Starring: Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Fionn Whitehead, Colin Farrell, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Viveik Kalra
Directed by: Neil Burger
Plot: With the future of the human race in danger, a group of young men and women, bred for enhanced intelligence and to suppress emotional impulses, embark on an expedition to colonize a distant planet. But when they uncover disturbing secrets about the mission, they defy their training and begin to explore their most primitive natures. As life on the ship descends into chaos, they’re consumed by fear, lust, and the hunger for power.
Rotten Tomatoes Freshness: 27%
Critic Consensus: “It has a game cast and a premise ripe with potential, but Voyagers drifts in familiar orbit rather than fully exploring its intriguing themes”
Thunder Force (Netflix)
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Octavia Spencer, Jason Bateman, Melissa Leo, Bobby Cannavale, Sarah Baker
Directed by: Ben Falcone
Plot: Two childhood best friends reunite as an unlikely crime-fighting superhero duo when one invents a formula that gives ordinary people superpowers.
RT Freshness: 22%
Critic Consensus: “It’s got a few chuckles, but Thunder Force is largely a superhero comedy that’s neither exciting nor funny — and an egregious waste of its co-stars’ talents”
After just shy of 20 years, Fox’s X-Men franchise comes to a close with Dark Phoenix but what could have been a big, grand send-off is instead a boring, uninspired slog that ends the franchise on arguably its lowest note ever.
Set in 1992 (although this franchise has a willful disdain for continuity or time), Dark Phoenix kicks off with the X-Men being sent into space to rescue a team of astronauts at the behest of the president (who has a Batmanesque X-Men phone in his office). While on the mission, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbs some sort of powerful energy source and begins to struggle with keeping its power contained (disregard the fact that Jean unleashed the Phoenix at the end of X-Men: Apocalypse). A mysterious alien race led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain) arrives to try and claim the power for their own goals. There are almost too many issues with the plot and characters to list but it mostly boils down to being boring rehashes of past X-Men movie plot points, like Magneto (Michael Fassbender) trying to live a peaceful life but having to get drawn back in. The entire emotional crux of the plot also rests on characters we barely got introduced to in Apocalypse. Obviously characters like Jean, Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) had previous incarnations but with the lack of continuity that plagues the franchise and the inconsistency of the characters from movie to movie, they are basically new characters and Jean’s struggles and her relationship to the rest of the team do not land at all. There’s a BFF relationship between Jean and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) that comes out of absolutely nowhere in Dark Phoenix and it also expects the opening 10 minutes to be enough to sell Charles’ (James McAvoy) entire character arc. There are also weird, half-formed ideas like, apparently, Nightcrawler is supposed to have an arc where he goes from cowardly to bad-ass that is not developed at all. The villains are also some of the worst not only for the X-Men franchise but superhero films in general. Whatever alien race Jessica Chastain and her cronies are, they are emotionless and flat by nature but that doesn’t translate to interesting or fun villains. As terrible as Apocalypse was, at least he gave us so bad it’s good moments like “LEEAARNING”.
Action wise, Dark Phoenix is…fine? There’s some decent mutant powers action, mostly in the astronaut rescue scene or a brawl in downtown NYC but it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, and better, in previous X-movies. Also, the psychic nature of Jean and her powers results in a lot of characters awkwardly staring each other down intensely while holding up their hands that looks less cool and more like that episode of South Park where Cartman battled the other police psychics. Given the source material, they could have gone crazy and cosmic (effing Dazzler is in this movie!) and instead it’s uninspired, reheated leftovers from prior X-Men movies. What’s perhaps the most insane thing about this whole mess is that Simon Kinberg, who has written and produced most of the X-movies and makes his directorial debut here, already tried and got criticism for screwing up the Phoenix storyline in The Last Stand but somehow, instead of taking that criticism and doing something more faithful to the comics, he made it even worse. There’s not even Hugh Jackman or Kelsey Grammar to save us this time (although to be fair, Nicholas Hoult is the one person who truly seems like he’s acting his ass off to try and salvage something out of this disaster).
