MOVIE BUFF-ET: ‘Dark Phoenix’ fizzles, while ‘Rocketman’ hits right notes with depressing story of addiction

Review: Dark Phoenix

Jessica Chastain and Sophie Turner in Dark Phoenix / Twentieth Century Fox

Super heroes rule the cineplex. For good or ill, it’s a fact.

Two movies have grossed over a billion dollars worldwide this year, and both — “Avengers: Endgame” and “Captain Marvel” — feature super heroes.

However, the franchise that reignited the super-hero genre in 2000 after Mr. Freeze and Batman put it in the cooler with 1997’s insipid “Batman ad Robin” is on its feeble last leg.

With Disney buying out Fox Studios last year in a $52.4 billion deal in order to fortify its upcoming Disney+ streaming service with content from Fox’s massive library of films and TV shows, the current iteration of X-Men films comes to an end with the 12th movie in the franchise “Dark Phoenix,” which opens in theaters today.

I’d like to report that Professor X (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jessica Lawrence), Phoenix/Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and the rest go out with a bang, but ultimately, it’s more of a whimper.

Not to say there isn’t some decent material in the movie or solid performances, but the movie fails to come together as a whole.

Jennifer Lawrence in Dark Phoenix / Twentieth Century Fox

It’s hard for McAvoy or Fassbender to give a truly bad performance, and Turner’s performance does draw some empathy as a character spiraling out of control and shamefully liking it.

In fact, the film’s first act is quite entertaining as the X-Men are called upon by the president to undertake a rescue mission in outer space, but as the movie turns to its core story — the possession of Jean Grey by a power-stoking, evil alien entity — the film becomes convoluted and then whirls out of control as the movie unravels in an ever so predictable fashion.

Unfortunately, the movie escaped first-time director but veteran screenwriter Simon Kinberg’s grasp at some point. The film has issues with tone and editing that made the basic story more confusing and ultimately uninteresting as the characters flail against a movie out of control.

That’s a shame for fans who grew up on the X-Men film franchise, but it’s really par for the course for those who came to know the characters in the comics or the 1990s animated TV show that credibly adapted the Dark Phoenix storyline.

The film series only vaguely captured the essence of the characters that made the X-Men the dominant selling comics series from 1979 through the 1990s. For some comics fans, outside of the initial excitement of having the character adapted to film, the movies have been dreadfully painful over the years with notable exceptions of “Logan” and the two Deadpool films.

Nicholas Hoult in Dark Phoenix / Twentieth Century Fox

The Phoenix Saga is a beloved story to them that writer/co-plotter Chris Claremont, artist/co-plotter John Byrne, and artist Dave Cockrum carefully crafted for years across 36 issues of the Uncanny X-Men series.

It would be foolish to believe any writer/director could match their effort beat for beat in a single film. However, Kinberg’s movie fails to even capture the essence of the heart and tragedy found in those now musty old comics.

The good news, though, is that the X-Men are valuable intellectual property, and now that Disney owns the rights to the characters, sooner or later Marvel Studios will begin to integrate the X-Men into its connected super-hero universe.

Without doubt, Phoenix and the rest of her mutant pals are destined to arise from the ashes of this uneventful closing chapter to Fox’s X-Men franchise.

(PG-13) 1 hr. 53 min.
Grade: D+

Review: Rocketman

Taron Egerton in Rocketman / Paramount Pictures

Have you ever felt sorry for a multimillionaire rock-and-roll star?

I hadn’t either until I recently saw the musical-drama “Rocketman” that details the strife and success of Sir Elton John from his American debut at the Troubadour in Los Angeles in 1970 through the 1990s when he achieved sobriety after decades of alcohol and cocaine abuse.

The film, directed by Dexter Fletcher and starring Taron Egerton as John, traces the musician’s career from his childhood yearning for love and appreciation from his divorced father and mother through the ups and downs of his career — which included copious amounts of booze, drugs, and sex.

In an interview, Egerton said John didn’t lead a PG-13 life, and the film avoids none of the debauchery and excesses of a rock-and-roll lifestyle that some critics claimed was whitewashed from last years Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

My reaction to the two films were quite different. While there are some truly fantastic and fun dance and fantasy scenes in “Rocketman,” the film deftly conveys the depressing, pointless nature of John’s life as his career thrives but his personal life plummets to rock bottom.

I left the theater feeling more than a bit down after watching “Rocketman,” whereas the re-enactment of Queen’s performance at the 1985 Live Aide concert — Mercury’s last — had me pumped up leaving the theater.

Jamie Bell and Taron Egerton in Rocketman / Paramount Pictures

It’s hard for me to criticize either artistic decision, but even though “Rocketman” is the better-crafted film, if given a choice of watching one or the other again, I’d definitely go for “Bohemian Rhapsody” for the juice of its final segment.

With Rami Malek winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Mercury earlier this year, it’s hard to believe that Egerton would be in the running for an Academy nomination for such a similar role, but to this point in the year, I’ve not seen a better performance.

Egerton makes you believe he is Elton John whether he’s signing, acting as narrator, or just performing a scene

Egerton receives excellent support from Jamie Bell, who plays John’s best friend and lyricist Bernie Taupin, and Richard Madden, who plays John Reid, John’s lover and business manager. Bryce Dallas Howard also could be up for a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance Sheila Eileen, John’s mother.

The film is wonderfully crafted and quite entertaining to a point. However, John’s struggles with his various addictions sunk in hard on me as I watched the film and made the experience unpleasant.

“Rocketman” falls into that category of movie where I realize it was exceptionally well made and that many will find it extremely entertaining, but ultimately I didn’t like it because of the way it made me feel.

(R) 2 hr. 1 min.
Grade: B+

New In Local Movie Theaters

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  • Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Rogers Towne, Malco Pinnacle Hills, Bentonville Skylight

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