Tag Archives: X Men

The Kids Are Not All Right

The New Mutants

by Hope Madden

Let’s be honest. Logan’s dead, JLaw’s past her contract obligations, Dark Phoenix bombed and the X-Men are in need of some new blood and maybe a new direction.

The franchise does make a big of a zig with its latest offshoot. The New Mutants is essentially a YA horror film. Co-writer/director Josh Boone’s premise may be comic book, but his execution is angst and PG-13 scares.

Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) wakes up to find herself in a locked-down, mainly vacant, definitely old and unmistakably spooky asylum of some sort. Here Dani will learn to control her power—whatever that might be—with the help of the sole custodian of Dani and four other special youngsters, Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga).

Focusing exclusively on adolescence allows the film to deliver, undiluted, the main concepts of the franchise: embrace your differences, forgive yourself, accept others for what they are, master your own potential and stick it to the man. Fine ideas, every one of them, and certainly common themes in YA.

As our plucky hero, Hunt struggles to find anything close to authenticity in her dreamy dialog, but the balance of the cast is strong.

The always remarkable Anya Taylor-Joy relishes the wicked girl role while Game of Thrones’s Maisie Williams (battling Taylor-Joy for largest eyes in a human face) is a deeply empathetic, awkward girl with a crush.

That the crush is not on one of the two boys in lockdown—played by Charlie Heaton and Henry Zaga—is a refreshing change of pace charmingly underscored by the teens’ apparent fixation with the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Boone, whose 2014 effort The Fault In Our Stars defines angst porn, knows YA. His combination of these two genres is a bit of a misfire, though, particularly when the final, big, giant scare is revealed. Yikes—and I don’t mean that in a good way.

New Mutants is a film trying too hard to cash in on proven youth market formulas, but the concoction fizzles. It doesn’t really work as an angsty romance, misses the mark as a horror movie and never for a minute feels like a superhero flick.

Hey Lady, Dark Lady

Dark Phoenix

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Hey, remember back in ’06 when director Brett Ratner and writer Simon Kinberg crashed the X-Men franchise into oblivion by telling the story of how the perpetually boring Jean Grey was really the most powerful of all mutants, plus maybe she was bad, and not even the love of two good mutants and the misguided belief of Dr. Charles Xavier could save her?

You don’t?! Because it was so bad it tanked the promising series until director Matthew Vaughn revived it five years later with Ashley Miller’s clever time warp, X-Men: First Class. Then there was another good one, then a terrible one—basically, we’re back on that downside of this cycle.

So why not put some polish on that old turd about Jean Grey, and this time give it the overly ominous title Dark Phoenix?

Some elements are the same: Jean’s powers are beyond anyone’s control and there’s a dark power that’s overtaking her. But this go-round, writer Kinberg also makes his feature debut behind the camera, spinning a yarn with more aliens, more girl power and less Wolverine.

The writing is just as bad, though.

How bad? Exposition and inner monologues continually jockey for position, with lines bad enough to choke even the bona fide talent of Jessica Chastain, who joins the fray as alien leader Vuk.

Sophie Turner returns as Jean – the role she took on in 2016’s abysmal X-Men: Apocalypse – with little more charisma than she wielded three years ago. James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence all also return because, one assumes, contracts are contracts.

There’s really no excuse for a film with this cast to fail, but Kinberg’s story weaves and bobs with no real anchor, all the veterans repeat the same old conflict/guilt/resolution spirals and the newbies simply lack the charisma to draw attention away from the weakly choreographed set pieces.

Okay, some of the mutant vs. alien throwdown on a moving train has zip, but it’s too little, too late.

By then the attempts to make us care about a character that’s always been lacking in investment – for us and these X superfriends – have pulled up lame.

To paraphrase social historian Regina George: Stop trying to make Jean Grey happen, she isn’t going to happen.

I Hurt Myself Today


by Hope Madden

At the close of X-Men: Days of Future Past, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) gazes with befuddled joy at his beloved colleagues (one more beloved than others), his own ugly history and the dire fate of his breed now expunged. Remember?

Expect nothing so precious from James Mangold or Logan.

Set just a handful of years into the future, the film sees the most haunted of the X-Men – a guy around 200 years old by now – really beginning to show some wear and tear. Limping, scarred, drunk and mean, Logan no longer heals quite the way he used to. His beard is grey, his hero days long gone.

The last mutant was born more than 25 years ago. Nowadays, Logan drives a limo and uses the cash to grab dementia meds he brings across the border to his old father figure, Charles Xavier.

Bloody and bleak, tossing F-bombs and the franchise’s first flash of nudity, Logan is not like the other X-Men.

Or is he? A little girl claws her way into his life, and suddenly it’s evil scientists, armed goons and genetically enhanced villains all over again.

The villains won’t leave an impression, but the film will.

Logan relies on themes of redemption – a superhero’s favorite. Mangold pulls ideas from Children of Men and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but his film reminds me more of The Girl with All the Gifts. (If you haven’t seen it, you should.)

The point? The children are our future and Logan’s real battle has always been with himself. Almost literally, in this case.

He fights others, too, don’t fret. Indeed, you will see those claws tear into more flesh in this film than in all previous efforts combined. The violence in Logan is more unhinged, bloody and satisfying, too.

