches for his maker for answers. The implications of this are readily apparent and separate the androids from the humans in a way that feels inverted. His sporadic utterances throughout the film move between ominous and wise, when he says things like, “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” I could picture him easily having followers in our society. There is the crystal clear subtext in the film of Roy being a Christ-figure. Not a metaphor or a direct representation of Christ but someone who has a certain resemblance. His creator, Tyrell, informs Deckard that the motto in making the replicants was “more human than human,” which itself bears an apt description of the Christian conception of Christ. He experiences high levels of pain, sees the worst men have to offer, inspires others to follow, and ultimately allows his worst enemy to live, before he, himself, dies. For Roy, it is not a question of can he do what humans can, because he can do anything a human can better and to the extreme.

John Scalzi, in his Rough Guide to Sci-fi Movies, talks about science fiction’s ability to blend genres, styles, and subgenres. He says, “Science fiction does not contain itself to neat categories, and science fiction fans do not content themselves with one genre of film.” This points to what makes science fiction a genre capable of immense depth. Blade Runner at once rediscovered and reset the mold, and in its wake, we’ve seen other great films like AI: Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001), Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008), and Ex-Machina (Andrew Garland, 2015) explore this issue of what constitutes being human. Rick Deckard, talking about his enemy Roy Batty, summed up this theme in the end monologue for the original version (read without remembering Harrison Ford’s performance of this dialogue), “I don’t know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments, he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life – anybody’s life; my life. All he’d wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got? All I could do was sit there and watch him die.”

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Arrival (2016, Directed by Denis Villeneuve) English 5

Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma

(5-Okay Film)

Slow. Monotonous. Opaque.

How to describe this film’s plot? I suppose it is fitting for a film so concerned with the passing of time to be an unbound, nonlinear work. All I can claim to understand clearly is that Amy Adams plays a linguistics professor asked to assist in communication with a group of aliens that have recently materialized. Critics have praised the confident pacing, but, in my book, that usually means slow and boring. I’ve also realized about myself that I don’t care for friendly aliens when it comes to movies. Give me the childish aliens vs. humans narrative every time over this well-crafted “intelligent” film. A film has to be entertaining before it can be anything else.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(779)

Videodrome (1983, Directed by David Cronenberg) English 8

Starring James Woods, Debbie Harry, Sonja Smits, Leslie Carlson, Peter Dvorsky, Jackl Creley

Image result for videodrome

(8-Exceptional Film)

Bizarre. Unnerving. Unforgettable.

Max Renn (Woods) runs a sleazy television station that pushes sex and violence with its programming. Always on the lookout for new material, Renn stumbles upon Videodrome, a pirated show made under mysterious circumstances that takes gratuitous sex and violence to new heights. Renn becomes obsessed with the show but when he does a little digging, reality and Videodrome begin to blend together, and he finds that what he thought was staged might actually be genuine snuff films. Directed by David Cronenberg, master of body horror, this movie alternates between seeming to have a lot of plot to digest and the plot apparently not mattering at all, and yet, I was never frustrated. From wonder to disgust, it’s best to watch and move with Videodrome as it goes from one striking image to the next. What’s it saying though? Is Renn corrupted by what he’s watching? Desensitized by sex and violence on television to the point where he has to look for stronger material to feel anything? I don’t have an answer but I’m certain I’ll watch this film again and again searching.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(707)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, Directed by Gareth Edwards) English 6

Starring Felicity Jones, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelson, Alan Tudyk, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen

(6-Good Film)

Solid. Overly-serious. Anticlimactic.

A rebellious youth, Jin (Jones), teams up with the resistance to steal the Empire’s plans
for the Death Star; set between episodes 3 and 4 of the Star Wars Saga. The character building and diversity of the cast really shines through in the film and makes the first two acts (which are essentially build-up) fly by, but the third act, which was probably 40 or so minutes of straight action, was immensely disappointing to me. I became disinterested at the part that I should have been most engrossed in. It seemed to drag on monotonously as random things blew up. There was no discernible strategy that I could follow and invest in. The combat scenes were uninspired, and the villain could not measure up to Vader (which is to be expected). In fact, the best scenes in the film were Vader’s.  The movie was also not imaginative enough. Awe and wonderment were replaced by grit. And the ending, which I don’t want to spoil just in case you’re the one person who likes Star Wars but hasn’t seen it yet, made the film feel too much like the spinoff it is. I thought the filmmakers had done a good job up to that point of letting the film stand on its own. I also don’t like the use of Peter Cushing (who is dead) in CGI form. Apart from being distracting, it was kind of creepy. A good film, but not a great one.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-
(704)

Krull (1983, Directed by Peter Yates) English 4

Starring Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane, Alun Armstrong

(4-Bad Film)

Bizarre. Campy. Dull.

In this film, an odd mash-up of the sword-and-sorcery genre and the sci-fi genre, a distant planet called Krull is invaded by aliens known as slayers on the day the Princess is to be married. These slayers are light-years ahead in technology, so fighting back seems hopeless, but Colwyn (Marshall), the Princess’ intended, is willing to go to any length to save his bride and protect his home. Alternates between inspired visuals and corny ’80s effects. The story isn’t compelling, and the characters get shortchanged.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(703)

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019, Directed by David Leitch) English 6

Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Eddie Marsan, Eiza González, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Hart, Helen Mirren

Image result for hobbs and shaw

(6-Good Film)

Ridiculous. Over-the-top. Fun.

