How to kill a good thing – “X-Men: Dark Phoenix”


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS

Jean Gray/Dark Phoenix, played by Sophie Turner of "Game of Thrones," is slowly overwhelmed by a cosmic power force absorbed during a mission in space.  





4K frame shots courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment


“X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX”


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2019; PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong profanity; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Apple (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)


Best extra: “Rise of the Phoenix”









CHRIS CLAREMONT revolutionized comics during his 1969-1988 career at Marvel Comics. His 1991 “X-Men,” co-written with penciler Jim Lee remains the best-selling comic of all time according to Guinness World Records, outselling all Marvel and DC comics. The five multiple-cover gimmick helped increase sales. Still Claremont’s X-Men run from 1975-1991 set a standard comic publishers copied ever since.



“Dave Cockrum and Len Wein created the series, and then Dave Cockrum and I took over with the second issue, and we just decided to have a whole lot of fun. One of the elements that we created along the way was the transformation of Jean Gray from Marvel Girl into Phoenix.” — Chris Claremont


Claremont, who appears among the extras, has a cameo in the film as a White House guest. For those who have met him at conventions, it’s strange to see him all “spiffed-up in a tux,” he says, but he looks great.


Work was a continual necessity in the comics field, especially in early years, when companies made big bucks from merchandising and, later, combined-issue graphic novel collections. None of the writers or artists received royalties for work that created empires. Creators of DC’s Superman Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who died in near-poverty, are the most well-known examples. Warner Brothers, who made the Superman movies, eventually agreed to a lifetime compensation of $20,000 a year increased to $30,000 if they never sued for copyright ownership again.


(1 ) Scott Summers/Cyclops, played by Tye Sheridan, comforts Jean as they prepare to rescue the space shuttle Endeavor, damaged after a solar flare-like energy.  (2)  The power source is more than a solar flare. Jean saves her team and the astronauts, but is hurt in the process.  (3) Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit- McPhee) retrieves one of the space shuttle crew members. (4) Jean absorbs the alien energy source.






Claremont did better for himself especially when he began to work for independent publishers that began to rise in the mid-1980s. These mavericks couldn’t pay much upfront cash, but they allowed their artists to maintain copyright on their titles and work. Sales and merchandising royalties were shared. That freedom brought in the talent, and the industry began to change.

It also changed because of Claremont’s groundbreaking writing style. His characters had depth; storytelling was no longer a case of good vs. evil, hero vs. villain – there were layers. Then more layers. Men and women bickered among themselves, formed relationship, broke relationships and dealt with the results of their actions. Credit Claremont for the development of Logan/Wolverine indelibly portrayed by Hugh Jackman, frenemies Professor X/Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and others. He even got them out of those black and yellow uniforms. 


Jean Grey, played by the admirable Sophie Turner of “Game of Thrones,” is a shining example. Known for his powerful female characters, Claremont transformed her from Marvel Girl to Phoenix – and then Dark Phoenix when Grey’s powers got the best of her. In the comic, the changed woman destroys a planet of “lettuce” people, and had to pay the price.


“Phoenix is one small step below God. To suddenly have Jean Grey embrace that level of power, of ability, was more than she could handle.” — Chris Claremont


“X-Men: Dark Phoenix” was written and directed by Simon Kinberg, a true comics geek as seen in the bonus features. He’s produced dozens of fine films and TV series including “The Martian,” “Logan,” the “Deadpool” movies, “Legion,” “Star Wars Rebels,” and three X-Men films, “First Class,” “Days of Future Past,” and “Apocalypse.” “Dark Phoenix” is his first feature film as a director and, unfortunately, it shows. He's good with the drama; problem is, “Dark Phoenix” becomes all drama. It’s a one-note experience that drags in its 113-minute runtime.



(1) Students at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters cheer the X-Men as they return from their mission.  (2) Jean recovers to find her powers have increased. (3) But they are more than she can handle resulting in destruction. Xavier (James McAvoy) and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) try to find out what's happening to her.  (4 ) Alien Vuk (Jessica Chastain) of the shape-changing D'Bari arrives to explain Jean's new powers and help her control it. 





While heartbreak is the heart of the story, it has nothing else to distinguish it. Nothing of the fun or wit this Xavier and his team might enjoy in working together. In fact, Raven is ready to lead a rebellion at the start. You have to hand it to Claremont again; no matter how bleak the saga, he knew how to contrast dark with light. In earlier tales, it was sometimes accomplished in banter between Logan/Wolverine and his buddy Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). We’ve never seen it onscreen; chances are, we never will. But the filmmakers are missing a great opportunity to pair Nightcrawler with Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters). They could bring in the wit and personality this franchise desperately needs. 


So – basic plotline is sweet and timid Jean Grey/Phoenix is exposed to and absorbs a tremendous power during a rescue in space. Next, she remembers a terrible childhood trauma with a sickening sense of betrayal when she blames Professor Xavier.  (Yep. He’s responsible.)


