Shazam! (2019): A Beautiful Tale on What it Means to Have Family

New Shazam Poster Reminds You the Movie Is Fun | Collider

    “Shazam!” is easily the best film so far in the DC Cinematic Universe. I’m speaking as someone who thought “Wonder Woman” was great and enjoyed “Aquaman” and “Man of Steel.” This film is better than all of those and is the most fun I’ve had in a DC film since “The Dark Knight Rises.” I’m glad they got this win. “Shazam!” captures what makes super heroes and comics books so enjoyable and fun in the first place. This is a film that never stops being fun. For non-spoiler thoughts, it is worth seeing for that reason alone. This film is comedic, dark, adventurous and explores the concept of a family better than so many films that say that is their theme. Not only that, the film looks great and has a fantastic soundtrack.

The film was directed by David F. Sandberg with screenplay by Henry Gayden and produced by Peter Safran.

The story follows foster boy Billy Batson as he is given to the last foster family who will give him a chance, as he has ran away from all those prior. Left with the choice as he searches for his missing mother other threats are plot and act as Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) is empowered by an evil and only the wizard Shazam can empower someone pure of heart who can stop him in his quest of destruction.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – Finally the DCCU works. This film calls upon classic “Shazam!” villains who were part of his universe before Faucet Comics were bought out by DC and when he was Captain Marvel. The villain is Dr. Sivana who is a classic foe who DC brought into their universe. As someone who loves the rich lore of comics this was a movie that hit me on so many levels. There is more related to the lore that I’ll get into later in the review, but this is a world that doesn’t need the rest of the DC universe to be good but enriches it by existing.

The Action and Cinematography – The action is visceral, colorful and feels like it has been pulled from the pages of a comic. It isn’t the same beautiful the way “Spider-Verse” did it with it’s animation (blending anime, modern, noir, etc.) but it does it using the dark and light in the character’s abilities and where they choose to shoot the fights. For example, the final fight takes place in a carnival. This use of the dark and light contrast makes the fight sequences stand out and when they happen (because when they happen they matter) it adds to the narrative and is a brilliant use of storytelling.

The Characters – The characters and their relationships are what makes this movie work in this end. I would have rated this movie as at least very good if all I had to go on where performances and the character relationships, and this film delivers on those in spades. The relationships are a big reason I want to go back as I think I’ll notice more in the rewatch as far as how the characters see one another and what that means in the finale.

Billy Batson – Billy Batson / Shazam / Captain Marvel is the main character, who as the foster kid is seeking his mother. He is a kid who only looks out for himself and tells his foster family as much. He does grow more attached to them over the course of the film, which is part of his essential arc. When he becomes the Champion empowered by Wizard we see Billy’s arc go from selfish kid seeking his mother to hero who has found his true family. Both Zachary Levi as Shazam and Asher Angel as Billy give so much depth to the role.

Freddy – Freddy is one of Billy’s foster siblings and the closest thing he has to a friend. He’s also a huge comic book nerd and becomes Billy’s mentor on how to become a hero when he becomes the Champion / Shazam. At first they are both really selfish but Freddy figures out the bigger picture first and calls out Billy for how he has become a selfish bully with his abilities. Freddy does have his arc payoff though, but I’m not revealing what that is, since it is one of the best parts of the film.

Shazam Family – Billy’s adopted family becomes the Shazam Family at the end to fight the Seven Deadly Sins and it is awesome! Each of them is a hero as strong as Billy and together they face off against the Sins. How it happens is fascinating too as it Billy realizing that he needs to open his heart to find his true power and it is in sharing power, not taking it (like Dr. Sivana) where true power lies. Each of the family members has distinct personalities contrasted by their grown up identity and I can’t wait to see them further. I won’t describe more as the seeing their story payoff is one of the best parts of the film.

Dr. Sivana – Dr. Sivana was one of the people chosen by the wizard a long time ago to be the hero but failed because of the temptations from the Demons who are the Seven Deadly Sins. From that point on he seeks out the Sins and frees them before seeking out the hero who he envies for having the great power that is only capable of defeating him. We see why he is this way too as he comes from an abusive family and power was the only thing his dad and brother ever respected. What innocence and pure of heart that he needed to be the Champion was stamped out a long time ago.

