- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Skewered by critics and shunned by fans, the latest cinematic adventure of Marvel Comics’ famed mutants arrives on ultra-high definition home theaters in search of an appreciative audience in X-Men: Dark Phoenix: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 114 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $45.99).

Writer and first-time director Simon Kinberg’s impossible task tries to adapt the Dark Phoenix Saga, the famous X-Men comic book story arc constructed by writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne way back in 1980.

Mr. Kinberg’s schizophrenic drama finds the fledgling X-Men team of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) trying to stop one of their own from being overtaken by a powerful cosmic force after a successful space rescue.

Specifically, Miss Grey, now nicknamed the Phoenix, has tapped into unlimited and uncontrollable telepathic and telekinetic powers that can potentially destroy her and the planet.

Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and the team join with Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and his mutants to stop her, but their mission gets complicated when a shape-shifting alien race led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain) tries to harness her god-like powers.

Guess what, the film often warrants the negatives, but it does not stink, either. The acting is solid throughout, especially by veterans such as Mr. Fassbender, Mr. McAvoy, Miss Lawrence and Miss Turner.

Fans will also love the appearance of the Dazzler, the X-Jet, the mutant sanctuary Genosha and watching Magneto at his most deadly during one heck of a train ride.

However, the movie’s biggest issue is a case of deja vu. We’ve already seen some of this storyline in the 2006 film “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

Although it butchered the Dark Phoenix Saga, the older film boasted a more compelling story and a gut-wrenching finale showing an emotionally draining moment between Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Phoenix (Famke Jansen).

More notable to both films, one cannot tell the sequential art saga faithfully in just one movie.

The comics offered a cosmic opera of epic proportions loaded with redemption and tragedy. “Dark Phoenix” ended in a blink of an eye and was often devoid of details such as allowing Jean Grey to be much more tempted by her new powers.

I would parallel the importance of the Dark Phoenix Saga in X-Men comics with Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet to the Avengers, and look how many films the Marvel Cinematic Universe took to explore that adventure.

And, most egregious, the movie often verges on a DC Entertainment film, often too somber and brooding, sucking the joy and wonder out of the X-Men film franchise.

Considering that Disney now owns 20th Century Fox and thus the X-Men movies franchise, I expect much more creativity and adventure in future tales of the Homo Superior.

4K in action: As one might imagine, a superhero movie should be perfect fodder for a 2160p viewing experience, even if the end result was only upscaled from a 2K digital intermediate.

In this case, it’s a mixed bag as some of the night scenes especially the New York City, 5th Avenue battle between the mutants are too dark for intense detail to pop, and interior scenes suffer from a slightly too yellow coloring that seems out of place.

Despite those disappointments, the movie does visually shine while watching an explosive takeoff of the space shuttle Endeavor or Jean Grey absorbing a solar flare alien entity in saturated color featuring neon pinks and reds and fiery oranges.

Viewers will also notice crispness down to the slight sparkle above Jean’s eye lashes; Mystique’s bright red hair and speckled blue-skinned face that almost looks like plastic molding; a slow-motion crack of lightning unleashed by Storm; and Jean disintegrating a bad guy like crushing a piece of still-smoldering lava.

Best extras: An appreciated optional commentary track on both the 4K and Blu-ray disc with Mr. Finberg and producer Hutch Parker leads the way.

Apparently recorded before the critical beat down but aware of the Disney deal, Mr. Kinberg immediately reminds viewers that this will be the last time the 20th Century Fox logo appears in front of an X-Men movie.

The pair compliment and shout out most cast and crew, touch on the effects and shooting locations and talk about the previous X-Men films.

Additionally, they offer insights such as using a limited title sequence to denote a drama rather than a superhero extravaganza, each film has a different version of the X-Jet, and shooting an ensemble cast around busy actors’ schedules can be creatively difficult.

Next exclusively on the Blu-ray, fans get a generous 80-minute, five-part production documentary that offers segments on the story and pre-production, cast, production design special effects, and filming and editing.

The butt kissing is at a premium with gushing praise of Mr. Kinberg by the cast and crew and more glowing praise of the actors and film, mostly by the actors.

However, despite my sour grapes, I’ll report that it sounds like everyone involved was passionate about the project, especially the key players.

Other tidbits in the segments include: the actors’ mourning the death of a main character; the importance of women in the X-Men films; using handheld cameras throughout to deliver a rawness to the film; and face time with Mr. Claremont and his thoughts on Jean Grey as he endorses of the film.

I also really enjoyed an 18-minute deep dive into the shooting process, down to camera tech used and visual motivations with explanations by cinematographer Mauro Fiori all along the way.

Overall though, it’s stunning to hear everyone talk about the importance of adapting the story, as they are apparently unaware of the 2006 film that already covered some of the Dark Phoenix Saga.

Viewers also get five deleted scenes with optional commentary from the director and producer. Except for the scrapped alternate ending focused of Charles leaving the mansion, the 8-minute collection was worthy of cutting.

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