Friday, April 24, 2020

Catch Up, Part 3: Capes

So, there was a time I caught more or less every superhero flick that came out opening day. That time was before I became a father. Now, I'm batting* less than 500 on catching them opening year, and that was when going to the movies was still possible. Hell, I barely saw Spider-Man: Far From Home on blu-ray in time to make my end-of-year rankings.

Today I'm looking at a bunch of movies I didn't see on time. Well, really I'm looking at two I didn't see in the theaters and one that's a modified reissue of a movie I did see and review. But now it's got scenes with Fred Savage, so I'm going to talk about it again.

At any rate, let's get started.

Joker (2019)
Eh. It's fine.

Okay, I'm going to level with you: I'm pretty sure I'd have liked this quite a bit more if it hadn't made a billion dollars and been nominated for Best Picture. I'm pretty sure I'd still have had reservations, but I'd probably be shoving those aside and focusing on how the good the movie looked, how impressive Phoenix's performance was, and... I don't know, how bizarrely random it is that a hyper-serious, R-rated standalone Joker movie exists in the first place.

But we don't live in a parallel universe where this was a middling success: we're in the one where it's one of the most profitable movies ever made, and... ugh. What the hell, audiences?

This movie was good as an exercise, but it was missing one big, obvious thing. And, no, I'm not talking about Batman, because...

Okay, it was missing TWO big obvious things, because the Joker really needs his nemesis, even if you're telling the story from his perspective. But assuming you really, really wanted to tell a Joker story that maybe does or maybe doesn't double as a Batman origin depending on what was real and what was being imagined...

This movie still needed a point. Because - at least as far as I can tell - it doesn't have one. It sort of implies a few possible points around class warfare, mental illness, and the like, but nothing it has to say really goes anywhere or feels justified.

Again, I realize the irony. If this had flopped, I'd be saying it doesn't need a point, that the fact it was well made and engaging was enough. But this got a ton of cash and accolades I don't think it deserved, so - fair or not - I'm going to heap a little criticism on that pile, as well.

Dark Phoenix (2019)
Watching this eight months after its release was a bizarre experience. At this point, critics and audiences have ripped the movie to shreds, so it wasn't like I had high expectations.

Was it really that bad? Honestly, I think the answer is, "No, but it was nowhere near good enough, either."

It's weird they tried this at all. At the end of the day, it really is a remake of X-Men: The Last Stand, a film some consider the worst in the series (they're wrong: that honor will always belong to X-Men Origins: Wolverine). The thing I find hard to wrap my mind around is this plays out more like a retread of that movie than a more faithful adaptation of the comics. Sure, there are a handful of details tossed in connecting to the source material (there's a group of aliens who are sort of a hybrid of the Hellfire Club, the Shiar, and Skrulls), but they wind up sort of indistinguishable from the army of generic mutants at the end of Last Stand.

At the end of the day, this incorporates a ton of elements created for that film. Jean's backstory isn't exactly the same, but it's pretty close, right down to Xavier having suppressed memories. There are sequences designed to evoke moments from The Last Stand, presumably in an attempt to make the audience wonder if they'll play out the same way. I guess we're supposed to be relieved when Jean doesn't disintegrate Xavier in this version?

Honestly, this could have used some of The Last Stand's camp. This thing takes itself way too seriously, probably in an attempt to address that criticism of The Last Stand and X-Men: Apocalypse. It ends up feeling like a weird amalgamation of tones from 90's action movies and from modern superhero flicks. Captain Marvel mostly managed to walk that line; this does not.

That said, I appreciate this occasionally tries to deliver a little of the superhero excitement missing from the series. Both the space shuttle rescue and the New York mutant vs. mutant fight were - at least in theory - closer to the comics that we've gotten from most of FoX-Men movies.

But while I appreciate the attempt, the execution left a lot to be desired. The fights were underwhelming, and the rescue felt small. Still, this is a step in the right direction. Or it would have been if it weren't the final step into oblivion.

Ultimately, this was a movie that should never have been made. In some ways, it was better than I expected, but - as is too often the case - that raised it to the level of dull mediocrity. I'm not sure how you make "alien super villains" boring, but this pulls it off.

Once Upon a Deadpool (2018)
Should I even bother? I mean, it's an edited-for-content version of Deadpool 2, along with a new frame story featuring Fred Savage. Is there any point in rehashing a movie I've already reviewed?

Maybe. Because this was trimmed down to PG-13, it offers a hint of what an MCU-friendly version of the character might be look like, should Disney decide to go that way. And, personally...

I've always secretly wanted Deadpool PG-13. I know that's not a popular opinion, and I don't mean to dismiss what they accomplished (particularly in the first movie), but I actually prefer comedy/adventure to be less gory and scatological. So, in that regard, I appreciate that this demonstrates the character still works toned down.

That said, I'm not sure the movie quite works. I mean, it works fine if you've seen Deadpool 2 before, but without context, I suspect some of this would be hard to follow. Also, quite a bit of the action becomes unsatisfying. That's not because action and violence can't be satisfying in PG-13 when that was how it was originally shot, but the fact this was originally filmed and edited for R means you lose a lot of payoffs.

Fortunately, the scenes with Deadpool interacting with Savage are hilarious and go a long way towards justifying this experiment. I wish we'd gotten even more time with the two of them, or possibly some additional content.

Beyond that, my feelings about the movie haven't changed. I found it funny but wish it had adhered a little closer to the original's premise of Deadpool being an absurd character in an otherwise relatively grounded superhero world, as opposed to the setting being inherently comedic. I also still wish they'd been a little more conservative around civilian casualties: it's kind of hard to reconcile the idea that saving one life matters when the "good guys" are getting countless others killed randomly.

I know, I know: I'm not supposed to take this seriously. It's all probably making a statement on the excessive violence permeating '90s media and all that, but it still pulls me out, and I'd still like to see them dial back the civilian casualties in future incarnations.

And I really hope there are more movies with these characters. Outside of Mangold's Wolverine movies, this is far and above the best version of the X-Men we've seen on the big screen. I'd love to see this Deadpool, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Colossus, Cable, and Domino show up in the MCU.

*batting, in this context, should be read as a reference to Batman and not to any kind of sporting event -ed.

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