As terrible as some of the entries in the X-Men franchise have been, when the movies were good, they were usually great (Logan, X2, Deadpool, Days of Future Past) and it’s a disappointing shame that it goes out with such a wet fart like Dark Phoenix. I’ve said before on the podcast that this movie was a lame duck and it truly lives up to that; instead of taking the opportunity to send off these characters on a high note, they’ve taken the attitude of “none of this matter, so who cares?” and just delivered one of the most perfunctory and lifeless superhero movies in recent memory. It’s probably best to pretend the mainline X-Men movies just ended with Days of Future Past and forgot these last two movies even happened.
After the pretty horrendous X-Men: Apocalypse, the mutants are back for what is probably going to be the final movie before the massive move over to Disney, Dark Phoenix. Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner was introduced in Apocalypse as the new Jean Grey and, while on a rescue mission in space, she is hit by a mysterious cosmic energy. This awakens the powerful and uncontrollable entity within her, the Phoenix, and could lead to the end of the world if the rest of the X-Men can’t figure out a way to contain or stop it. Everyone from the First Class series is back including James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp and Tye Sheridan and Jessica Chastain is joining the cast as a mysterious character known as Smith, who seems to have her own plans for the Phoenix. To be honest, this was a very bland trailer and it looks like it’s going to fall into almost the exact same pattern as the other First Class series movies; X-Men have a problem, Magneto is in isolation but returns and helps until he reveals his own scheme and Mystique is torn between Charles and Erik. Hopefully it’s at least better than Apocalypse and it arrives on February 14th next year. Check out the trailer below.
Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One was a fun, summer blockbuster of a book jam packed with pop culture references (which to some people makes it the worst injustice ever hoisted on humanity) and now the master, Steven Spielberg, has translated the book into a cinematic roller coaster.
Set in 2045, Tye Sheridan stars as Wade Watts aka Parzival, who, like most everyone in the run down world of the future, lives most of his life in the OASIS, a limitless VR world created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance). After Halliday dies, a video message reveals that he left an “Easter Egg” in OASIS and the first person to find it gets his vast fortune and total control of OASIS. Wade is on the hunt along with thousands of other “Grunters” and an evil corporation IOI, led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), is sending hundreds of grunts into the OASIS to try and find it first and turn the OASIS into a paid, gated and ad packed nightmare. There’s quite a bit of voiceover in the beginning of the movie to explain all the backstory and setup but I didn’t find it too terrible, although the movie also shows it’s capable of more subtle and smarter setups later on. Without the opening VO though, I think this movie would be almost impenetrable for normal viewers who never even heard of the book before seeing the movie, as they wonder why the hell Batman and a Ninja Turtle are running around a planet based on DOOM. There’s quite a few changes from the book, specifically the nature of the challenges for three keys that will unlock the Easter Egg but the changes are definitely on the positive side of things. The challenges in the book were fine but if they were translated literally, would probably be incredibly boring and instead we get an insane opening car chase/race with things like Bigfoot outracing the T-Rex from Jurassic Park and King Kong or a crazily kinetic trip through the Overlook Hotel (in the book, one of the challenges was literally just saying word for word the entirety of WarGames). The world of the OASIS is also visually stunning and there’s so much going on that it’s almost overwhelming. This is one of those movies, like, say, Wreck It Ralph, where you’ll be pausing and rewinding at home to try and spot all the cameos and references, from mainstream like Harley Quinn to much more obscure, like the Battletoads. The range of references is also wisely updated and, while the focus is still the 80’s, there’s more modern (which are vintage in the universe of the movie) references like Overwatch, Starcraft, Minecraft, Street Fighter, etc. The action is also spectacular, particularly the massive final battle where the OASIS users rally against IOI and you have things like the RX-78-2 and The Iron Giant fighting Mechagodzilla or a weaponized Chucky doll. There’s endless debates online whether that type of stuff is fun, empty nostalgia or toxic nerd elitism, but like the aforementioned Wreck it Ralph or The Lego Movie, I get a lot of enjoyment and fun out of seeing things or characters that would never interact normally interacting.
