Will the new DARK PHOENIX fill us with wonder or be a Mountain of Meh?

dark phoenix

The X-Men movies are a lot like Star Trek films, and not just due to Sir Patrick Stewart–both series tend to have great films followed by good followed by epic fails. Then the cycle repeats. Will it be so with DARK PHOENIX?

This isn’t a function of genre, since Marvel can take silly superheroes like Ant Man or Chris Pratt plus a talking tree and his pet raccoon and turn both concepts into billions of dollars. They can take anything and make it work.

Meanwhile, DC can have the best superhero of all time, Batman, and still find ways to screw it up.

It’s the same thing with Star Trek and Star Wars, both franchises so enduring that I bet you my house they’ll be making and remaking Spock tales and lightsaber battles when our son has grandsons and those grandsons have grandsons.

The first X-Men movie was brilliant, just like the first rebooted Trek movie (remember: Chris Pine as Kirk, that one). The second one was good, just like the second Star Trek with Sherlock/Dr. Strange playing Khan.

Then the third versions of both movies stank.

Every movie ticket is a gamble

We got redemption in the mutant world with young Magneto and Xavier with Hair, then a stinker with APOCALYPSE but another good one with DAYS OF FUTURE PAST.

The exception to this rule with the mutant movies is Wolverine, with the first movie a horrible mess, the second one not much better and only LOGAN kicking butt the way Wolverine should.

So it’s a gamble, every time, when we’re talking X-Men, and they’re looking to impress the new bosses with Marvel finally bringing them into the fold from Sony or Fox or whoever. OK, it was Fox.

Take a look the trailer, then we’ll chat about whether this promises to be terribly good or a hot mess.

Looking for clues in the trailer

I won’t dissect every second of this trailer to figure out all the things you can find people obsessing about elsewhere, like whether this is set in 1983 or 1984 based on the license plate of a car glimpsed in frame 324 or whatever.

The big picture is what matters. Will this movie fill us with wonder or be a Mountain of Meh?

Arguing on behalf of Mountain of Meh: the fact the biggest stinker so far, the third original X-Men movie, featured this same storyline: Jean Grey losing it to become Dark Phoenix, killing Professor Xavier in a shocking twist they shockingly retconned into oblivion the next movie. Then she laid waste to half of San Fran, looking completely unstoppable until Hugh Jackman popped his claws.

Are we looking at repeat? I don’t think so.

The case for Filling Us with Wonder is pretty good.

Many bad comic book movies have bad, frenetic trailers. They’re in a hurry to show how fast and fun the movie will be. Explosions! Fights! All kinds of office buildings and cars in a CGI Gotham (or Manhattan) get destroyed!

This trailer is a slow burn.

Also a good sign: the director isn’t some noob. We’re talking about Simon Kinberg.

More positive signs: the gang is back together, including Michael Fassbender as young Magneto (yes!) and James McAvoy as Professor Xavier.

Finally: The entire mood of the trailer is gritty and dark, but not in a forced, DC way.

I’m far more impressed than I expected and actually want to see this in the theater. 

Harry Potter hops on the Tonight Show and absolutely nails ALPHABET AEROBICS by Blackalicious

Daniel Radcliffe is (a) rocking a beard, and doing it well, and (b) can spit with the best of them. Seriously.

He didn’t do something quick and easy. Daniel the Radcliffe went on The Tonight Show and nailed an insanely fast and hard rap, by heart, no cue cards or teleprompter. Bam.

The only thing he didn’t do was drop the mike.

This reminds me of Chris Pratt, star of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, randomly doing some old-school Eminem on a radio show. Brilliant.

What star has surprised you by actually being able to sing? (Hugh Jackman doesn’t count. Too easy. Also, Pierce Brosnan, God bless him, should not have sung on that ABBA movie. Big mistake.)


This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.
Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award and is represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

Why WORLD’S END ended with a wimper

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

On four different British Airways 747’s to India and back, I watched many, many movies. And it’s worth talking about them not in a “hey, this is out on DVD, so should you fire up Netflix?” kind of way, but in a storytelling way.

Did it work? Why or why not?

WORLD’S END proves that talent doesn’t always equal success. This is a movie with great comedic actors, yet a structural problem kills it. Because it’s truly two different movies slammed together.

The first movie is a comedy about five mates in England getting back together for an epic pub crawl they didn’t finish as college kids.

The second movie involves robots from space, which comes as a huge surprise, and not a good one.

Simon Pegg is brilliant, and he teams up with his sidekick once again, like in SHAWN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. Brilliant!

This movie had potential but is not up to Simon’s usual snuff. The thing is, fixing this film wouldn’t take much.

While the Simon Pegg character is talking his buddies into returning to their home town for the crazy pub crawl, he could’ve dropped hints about drunken fights in pub bathrooms with possible robot imposters. A single line like that could’ve saved this movie.

