Mr. Movie

Mr. Movie: ‘Pets 2’ is a rare breed: A sequel that’s better than the original; ‘Dark Phoenix’ ought to be a swan song

This image released by Universal Pictures shows, from left, Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet, Liam, voiced by Henry Lynch and Max, voiced by Patton Oswalt in a scene from "The Secret Life of Pets 2."
This image released by Universal Pictures shows, from left, Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet, Liam, voiced by Henry Lynch and Max, voiced by Patton Oswalt in a scene from "The Secret Life of Pets 2." AP

‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’

I wasn’t all that fond of the first film. The whole psycho rabbit thing didn’t work. Other than a few off-plot quirky pet things — most of which you saw in the trailer — the movie was just a common chase flick done animated kid’s style.

We now move to a much-improved part two. Max and Duke’s keeper Katie marries and has a kid. Max decides the child needs protected from the big, bad world and gets so stressed out that he ends up with a cone of shame. The solution is found in a family trip to the country and an encounter with a macho farm dog, Rooster.

Meanwhile, the rabbit, Snowball has mellowed and now fancies himself a super hero. He and a new character, the beautiful dog Daisy, engage in the rescue of a young tiger being abused by the owner of a circus and his evil wolves.

Another plot line has Max’s favorite toy in danger and Ginger has to learn how to be a cat.

These threads, and more, zip along and then merge for the film’s flawed but expected climax. If there is a downside to this film, it’s the third act. Getting there, however, is laugh-out-loud funny. The zingers fairly fly. The good news is that many of them are intended for adults and they mostly go over the heads of younger audiences.

Give credit to writer Brian Lynch. He also wrote the first film and the somewhat disappointing but funny in spots, “Minions.” When Lynch is on, he’s really on, and in this one he gives us one guffaw-inducing sequence after another.

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This image released by Universal Pictures shows, from left, Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart, Daisy, voiced by Tiffany Haddish and Pops, voiced by Dana Carvey in a scene from "The Secret Life of Pets 2." Illumination Entertainment AP

Almost as much fun is the cast giving voice to the characters. Oswald Patton does the voice work for the cone-of-shame-wearing Max. He replaces Louis C.K., who is now wearing a cone of his own.

Tiffany Haddish comes on board as Daisy. She and Harrison Ford’s voicing of the kingly Rooster practically steal the movie. They — and the other cast members — have as much fun with “The Secret Life of Pets 2” as you will.

It’s not a secret that a second film — especially of the animated variety — rarely tops the first. In spite of being over-promoted and putting the characters in nearly every TV commercial you see these days, this is a fun, family-friendly flick that is a heavy improvement over the original.

▪ Rated PG for mature themes. It’s playing at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12, at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

▪ Rating: 4 out of 5

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This image released by Twentieth Century Fox shows Sophie Turner in a scene from "Dark Phoenix." Associated Press

‘Dark Phoenix’

“Dark Phoenix” is loosely-based on Marvel Comics’ near legendary two-parter comic, The Dark Phoenix Saga. Very loosely. I haven’t read the comics but my research says other than being overdone and overwrought, it doesn’t have much in common with the film.

As you know there have been two different groups of actors playing the X-Men characters. They are the original group and the “X-Men: First Class” group. This movie has the latter. They’re a little more interesting than the original cast but that’s not saying much. Both groups are pretty boring.

No, let’s make that terribly, terribly boring.

The only positives in the first series are the brilliant casting of Patrick Stewart as Professor X and giving Hugh Jackman a shot at Wolverine. Jackman gave the character more humanity than most super heroes by letting him continue to be into Logan and giving the character three-dimensions.

Stewart finally did something deep with Professor X when he and Jackman gave us incredible performances and demonstrated the negative side of superherodom in “Logan.”

In group two Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven rocks, and what’s not to like about anything done by Michael Fassbender. The rest of the characters are as forgettable as the series.

While both groups initially did fairly well at the box office, other than “Logan,” the films are a critical mess. So is this one.

As you remember, the First Class group was originally set in the 1960s. They have now moved past the 1960s and have settled nicely into the 1980s. “Dark Phoenix” begins with the rescue of a Space Shuttle crew. While in space, and with no other way to describe it, Jean Grey inhales an energy entity that attacked the ship. It is part of an alien invasion and the leader of the invaders — a female called Vuk — needs to find Jean because she and her ilk have to have that power to take over the planet.

Grey is unable to handle all that power. She goes rogue, attacks the X-Men and kills one of them. I won’t spoil it for you and give you the identity of the character. I’ll let the Internet and social media handle that task for me.

Writer/director Simon Kinberg — who has produced and written several X-Men flicks — writes “Dark Phoenix” and is at the helm of what could — and probably should — be the series’ swan song. The story is bad and the script is even worse. The only positive is the excellent acting of “Game of Thrones” star Sophie Turner who plays Grey.

While that sounds positive, much of the reason is because she has very little dialogue. Lacking much to say, Turner’s main focus becomes looking tortured. Not as tortured as the rest of the cast. They have to endure uttering dumb lines from an equally dumb story that tries, and fails miserably to explore the negatives of an out-of-control ego using mind-control techniques to change a person and remove bad experiences from their lives.

All this leads to a conclusion based on a question that Marvel fans have been asking for the last couple of years. Why were the X-Men not included in the killing off of a lot of Marvel characters in “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame?” Other than the brilliant original series-conclusion of “Logan,” and the use of the X-Men in two Deadpool movies, the original X-Men and the “First Class” group — as this movie proves — just aren’t that interesting.

So why mar two very good movies with characters this dull?

▪ Rated PG-13 for mature themes and violence. It’s playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s, at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

▪ Rating: 1 out of 5

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