Mr. Mind – This is a classic villain for the Fawcett comics who DC brought back when they revamped the character. He is this caterpillar looking worm who is a genius. He meets up with Dr. Sivana in prison and tells him there are more ways to power than simply magic. It is a great set-up for future films as Mr. Mind is a villain unlike anything we’ve seen so far in Marvel or DC.

Okay:

The Foster Parents – The Foster Parents are kind but kind of generic. We get glimpses of their past but never in relation to their kids, only in relation to one another. They both grew up in the Foster system so I’m not saying it is a negative but them opening up to any of their foster kids about their past would have added a layer of depth the story wasn’t able to do. Not entirely a con but definitely the weakest part of the film.

This is a great film. Shazam is such a fun hero and I can’t wait to see how Mr. Mind and Shazam and his foster family are used in later films. In both there is so much potential there to be explored. This was also a film that doesn’t need an expanded universe to work. Billy’s relationship to his foster family and his biological mother give this film more than enough heart to make this film wholly great on it’s own merits. If you are looking for a film that has a deeper point while still managing to be a hilarious comedy, you will probably love this film as much as I did. It is definitely one of my favorite films.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

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Aquaman (2018): A Beautiful Mess

         “Aquaman” is a mess. It isn’t a bad film, but it isn’t especially good. I’d put it around the same place as “Suicide Squad” in that a lot of the writing and performances are what bring down so much potential in what could be an amazing story. This could have been “Wonder Woman” if the acting and writing had been up to that quality, sadly it is not. I still enjoyed a lot of things about this film, just as I did with “Suicide Squad” though. This film is beautiful, the experienced actors are fantastic and it made me want to read the comics and learn more about the characters. This world is amazing, even if the execution is extremely flawed.

     The film was directed by James Wan who wrote it along with Geoff Johns and Will Beall.

The story follows Arthur Curry / Aquaman (Jason Momoa) who is called back home when his half-brother is attempting to unite the Underwater Kingdoms to destroy humanity above. Arthur must find the mythical Trident of Atlan to unite the Ocean as his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) sends the pirate David Kane / Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) after him and Mera (Amber Heard) to prevent them from challenging his rule.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Universe and Ocean Politics – I want to read the comics after watching this film. There are 7 Nations based off the 7 seas who are sunk down to the ocean due their hubris and each Kingdom evolved into a different kind of fish person. Atlantis is the largest of the Kingdoms and King Orm wants revenge on the surface dwellers for pollution and destruction of the ocean, so is going about uniting the Kingdoms by paying off a mercenary pirate (Black Manta) to do so to make the other distrust humanity. When his betrothed Mera (from another Kingdom) brings his half-brother Arthur / Aquaman down to challenge him, they fight and Orm wins! After this he goes full on expansionist and begins uniting or destroying the remaining Sea Kingdom (3 are lost before the film begins) and seeing it all unfold…it is a great backstory and I wanted to know more. This world is more interesting than most of the characters driving the action. The 7 Kingdoms fascinate me and there is such a rich amount of lore in this movie.

The Cinematography and Action – This movie has some of the most beautiful action in any DC film. You have giant sharks and ships with lazers fighting on the deep ocean floor. You have monsters rising from the depths and even a chase in Sicily that manages to hold a good amount of tension for Mera and Arthur as they escape from Black Manta and his mercenaries. The color pallet is as vibrant as the fish in the sea and the action is up there with “Tron” in how that color is used to illustrate underwater action. The big final battle was especially compelling and kept me entranced the entire time. It was also the only time I like Arthur Curry as a character.

Queen Atlanna – Nicole Kidman plays Arthur’s mother Queen Atlanna. We could have got a whole movie just about her as she drives the initial action escaping to the surface world to escape from an arranged marriage. It is there she falls in love with a Lighthouse Keeper who rescues her and they have a happy life until Atlanteans find her again and attempt to bring her back for judgement. After this she is presumed dead since she is left to face judgement in the Trench (after she returns back to the sea to protect her husband and Arthur) where most are sent to die. She survives, but after that is just there as support for Arthur. I loved her agency early on in the film and wanted to know more about her backstory. Kidman gives so much to this part and really deserved more.

