Review: Dark Phoenix

I never listen to critics. I almost never agree with them. Nonetheless the buzz around Dark Phoenix was so uniformly negative that it did eventually dampen even my hype. It doesn’t help that the last X-Men movie, Apocalypse, was a bit underwhelming.

Promotional art for X-Men: Dark PhoenixSo even though I’m a huge fan of the X-Men movies, I went into Dark Phoenix with very low expectations.

I was a fool. The critics are wrong — Dark Phoenix is fantastic.

The film begins with the X-Men ascendant. They’ve achieved the acceptance Professor Xavier has worked so hard for, and they’re now a household name, beloved by mutants and humans alike. But the success has started to go to Xavier’s head, and after Jean Grey is nearly killed on a dangerous mission undertaken despite strident objections from Raven, events start to spiral out of control, threatening to destroy the X-Men and all that they worked to achieve.

It isn’t perfect. There’s a few minor things that made me do a bit of a double-take, and not in a good way. The writers definitely don’t understand how physics work in space, and I’m not sure I’m onboard the X-Men suddenly having Dragonball Z style power level meters.

There are times when Dark Phoenix does feel like it’s repeating the same story beats as the last take on this arc, X-Men: The Last Stand, but on the plus side this is a better movie than that was.

It also feels a bit rushed at times, and the ending feels a little too inclusive for my taste, but at the same time, “it left me wanting more” is kind of a good problem for a movie to have.

Dark Phoenix is not the best X-Men movie, but it does capture a lot of what is best about this franchise and its characters.

Sophie Turner as Jean Grey in Dark PhoenixWhat strikes me most about this movie is how human all of the main characters feel. Dark Phoenix shows Xavier at his worst — he screws up badly in more than one way — but his reasoning for all of his choices feels very understandable. It doesn’t feel like it runs counter to how virtuous he’s been in the past. Indeed, it’s his very optimism and desire to always do the “right” thing that trips him up.

Dark Phoenix is about Xavier making terrible mistakes, but at no point does he feel unsympathetic. He just feels human.

The same is true of Jean Grey. This movie also takes her to a very dark place — no pun intended — but again her emotions feel valid throughout. You still feel sympathy for her.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This is what makes the X-Men special. No matter what powers they may have, they still feel like three-dimensional people, with flaws and vulnerabilities. They feel real in a way that most superheroes don’t.

Dark Phoenix is a movie that easily could have slid into the ridiculous with its godlike cosmic forces and sinister alien threats, but by focusing on nuanced characters and believable emotion, it manages to still feel grounded and relatable.

Another strength of the X-Men films that Dark Phoenix carries on is that it nails the tone very well. It’s ultimately a very optimistic movie; it’s about the power of love and compassion to conquer all. But it’s also not afraid to go to dark places when story calls for it. The victories feel earned because they come at a high price.

Professor Xavier and the X-Men in Dark PhoenixDark Phoenix also does an admirable if slightly imperfect job of maintaining another strength of the X-Men: its ensemble cast. The heart of the story is Jean Grey, but lots of other characters get their spot in the sun, too. There are a few I’d like to have seen more of — especially Storm and Quicksilver — but the film does do a pretty good job of giving every cast member at least one moment where they get to be awesome, whether it’s a powerful character scene or kicking ass in battle.

Beast, in particular, gets a lot of attention, and the movie is better for it. All credit to Nicholas Hoult for a very strong performance.

This is why I don’t listen to critics. I loved this movie.

Overall rating: 8.5/10

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Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Yes, I know I’m way late to the party, even by my standards. I meant to see this movie a lot sooner, but life just keeps throwing me curveballs lately. Better late than never.

Miles Morales in Into the Spider-VerseI’m sure by now I don’t need to provide a synopsis. I think by now we all know the general idea behind Into the Spider-Verse, and honestly, even if you don’t, it’s probably better to watch things unfold in the theatres. All you need to know is there are a lot of Spider-People involved, and that this is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen in my life.

I’m not kidding. I want in with high expectations after hearing a lot of positive buzz, and it still blew me away.

Pretty much everything about Into the Spider-Verse is perfect. The characters are lovable. The animation will blow your mind and then some. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, it’s exciting, it’s fun.

In a movie that’s excellent from top to bottom, there are a few things that I would like to point out as being especially brilliant.

One is the amount of thought and detail that went into realizing every version of Spider-Man. Not just in terms of characterization, but even simple visual touches, like Gwen’s ballet shoes.

Something really cool they did that I didn’t notice in the trailers is that several of the more exotic Spiders are actually done in different animation styles. While Miles, Gwen, and the various Peters Parker are done in a uniform CGI style, Peter Porker is drawn like an old Bugs Bunny cartoon, Spider-Man Noir is in black and white, and Peni Parker is an anime character.

Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman in Into the Spider-VerseThe other thing that Into the Spider-Verse does so well — and what more than anything puts it over the top from a fun blockbuster to a truly excellent piece of cinema — is how well this movie gets what makes Spider-Man compelling as a character.

There aren’t a lot of superheroes I really like. Spider-Man is one of the few I have genuine passion for. The reason for this is how relatable he is. He’s not an alien, or a god, or a billionaire, or someone with top secret government training. He might have some powers, but at the end of the day he’s just a nerdy kid who’s doing the best he can. He feels like a real person.

And Into the Spider-Verse nails that. All of the various incarnations of Spider-Man in this movie all capture that feeling of reality. (Well, okay, maybe not the pig, but still.) They’re all people with vulnerabilities, and real problems. They’re not perfect. They make mistakes. But they’re doing their best.

The thing about Spider-Man is that he’s not a hero because he can shoot webs. He’s a hero because he’s a normal (ish…) person who chose to use his abilities to make the world a better place, which is something anyone can do. That’s what makes him work as a character, and that’s what Into the Spider-Verse gets so right. Anyone can wear the mask. Anyone can be a hero.

Because I am a naturally critical person, and because I’m trying to at least pretend this a Serious Review by a Professional Writer, I will mention I do have one problem with this movie: It’s too focused on being an origin story for Miles Morales.

I’m tired of origin movies. It’s the same tropes over and over again. And especially in this case, we all know Spider-Man’s origin story. Yes, Miles is a different version of Spider-Man from the more iconic Peter Parker, but at the end of the day their stories just aren’t that different.

This bothers me especially in light of how colourful and interesting the other Spiders are. Miles is a good character, and I like him, but I wanted to see more attention put on Gwen, Peni, Noir, and hell even Ham. Gwen especially was played up a lot in the trailers but doesn’t actually get that big of a role in the movie.

But even then I have to say that as much as I’m sick of origin stories this is above average as origin stories go.

I can pick nits like that, but at the end of the day this is still an amazing movie. If you’re somehow even more of a slowpoke than I am and haven’t seen it yet, get your ass to a theatre and go see it ASAP. Into the Spider-Verse is not just another superhero movie. It’s something special.

Overall rating: 9.7/10