Even more startling is the behavior of Logan’s tiny feral beast, Laura (Dafne Keen). Oh, this movie has a body count – at least two of them headless.

It has an emotional center as well – which is not to say Logan works on all fronts. It’s lacking as the family drama it flirts with becoming, and can’t hold its own as a road movie, either. The narrative can’t find momentum.

But as an opportunity for Hugh Jackman to put his most iconic character to bed, it’s sometimes amazing.

Grateful Dead


by Hope Madden

R-rated super hero movies are few and far between, but there are some subjects that would be so neutered with a teen-friendly rating that the hero would cease to be. Like Deadpool.

A thug with a quick wit, foul mouth, a likeminded girl, and quite possibly a ring pop up his ass, Wade Wilson has it all – including inoperable cancer, which sends him into the arms of some very bad doctors. The rest of the film – in energetically non-chronological order – is the revenge plot.

Directing newcomer (longtime video game FX guy) Tim Miller gets the nod with this off-season but still highly anticipated Marvel flick, and he does two things quite well. He knows how to stage an action sequence – which is key, obviously. But more importantly, he understands the tone needed to pull this film off.

Deadpool was introduced onscreen back in 2009 in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but those films are so serious. Miller understands that, to make the most of this character, humor is the name of the game.

An utterly unbridled Ryan Reynolds returns as the titular Super (yes) Hero (no), and though the actor’s reserve of talent has long been debated, few disagree that his brand of self-referential sarcasm and quippage beautifully suits this character.

T.J. Miller and Morena Baccarin go toe to toe with Reynolds, and Leslie Uggams gets a couple of good lines, too. I’m sorry – what?

Penned by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick – scribes behind the brilliant and hilarious genre mash up ZombielandDeadpool is a nasty piece of fun from the opening credits (as magnificent a gag as any you’ll see for the entire 108 minute run time).

Even the sloppy and slow pieces – the inevitable X-Men tie ins, for instance – are sent up mercilessly, as if the writers and Reynolds himself know what the audience is thinking, which is: Who are these two lamos and why are they in this movie? Seriously, where’s Mystique?

All the sarcastic cuteness can wear thin, but Deadpool does not stoop to hard won lessons or self-sacrificing victories. It flips the bird at the Marvel formula, turns Ryan Reynolds into an avocado, and offers the most agreeably childish R-rated film of the young year.


Countdown: Summer of SciFi!

The summer of 2014 crapped forth yet another Transformers movie, so it shoulders that shame. But otherwise, it hasn’t been such a crummy season, especially if you are fan of science fiction. The season began a little early, back in April, with Scarlett Johansson’s hypnotic alien abduction poem Under the Skin. But come the hot weather, Hollywood kicked into high gear with few disappointments. Here are the best of the season.

5. X Men: Days of Future Past

Matthew Vaughn’s 2011 re-envisioning of this franchise worked miracles, thanks to an inspired rewrite of history and an even better cast. It was worrisome when the next in this line fell back to Bryan Singer, whose spotty cinematic output in the last decade suggested he may not be the man for the job. But, he proved game for the challenge, bringing the best of one X Men world (Hugh Jackman, obviously) together with the best of the throwback generation (everyone, basically: Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy) for a time travel bit of wizardry, shape shifting and Seventies references. Hearing Fassbender quote James Brown is alone worth the price of admission.

4. Edge of Tomorrow

Why didn’t anyone see this gem? Aliens meets Groundhog Day may seem like a weird pitch, but good Lord is it entertaining! Tom Cruise may irritate many, but he brings it to a role that requires a complete reimagining of character by the time the credits role. Beyond that, he throws some unexpected and much appreciated humor at us while he relives the same horrendous day again and again in the hopes of finding a way to defeat an invading army of aliens. He has the help of Emily Blunt, and he – and we – should be grateful. In what amounts to the Sigourney Weaver role, Blunt flat out amazes. She has never turned in a weak performance, but who saw action hero in her future?

3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

It would have been hard to outdo 2011’s surprise hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but director Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield) does just that. Though his sequel offers less intimacy and heartbreak, it takes the story of our quickly evolving simian cousins to an epic, even Shakespearean level. Remaining ever neutral in what amounts to a political thriller, Reeves never abandons the energy and imagery of a blockbuster, combining the two approaches to create an exceptionally entertaining whole.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

Director James Gunn does Marvel fans right with one of the year’s most fun rides. Gunn nails the tone, the color, the imagery, and the sound of one Earthling dartin’ about space scavenging, smooching, and basically living the dream. The effortlessly likeable Chris Pratt leads a film, joined by ragtag misfits who collectively become the most enjoyable team of intergallactic scoundrels since Han Solo piloted the Falcon. This is the definition of a great summer movie.


1. Snowpiercer

An immediate dystopian classic although badly under marketed, Snowpiercer went on to become the most buzzed about film of the summer, and with good reason. Visionary direction from Joon-ho Bong (The Host, Mother) gave the film a dizzyingly claustrophobic tension, while brazen casting victories (Oh my God, Tilda Swinton) and another solid lead turn from Chris Evans work together to create an enthralling allegory of the makers and the takers.