King Nereus -Dolph Lundgren is an underrated actor if this film is anything to go by. I know he was in “Masters of the Universe” and now 2 films in the Rocky Franchise as Ivan but I never realized how charismatic he was. Here he plays Mera’s father and one of the Kings of the 7 Sea Kingdoms. He is manipulated into joining Orm when humans attack them and stands by Orm until Mera finally calls out how evil he is for standing by Orm’s destruction of others in order to rule. He was compelling that way and the most political of all the Kings, as the others were isolationist (the Crab People) or Philosophers (the fish people). His people were most like the Atlanteans and he was good as a somewhat antagonist. His love for his daughter trumped his hatred of the humans though.

Karathen – Julie Andrews plays this giant Ocean Monster at the bottom of the sea. She is so cool. It is small part as she protects the legendary Trident Atlan that Arthur needs to be King, but once he has it she joins him in the battle against Orm. She is amazing and her reveal is a sight to behold. The fact that getting to her involves fighting a bunch of feral fish men adds more tension to how quiet her lair is and the threat against Arthur as he could easily fail to retrieve the Trident like so many before him.

Nuidis Vulko – Dafoe plays the adviser to the King and was the one who helped Arthur develop his powers when he was a child. He supports Orm up to a point, even though he always wanted Arthur to return. We don’t get much on his motivation but it is Willem Dafoe and he adds layers to a sadly very underwritten character. He serves the realm like Varys and in doing so will serve even the most selfish and cruel of kings until there is one who is better.

Mera – I want to see more of Amber Heard’s films. She is the only main character with any level of charisma and acting range and I loved her fish out of water situations. She is first introduced to humans when she escapes with Arthur and seeing her interact with the surface world is charming. She also can take care of herself and saves Arthur on multiple occasions, and manages to hold her own against the best of her people. Her arc goes from hating the surface world to finding the innocence that exists within it (specifically a child’s kindness to her changes her point of view). It is an organic change and I wish she’d been the lead. She would make a much better Queen than Arthur would a King.

The Cons:

Flat Acting and the Leads – I’m covering a few things here because it applies across the board. Black Manta only ever shows anger and doesn’t have the moral complexity of a Killmonger or Thanos, at least in how he is written and acted, Orm is a little better but even his hatred of the surface world and willingness to kill and hurt his own isn’t explored either, leading to either very flat or very ham scenes, and Arthur’s arc makes no sense. He goes from a surfer bro pounding beers to the wise King of Atlantis. There isn’t an inbetween here and he is largely grating in how he continues to mock everything around him for the majority of the time he is on screen. Momoa not having that great of range for the character doesn’t help. I really appreciate how great Hemsworth is as Thor as both are similar in that they love fighting and drinking and need to come into their own as Kings. I believed Thor becoming King and that he was someone who had grown up. Arthur felt like an entirely different character than he was even a few scenes before after he becomes King. This was whiplash that I blame on the writing, the flat performance and Momoa’s limited range as an actor.

Telling Rather Than Showing – A huge thing that brings down the film is how often we are told the plot. There were moments we could have been shown, either in a painting or an artifact, but instead more often than not, Mera or an ancient King is explaining the plot to us and why so and so must get the artifact. It hurts the flow of the story and there is far too much of it. This telling reminded me very much of Episode 1 and 2 of the Prequels where we are told plot points rather than shown them and all that changes is location. The fact that Momoa has as much range as Hayden Christensen also brought back Prequel flashbacks. This film needed a rewrite for these scenes as they played into another problem, the agency of our hero.