Remember when the Fast and the Furious franchise was about stealing cars? At some point, the Fast and the Furious adventures merged with James bond-like sci-fi and end-of-the-world scenarios and, in my opinion, they’re all better for it. Hobbs and Shaw is a spinoff of the last Fast and the Furious with superhuman heroes Luke Hobbs (Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Statham) teaming up to save the world despite not liking each other. They’ll have to put aside their antagonism in order to help Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Kirby), herself a British spy, who’s carrying a catastrophic virus that a mysterious agency known as Eteon is after. Idris Elba lends some gravitas to his fairly silly role as Brixton Lore, part-robotic villain and mercenary for Eteon. Hobbs and Shaw is clearly setting up its own franchise and I’m down with that. The leads were the best thing about the last Fast and the Furious film and carry that chemistry into this one. Physics fly out the window pretty fast in this movie (Hobbs somehow lassos a metal chain around a plane in midair) but once you let that go, you can have a pretty good time. The big issue for me is the over-use of CGI as opposed to stunt work which the director, David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) has shown a great talent for.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(668)

The Unearthly (1957, Directed by Boris Petroff) English 4

Starring John Carradine, Myron Healey, Allison Hayes, Tor Johnson, Sally Todd

Image result for the unearthly 1957

(4-Bad Film)

Schlock. Flat. Doltish.

The Unearthly may be the best film featured on the cult t.v series, Mystery Science Theater, but that’s hardly a recommendation. It actually means that, while still not being good, it also lacks the requisite trash value to be so bad it’s good. It’s not entertaining. The premise is promising. A mad scientist played by Carradine tests out his theories on his distressed patients searching for immortality. A fugitive, Mark Houston (Healey), wanders into this house of horrors and unearths its secrets. Wittier dialogue, more colorful characters, and a director with any talent for suspense could make The Unearthly a worthwhile B movie. Instead, it’s ample fodder for the crew on MST3 to lampoon. “My Dinner with Andre had more locations.”

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(658)

Howard the Duck (1986, Directed by Willard Huyck) English 4

Starring Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins, David Paymer, Holly Robinson, Paul Guilfoyle

Image result for howard the duck

(4-Bad Film)

Inane. Unpleasant. Unfunny.

Beverly says it best, “Howard, you really are the worst.” I don’t know a thing about Marvel’s comic book series from which this movie was made, but as voiced by Chip Zien and portrayed in this film, Howard has to be one of the least charming heroes of all-time. Combining not-so-witty duck puns, general hostility, sarcasm, sleaziness, and bad animatronics, Howard’s pulled away from his planet and brought to Earth (Cleveland, to be specific) where he befriends Beverly (Thompson) and gets roped into stopping a violent alien form, the Dark Overlord (Jones), from taking over. This isn’t the worst film ever. It’s not even the worst Marvel adaptation. I’d vote one of the Fantastic Fours for that distinction. But I didn’t like anything about Howard the Duck. I have an affinity for the ’80s, its aesthetic and vibe, there being a number of bad films from that decade that I love, but Howard the Duck is an eyesore and painful to listen to.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(650)

Men in Black: International (2019, Directed by F. Gary Gray) English 6

Starring Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Kumail Nanjiani, Liam Neeson, Rafe Spall, Emma Thompson, Rebecca Ferguson

Image result for men in black international

(6-Good Film)

Enjoyable. Fast. Worn.

Rewatching the first Men in Black film, starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, I was struck by how odd it is. It is surely one of the weirdest mainstream blockbuster films ever. That’s a great deal of what made it so fresh back in 1998. An inspired, inventive blockbuster movie. There were several back in the 1990s, but they are very nearly extinct now. When’s the last time a fresh blockbuster picture came out? I can’t remember one this decade. The closest I can think of is The Hunger Games, which, though based on a book, at least isn’t a remake or a reboot or an MCU film. In any case, after the success of the first Men in Black, two sequels followed, each further prioritizing CGI and their big budget over story, humor, and unique ideas which are what made the original special. Now comes Men in Black International, a film nobody asked for and is probably going to sink at the box office. The good news is, despite or more likely because of my exceedingly low expectations, I enjoyed this movie. Pleasantly surprised, I found it light, fast-moving, and just intriguing enough to get by. The bad news is I doubt anyone cares. Critics seem to be lashing out from remake fatigue because Men in Black International currently sits at a lowly 28% on Rotten Tomatoes. My movie taste is admittedly questionable but this film at 28% is hyperbole. It has worse reviews at the moment than the incomprehensible Suicide Squad. That’s honestly absurd.