As rage and shame consume her, Jean becomes a threat to her friends and to the Earth itself. Other powers, the D’Bari led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain), are at work. They want to use Jean to save their predatory race. That’s one of the movie’s plot holes: If the D’Bari are powerful enough to absorb the Phoenix Force from Jean, why didn’t they do it when it was destroying their planet?


Everyone’s got a piece of the action in “Dark Phoenix” as the X-Men, Magneto and his mutants, and the U.S. government decide how to stop this unstable, god-like creature. Anti-mutant hysteria swells. No matter who wins, someone’s going to lose – and lose badly.


(1) Triggered by recovered memories and PTSD, Jean lashes out when the X-Men try to take her home, injuring Quicksilver and killing Mystique.  (2) Raven/Mystique played by Jennifer Lawrence.  (3) Jean visits Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) on mutant refugee island Genosha to ask for his help. He becomes enraged when he learns of Raven's death.






VIDEO

“Dark Phoenix” arrives from 20th Century Fox on 2160p and 1080p physical discs and digital format in 2.39:1 aspect ratio. It was filmed via Arri Alexa cameras and finished in a 2K Digital Intermediate, where it was upgraded to Ultra 4K. Working in 2K is still the most cost-effective way to go especially in a film that uses so much CGI. It’s all standard procedure.  


The images and picture are very good, although nothing spectacular, and that’s okay. We’ve seen the car crashes, the chase scenes and explosions; electrified objects and superheroes and villains performing super feats. It’s all become part of cinematic storytelling. (Peter’s Quicksilver debut in “X-Men: Days of Future Past” remains unbeatable.)


Kinberg wanted “Dark Phoenix” to be a more character-driven movie, “giving some of the young actors time to really hone the nuances.” There are lots of close-ups, one of the most powerful being Lawrence’s Mystique in her final scene. But nearly everyone is allowed an emotional portrait moment. That’s where the pleasures of HDR10+ and Dolby Vision shine, with excellent gradations in tone and detail that bring these characters to life. Natural complexions look authentic; but characters with blue skin or electrified veins become real, as well.


“It is an extraordinary team [with] Oscar winners and Oscar nominees. Lee Smith won an Oscar for ‘Dunkirk.’ Our DP won an Oscar for ‘Avatar.’ Phil Brennan had been nominated for ‘Snow White and the Huntsman.’ There’s just a lot of really, really talented people that contributed to all of these … sequences where you have hundreds, if not thousands of people that are building this. It’s not just us and a green screen.” — Simon Kinberg

The 1080p is very good, but color, detail and dimension leap forward on the Ultra 4K. Clarity excels in background scenes. The coarse texture and stitching in team uniforms is noticeable, again adding an extra touch of realism.


AUDIO

Woot – The Ultra 4K soars with a Dolby Atmos mix that boosts viewers beyond Earth’s atmosphere to the moon! The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack on the 1080p is excellent, too. Both have great balance between clearly audible dialogue, effects and the score by Hans Zimmer and a variety of pop artists. Range is extensive, with sound hitting all speakers. With space flight and super-action, ceiling channels get a workout.


(1) Under Vuk's guidance, Jean attempts to release the alien power.  (2) Xavier arrives to apologize for the harm he caused; he only meant to help Jean.  






EXTRAS

Fox brings four good bonus features to the table the first being a commentary with Kinberg and producer Hutch Parker. “Rise of the Phoenix: the Making of ‘Dark Phoenix’” is a five-part documentary. It’s more than an hour-long, with interviews and behind-scene footage. This is where you’ll find the interview with Chris Claremont. The uncomfortable bits come from filmmakers and actors who feel they’re making a truly significant film, which didn’t happen.

“How to Fly Your Jet to Space with Beast” is a comic feature showcasing Nicholas Hoult. Deleted scenes have optional commentary with Kinberg and Parker.


“We came to [‘Dark Phoenix’] because we believed this was a great story, not because we were trying to tap into some cultural shift.” — Hutch Parker, producer

They got that right. “Dark Phoenix” doesn’t actually work as a female empowerment story; mostly it’s about the men’s reaction to the woman who’s lost control and about to destroy the world. Magneto/Eric has more personal reasons. There’s no doubt Claremont did a better job, creating a renaissance for strong female characters such as Jean Gray, Storm, Kitty Pryde and others in comics. His stories – and the inspirations that came from them – boosted fading comic book sales into a mega-billion dollar industry.


How sad “Dark Phoenix” couldn’t follow in his footsteps.


— Kay Reynolds


(1) The X-Men try to stop Magneto and his mutants from destroying Jean. All are captured by U.S. military forces who plan to send them to a containment facility.  (2) Vuk and her D'Bari forces attack the train to free Jean. Her goal is to take Jean's powers and use them to conquer Earth.  (3) Freed, Erik confronts the D'Bari.  (4) In a climatic battle, Jean resists Vuk's efforts. 







TRAILER




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