Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Movie Reviews: X-Men Dark Phoenix, Shazam, Alita: Battle Angel, Rocketman

Dark Phoenix: I liked this movie more than the masses did, apparently. Not that I thought it was a great movie, but it was better than the mess that was Apocalypse.

I think the biggest hate directed at this movie comes from the fact that this movie spits on any concept of fitting into the the other movies' timeline: it doesn't end in a way that fits in, and it takes place in the wrong decade. While I admit that it would have been better had it fit the timeline, I don't ding it any points for NOT doing so. I take the movie as it is, just like I don't care if it matches whatever is supposed to have happened in the comic books.

The story moves well enough: Jean Gray is a mutant with telekinesis, energy containment and blasts, and some mind reading. As a girl, she accidentally kills her parents. Charles Xavier takes her in and raises her in his school for gifted children. Some time later, on a rescue mission to save regular people in a space craft, she is exposed to and absorbs some kind of massive cloud of energy. She begins to lose control of her powers and some of her personality. During this process, she comes to find out that Charles "protected" her by lying to her about some things from her past and erecting some blocks on her power that were dangerous to her and others. Unbeknownst to her and everyone else, the energy she absorbed is some kind of power wanted by shape-shifting aliens who want to use it to destroy Earth. They try to win her over to their side and/or retake control of her power. Or something like that.

The movie is acted well and there is nothing wrong with the special effects, sound, or directing. One problem with the movie is that the aliens just kind of meander around; it's hard to figure out their exact powers or plan, they don't seem all that vicious (except for their ultimate goal), they don't exhibit any kind of emotion, and they are sometimes vulnerable to our heroes attacks and sometimes not without explanation as to why. So it's hard to relate to the struggle against them. Jean Gray doesn't emerge as much of a character, just someone who wanders around glassy eyed and generally upset. And Magneto is a shadow of his former self and not that interesting to watch. The others are not too bad.

The biggest problem is that the plot feels awfully like Captain Marvel's, which was a pretty terrific movie: a woman lied to by people who put blocks on her power, told to control her emotions, fighting shape shifting aliens. Captain Marvel manages to make the main character's smug constraints on her emotion seem human; she even smiles and laughs once in a while. This movie just isn't as good. It's also a reworking of the X-Men III: The Last Stand (from the previous timeline), which wasn't too bad of a movie either, although it suffered from some other, different, problems.

But at least this movie was watchable.

Shazam: Another DC movie, this one is pretty forgettable. A boy gets a suit that give him superpowers for reasons, and someone else want his power while others want to kill him, so there is fighting and a lot of young boys giggling. He is a foster kid who is sent from home to home, also for reasons, and ends up with a bunch of other foster kids in a home of an altruistic couple, and all of the other kids also join in the fun. The supernatural elements were ridiculous and even hokey. The whole plot was silly.

This movie is like if Spider-man happened, but instead of great action, a weighty sense of importance, great moral questions, excitement, tension, and good characters, a bunch of adolescent boys sat around and imagined how cool it would be to have a superpower. About the only good parts are the brief scenes of the boy's search for his mother and his mother's reaction to this.

Alita: Battle Angel: I gave this a shot, but it was only marginally better than Elysim, another story about people stuck on-world trying to get to the floating ship. Okay, Elysium was really bad, and this wasn't quite that bad, but it sure wasn't good.

You can kind of see through this animated movie how the comic source material (that I never heard of) could be pretty good. Flashes of some interesting world-building, characters, and plots hover around at the edges of the screen, but then they are gone, leaving us with a simple matter of roller skates, robot parts, races, a dull romance, silly action scenes, and nothing in the way of any characters that we care about. Highly unmemorable.

Rocketman: Taron Egerton inhabits adult Elton John in this biopic that will inevitably be compared to the recent Bohemian Rhapsody but is nothing like it, really. The latter is allegedly true, but mostly fiction, with weird changes to the true story that you wouldn't know were changes if you didn't know the actual history of Queen. It is also about Freddy Mercury's descent from drugs and promiscuity, but only mildly so; it is mostly about the music. Rocketman is a fantasy, but mostly true. It is a true musical with dramatic scenes or bridges breaking out into dance and song. The songs and drama are used to illustrate the character's feelings and experiences and the story is not about the music but about the descent, which is harsh and harrowing.

It is gripping and dazzling despite itself, much the way that Elton John was. Several songs are performed as showpieces, while others (mostly Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Rocket Man) run through the more poignant scenes in chords and snippets. Elton was tolerated but unloved by his mother and her family, and rejected altogether by his father, even as an adult. He had a lifelong friendship with Bernie Taupin, who accepted him as a homosexual but was not one  himself. Elton's descent includes pushing even Bernie away - temporarily - as depressed, drugged up, overly wealthy and indulged suicidal rock stars are likely to do. Except for the scenes with his parents, the story does not contain any real surprises, even for those who don't know anything about it, since it's pretty straightforward. But it is fun, or occasionally moving, to watch. And the music is great, even though it is all covers.