Tessa Thompson plays Molly, first introduced as a young girl having an encounter with an extraterrestrial. Men in Black swoop in to control the situation but miss Molly when they do their memory-erasing of the witnesses. From that day on, Molly is obsessed with aliens and the mysterious Men in Black, hoping one day to join them. Eventually, she hits paydirt but on a probationary basis and MIB leader O (Emma Thompson) assigns her to MIB London where she meets their leader, High T (Neeson), and their top agent, H (Hemsworth), who’s lost his way and at this point is coasting on his past success. Molly, now Agent M, pairs up with H to protect an important alien visitor, Vungus, but when Vungus ends up murdered, M works out that there has to be a mole within MIB. I like the cloak and dagger aspect brought to this new Men in Black. The space oddity coolness is long gone and this franchise will never feel fresh again, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. I always enjoy a good espionage thriller and MIB International imagines its fictional agency as being a lot like MI6 (via James Bond, not John Le Carré). The plot, however, like the franchise is well-worn. One of them is a traitor. That’s interesting enough, but the reveal is fairly obvious if you’ve seen enough movies. It also doesn’t help that there are really only two suspects; one highly suspicious and the other very unlikely. Of course, it’s the latter whodunnit.

Visually, I miss the practical effects of the first Men in Black. It forced the filmmakers to be more creative with their alien designs as well. There was CGI in that film, but not nearly as much as this one. Too many aliens here seem out of place, taken from another movie (John Carter, maybe).

Director, F. Gary Gary (Friday, The Italian Job, The Fate of the Furious), is capable of delivering entertaining fare if not always critically acclaimed works. Men in Black International seems destined for critical rebuke and box office embarrassment. Nobody wanted another Men in Black and this remake would have had to be amazing to overcome all the apathy. It’s not amazing, but I do think it’s good and a worthwhile diversion.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019, Directed by Simon Kinberg) English 5

Starring Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters

Image result for x-men dark phoenix (2019)

(5-Okay Film)

Underwhelming. Uninteresting. Mediocre.

      X-Men is one of Marvel’s best creations. The potential is there for some truly great superhero films, but so far, Logan is the only adaptation that I would call great, with X2, Days of Future Past, and The Wolverine being very good. You can go to a lot of different places with these characters. The comics have done noir, mixed in historical fiction, post-apocalyptic, futuristic tales. There’s a wealth of opportunities. To my disappointment, the newest X-Men is a reboot of the Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix storyline previously adapted in the woeful but hilarious X-Men: The Last Stand.  I understand that The Last Stand told Jean Grey’s story poorly, but I still would have preferred an original premise. The worst part, however, is that X-Men: Dark Phoenix isn’t even better than that film. Sure, it’s darker and less silly, but to what purpose? It’s also less entertaining.

This seems like an opportune time to reflect on how much I miss Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Instead of his charismatic Logan,  Dark Phoenix gives us a brooding Jean Grey (played by Sophie Turner) as a lead, and it’s just not as much fun. The film opens with a pretty typical at this point origin episode. A grade-school Jean Grey’s telekinesis causes her parents to get in a car accident, killing them and leaving the young girl an orphan. It’s pretty similar to Rogue’s story, isn’t it? Enter Professor Xavier (McAvoy) who takes her to his school and promises to help her, this scene reminding me of Dumbledore and Voldemort in Harry Potter. The rest of the film takes place in 1992. Jean’s a young woman now. Scott Summers, or Cyclops (Sheridan), is her boyfriend. Mystique (Lawrence) has returned to the school, and she and the other X-Men work towards Xavier’s goals of peace between mutants and humans. One of the film’s few compelling storylines is the tension between Xavier and his students who feel like he’s become egocentric. Early on, he seems more ruthless than we’ve seen him before; more interested in politics than his students. A near catastrophe leaves Jean vulnerable to traumatic memories and newly awakened powers causing her to hurt others without meaning to. It’s a storyline familiar to anyone who’s seen a classic monster movie (The Wolfman, anybody?). It’s too familiar. Spurring her on towards the side of evil are a group of mysterious aliens led by Vuk (Chastain), a sort of Svengali always whispering monotonously in Jean’s ear. The filmmakers decided to make these villains like Pod people out of a ’50’s B-Movie, except they took all of the mystery and suspense out of it since they’re revealed for what they are right out of the gate. The result is a dull and lifeless villain largely responsible for making X-Men: Dark Phoenix a dull and lifeless movie.

Directing, in his debut, is Simon Kinberg. He’s written several fantastic films including previous, successful X-Men installments. One of the biggest responsibilities of the director is managing the tone of the film, whether it’s switching between tones frequently like a Pedro Almodóvar film or a Tarantino film or it’s attempting to sustain one tone throughout like a great horror movie (The Thing, for example). Kinberg goes for the latter and it strikes me as one of Dark Phoenix’ biggest mistakes. This is not a horror movie and yet it’s humorless and grim from start to finish.

The actors, we know, are good, because we’ve seen them in other things. Some do good work here, mainly McAvoy and Hoult, with the majority given nothing to do but wear a tight outfit. Sophie Turner doesn’t prove that she can carry a film, but (though her English accent slips in once or twice) it’s not because her performance is bad. She plays a misunderstood monster, only instead of wonderfully grotesque features and practical effects like the classic Universal monsters, we just see a young woman throwing a tantrum and then running away like an overemotional teenager.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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