But instead, we get an orphaned payoff with no real setup.

Bonus: Simon continues the stunt casting of former James Bonds with facial hair playing villains. Timothy Dalton with a Tom Selleck mustache was in HOT FUZZ and this time we’ve got Remington Steele with a goatee. Loved this.

THE WOLVERINE proves Writing Law #1 – Less is More

Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine on the big screen 873 times so far, and I love the man. Does a great job in the role.

However: Even the charm and acting chops of Hugh the Jackman weren’t enough to salvage the hot mess of the first solo Wolverine movie, which I believe was titled WOLVERINE: A TRAIN WRECK OF A SCRIPT.

So it is with pleasure that I say this latest Wolverine flick, now out on DVD and BluRay and 3D smello-vision and such, is far more watchable than the first hot mess. Check out the trailer:

But hear me now and believe me later in the week: even with the same director and a SMALLER BUDGET, you could have made this latest movie infinitely better. (Spoiler alert: I’m going to fix the movie while revealing big plot points and plot holes.)

Here’s how to fix it: Cut out every possible character. Show no mercy.

Because less is more.

There’s a long list of people who get screen time, which goes for about $1.7 million a minute these days in Hollywood, yet the screenwriter and director spend tons of time on side characters that don’t really matter. The current script on screen has the following major characters:

  1. Our hero, Hugh the Jackman with mutton chops and retractable claws
  2. The Silver Samurai, our villain, except he’s really the Adamantium Samurai, which doesn’t sound as cool
  3. The sidekick bodyguard, a red-headed woman who’s amazing with a sword
  4. The wispy love interest, heir to the Yashida company fortune
  5. The love interest’s father, who seems like the possible secret villain … until he’s killed by Wolverine early on, so nope, he’s not
  6. The love interest’s fiance, an evil defense minister politician type, who’s too wussy to be the real villain and gets thrown out of window by Wolverine
  7. Mr. Ninja, who was the love interest’s first boyfriend and still pines for her until he dies
  8. Viper, an evil blonde expert in biochemistry and such, a bit like Poison Ivy without the plant fetish
  9. Mr. Yashida, now a dying tycoon, who Wolverine saved during WWII when the bomb dropped
  10. Five zillion Yakuza gangsters and other people I’m forgetting

All these characters are hard to keep track of, and the screen time would have been better spent on the hero (Hugh the Jackman!) and the villain (the Silver Samurai, who we only see for a tiny bit at the end).

From the trailer, I thought the villain (the Silver Samurai) would have shown up earlier, and torn up Tokyo like Godzilla on a bender. And when he did show up, he was an awesome villain, and a great foe for Wolverine … for the five minutes or whatever he was on screen.

Instead, we got a huge dose of random Yakuza gangsters, who are not exactly a match for Wolverine, even if he’s weakened and such.

We also got endless scenes with this wispy love interest, and yes, she’s pretty, but she’s got relationships and backstory with just about every other character on this list. Her dad, her grandfather, her fiance, the ninja boyfriend, Wolverine, the redheaded bodyguard. Everybody is tied to her.

But guess what? The story doesn’t need her. At all.

Doesn’t need her or the ninja boyfriend, who only confuses things when he’s good, then bad, then good again.

Doesn’t need her fiance or her father, who dies so early in the script that he’s pointless. Whenever the love interest was on screen with Wolverine, teaching the caveman table manners and how to use chopsticks, I expected Peter Cetera to start belting out The Glory of Love.

Also: we don’t need the random Yakuza gangsters, who are more for comic relief in the end with that fight on top of the train.

So who are we left with, after killing off these unnecessary characters?

1) Hero: Wolverine

2) Villain: The Silver Samurai (hint: he’s also Yashida the tycoon)

3) Viper as a secondary villain, because she was scary and good

4) The redheaded bodyguard, since unlike the love interest, she was interesting every time she popped up on screen

That’s it. Four characters that we really get to know are far, far better than 10 characters we can’t keep straight. (Note: This is true for all forms of writing. As Stephen the King says, you write a mountain of words, then carve away the bad ones, like a sculptor, until only the best ones remain.)

Give us the Silver Samurai causing damage early, in Act 1, and show us much more dangerous he can be in Act 2.

Let the sneaky blonde Viper chew up more scenery and set her up against the redheaded bodyguard early and often. And if you really need Wolverine to kiss a girl, let it be the redheaded bodyguard (though that wouldn’t be a shock) or, more interestingly, Viper.

Setting up Viper as an ally at first, then showing her betrayal at the end, would’ve been a great reversal. As it was written and shot, you knew she was bad from the first second she popped up on screen.

What say you? Would you cut different members of the cast instead, saving the Lovely Model Who Was Boring, or would you expand the scenes of Wolverine in Alaska, playing with bears and rednecks in bars?