Emotional grandeur, visual imagination and pungent political commentary gave life to the first two X-Men films, which remain some of the most enthralling blockbusters of the 21st century. Yet little of the Marvel Comics-based series' early brilliance can be found in Dark Phoenix, a lo-fi conclusion to the current cycle of X-movies. Directed by longtime X-Men screenwriter Simon Kinberg, the film finds superhero and mutant civil rights leader Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) in despair. His telepathic protégée, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), has lost control of her powers, threatening the brittle peace between humans and mutants—and making her a target of the wrathful Magneto (Michael Fassbender). While the clash between Xavier's bold idealism and Magneto's brutal pragmatism has been fertile narrative ground for filmmakers in the past, Kinberg—making his directorial debut—fails to infuse the story with momentum or personality. Luckily, the movie gets a lift from Fassbender's daunting performance and a touching climax that reminds you that at its best, X-Men is a story of outcasts sustained by the strength of their friendships and their sacrifices. Dark Phoenix doesn't always know what to do with that idea, but with any luck, it will inspire moviegoers to revisit the films that did. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport, Bridgeport, Cascade, Cinema 99, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Lloyd, Pioneer Place, Tigard, Studio One.
Though played with credible polish and camera-readiness by Emma Thompson, late-night queen Katherine Newbury is too fictional for this workplace comedy's own good. Before a young writer (Mindy Kaling) evolves her worldview, this host of a crumbling network institution is toothless like Leno yet somehow intellectual like Dick Cavett. This bizarre combination is out of step with comedy times that never quite existed, much less our own—when late night is dominated by self-awareness, viral bits and faux-journalism. Amazon Studios' big summer swing is aspiring to become something like The Devil Wears Prada, but a certain verisimilitude is crucial to pulling off the professional fantasy. This is like if Prada's Miranda Priestly palmed a copy of Sports Illustrated every time she delivered a monologue about Vogue. Granted, it'd make marginally more sense for writer Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra to set their story in the mid-aughts, closer to the movies Late Night most resembles: Nancy Meyers' facile but winsome fables of penthouse feminism and true (though sometimes platonic) love. Kaling and Thompson's clash of the earnest cub and lioness in winter sustains the film's core, but this subgenre of the romcom argues that work is life. You can't get the work wrong. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Vancouver Mall 23, Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Bridgeport, Cascade, Cinema 99, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Fox Tower, Tigard.
The first time we see Octavia Spencer's Ma, she's in pink scrubs walking her dog on a curiously tight leash. A couple of galumphing teens approach her, hoping to score some alcohol. The new girl in town, Maggie (Diana Silvers), gives the illicit question a sweet spin by asking "Please?" The magic word works. Ma brings back the goods and invites the crew to party at her house. She seems nice enough—until she has them on a curiously tight leash. That's the premise behind this archetypal teen horror movie: A troubled woman seeks revenge on those who wronged her in high school by torturing their kids. Torturing his audience, director Tate Taylor presents a film as awkward as a high school reunion. That's no knock on Spencer, who is having a blast playing the batshit-crazy lead. The problems are what make similar horror films so stale: an uneven script, reliance on jump scares and characters dumb enough to be impervious to their suspicious surroundings. You'll find yourself yelling, "Don't go in there!" not out of fear but frustration. And that's a shame, because Ma could have rejoiced in a violent catharsis along the lines of Carrie. Unfortunately, it's hard as an adult viewer to always feel empathy for terrorized high school students. And the anti-bullying message tends to get lost—like the rest of the film—in the silliness that ensues. R. ASHER LUBERTO. Dine-In Progress Ridge 13, Vancouver Mall 23, Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Cornelius, Eastport, Oak Grove, Bridgeport, Cascade, Cinema 99, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Lloyd, Pioneer Place, Sherwood, Tigard, Scappoose.