This weekend at the movies, we’ve got a problem heroine (Dark Phoenix, starring Sophie Turner and James McAvoy) and Illumination’s domestication animation (The Secret Life of Pets 2, featuring the voices of Patton Oswalt and Kevin Hart). What are the critics saying?
The latest chapter of the X-Men franchise proper (and likely the final one to feature these characters for some time) takes its narrative straight from one of the most beloved and celebrated stories from the comics, and it’s one we’ve seen before. “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” as its known, has been recounted in two different animated series and made its way onto the big screen in the form of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. The writer for that film, Simon Kinberg, who also stuck around to write or produce all of the subsequent films, makes his directorial debut here, following telepathic mutant Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) as she struggles to control the immense — and dangerous — power that awakens within her when she suffers an accident in space. Series regulars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and the rest of the young X-Men all return to reprise their roles, but critics say their efforts here are largely in vain, due to uninspired storytelling, some wooden performances, and a not altogether surprising feeling of “been there, done that.” Die-hard fans may be able to recognize some of Kinberg’s winks and nods in Dark Phoenix, and anyone looking for a two-hour diversion may feel satisfied, but the end result is a decidedly underwhelming franchise conclusion that fails to capitalize on its potential.
2016’s The Secret Life of Pets did for domesticated cats and dogs what Toy Story did for dolls and action figures, taking audiences on a mostly fun-filled adventure with likable characters voiced by a talented cast. Most of them are back for The Secret Life of Pets 2, which splits the action into three loosely connected narrative threads and, critics say, suffers a little bit for it. Patton Oswalt is game as the replacement voice for Max (previously voiced by Louis C.K.), who freaks out when his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) brings home a baby; Kevin Hart’s Snowball teams up with newcomer Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to rescue a white tiger from a circus; and Jenny Slate‘s Gidget attempts to retrieve Max’s favorite toy from a cat-infested neighboring apartment. It’s all harmless stuff that should resonate with younger audiences, and there’s probably just enough to engage everyone else. Just don’t expect to be blown away by any new tricks, as it were.
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