As far as the acting goes, everyone is mostly fine. Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke as Art3mis are blandly enjoyable and Lena Waithe, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki are some fun comic relief as the rest of the “Hi-Five” clan. Mark Rylance is delightful as ever in his latest collaboration with Spielberg, playing Halliday as basically what would happen if Garth from Wayne’s World created Apple while Ben Mendelsohn is perfect as the corporate douche Sorrento, the kind of a-hole who leaves his password lying out in the open on a sticky note and is ready to fill 80% of an OASIS user’s POV with ads. Although he’s “persona non grata” now, TJ Miller is pretty great as i-R0k, an OASIS mercenary who is essentially Erlich Bachman from Silicon Valley if he was an assassin for hire, all pompous douchebaggery. There are some wasted talent, like apparently Black Panther breakout Letitia Wright is just in the background somewhere and Sorrento’s henchwoman, F’Nale (Hannah John-Kamen), who handles IOI’s real world operations, is never really fleshed out or interesting. Simon Pegg is also around as Ogden Morrow, the Woz to Halliday’s Jobs.
Just like how I found the book an enjoyable popcorn flick of a novel, I found the movie version of Ready Player One to be a fun, action packed roller coaster with an incredible visual style that is jam packed to the gills with nerd culture and references that is a return to form for Spielberg in blockbuster mode, specifically the 80’s era that the characters worship and live by. It probably won’t change the minds of haters who have decided the book is a genocide of the English language but if you liked the book or have no opinion and just want an entertaining time at the theater, definitely strap on the VR goggles for Ready Player One.
There’s just over a month until Ernest Cline’s love letter to the 80’s and nerd culture, Ready Player One arrives on the big screen courtesy of the source for most of that nostalgia and culture, Steven Spielberg. Set in 2045, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is one of the millions who basically live in the OASIS, a VR world where everything and anything is possible. The creator of OASIS, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) dies and leaves a video message detailing a final challenge; he’s hidden three Easter Eggs in the world of OASIS and the first person to find all three will inherit his fortune and his company. An evil corporation led by Ben Mendelsohn is determined to find the eggs by any means necessary to control and exploit OASIS for their own greedy ends and the war between the corporation and the regular nerds is on. The movie is jammed to the gills with characters and references to pretty much every movie, TV show, anime, video game and comic you can imagine and it all builds to what looks like may be one of the most insane final battles in movie history. The movie is out on March 29th and you can check out the final trailer below.
Based on Ernest Cline’s 80’s fueled VR adventure novel, Steven Spielberg is bring Ready Player One to life next spring. Starring Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts, who lives in the dystopian future of 2045, Wade, like most people, lives most of his life in the limitless VR world of Oasis. When the creator of Oasis, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), dies, he reveals via a recorded message to everyone in Oasis that he’s left clues to an “Easter Egg” hidden somewhere in the VR universe and the first person to find it will gain his entire fortune and control of Oasis. An evil corporation led by Ben Mendelsohn invades Oasis to find the Egg by any means necessary and Wade joins forces with a fellow player, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) to find it first. The cool part about the book, and now the movie, is the utterly jam packed references and cameos to pop culture and only someone like Spielberg could have wrangled all the necessary rights for characters as diverse as Freddy Krueger, Chucky, Chun-Li, Tracer from Overwatch, LotR Orcs, The Iron Giant, Gundam and way too many more to count and the movie is also fueled by both 80’s music and a new score from Back to the Future’s Alan Silvestri. The movie is out on March 30th next year and you can check out the new trailer below.