Arthur Curry and Agency – Much of this film is Mera taking Arthur to locations to get exposition or to find a Mcguffin. It starts when she takes him to Atlantis to challenge Orm and after that it never stops. The only agency Arthur has is choosing whether to come with her or not and after they are being hunted by Orm it is no longer a choice since they’ll try to kill him anyway if he stops moving. This leads to major whiplash when Arthur goes from Surfer Bro to Wise King in the span of a scene. We never saw him make choices in regards to the people he would be leading. The choices were all actions driven by Mera to make him King, one reason she should have been the lead and been Queen. This was far more her story than his but he is the main character. If we had been shown him facing more choices and growing into his role as King, that transformation would have been believable. I never felt he was truly at risk because he never had his darkest moment. His father was always saved, he discovers his mother is alive, Mera is fine and he doesn’t care about the war between the Ocean Kingdoms. If any of these things had changed to give him a reason to take responsibility this film would have been good. All we needed was greater choice and consequence for Arthur and even Momoa’s limited acting wouldn’t matter as much.

This is not the worst of the new DC films and I had fun. This isn’t a film I’d ever buy, but it made me interested in the world of the comics and I really enjoyed the universe it all takes place in. The biggest detriment is the writing and some very flat performances. Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry never felt like he had agency. He is brought everywhere so I never felt like it was him making a choice, it was just him punching things until it worked. It made me admire the first “Thor” film and Thor as a character a lot more. I did like the Aquaman I saw at the end of the film, so there is promise for this series if there is a sequel, I just hope the villains aren’t as flat next time around and that Arthur is more complex and has more agency. If you are looking for a good escape over the holidays, you will enjoy this film and should give it a shot though. The movie is a beautiful mess and so much flawed fun.

Final Score: 7 / 10

An Aside: Pitbull ruins Toto’s “Africa” in this movie with his remixing of it in a song called “Ocean to Ocean.” Listen at your own discretion. You’ve been warned.

 

I Walked Out of “Justice League”

      I walked out of “Justice League.” This is a film that I will go back and review because I am a completionist but it has been a long time since I’ve been so disappointed in a film that I walked out ($10.75 for a ticket was also a major waste). What didn’t help is it was late and so my patience was much thinner and I needed to at least be entertained, and for a few scenes I was…but after an hour I was so bored and disappointed in this film that I could only think of better uses of my time.  In the end the three factors that pulled me out of this film were the Bad CGI, uninterested actors and how false some of the characterizations felt in regards to the characters.

First I want to mention some things I enjoyed in that hour. Everything with Diana was awesome. Seriously, Wonder Woman is the best part of this universe and she’s why I’ll be giving this film another chance and doing a full review in the future, even if I don’t do it this year. I also continue to enjoy Jeremy Irons as Alfred and Cyborg had potential, he was one of the few characters who felt fully realized in his portrayal.

Now for the bad, Steppenwolf and the battles he takes place in look worse than “The Fellowship of the Ring.” The closest comparison I can think of is “The Mummy Returns” in regards to how the CGI of him and his minions looks. For a movie this expensive it should have looked at least as good as “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” This also applies to the CGI on Cavill’s face to hide his mustache. He is in a shot at the beginning where kids are recording him and it feels off and weird. I think this Superman has trouble smiling in general (which feels antithetical to the character) but in this scene it really showed. This is consistent through the hour of film I saw and it took me out of it. Every Super Hero film this year looked so much better and “Wonder Woman” was made by the same studio. How could it go so wrong?

The second factor were the uninterested actors. Ben Affleck sounds bored the entire time and his inflection never changes. This also applies to Cavill’s Superman in that scene on the phone meant to humanize him. He just looked out of it and bored and sounded like it too. These guys are two of three in DC’s Trinity. I can understand now why Affleck is getting recast. His heart isn’t in this if the best takes they could get from him were what I saw in the film. He clearly doesn’t want to be there.

The final factor was characters and how they acted unlike themselves. This was the last straw as I felt when Steppenwolf was attacking Atlantis. Aquaman comes off like a human douchebro and not like an alien from Earth. Based off his performance I have no idea how Atlanteans are different from humans minus them living underwater. This is not the Aquaman I knew from the comics or DC animated films….which is a shame because Momoa can be a great actor, I loved him in “Stargate: Atlantis” and “Game of Thrones.” A major reason I left was this was the second time that Batman’s secret identity meant nothing to civilians. First a criminal he is threatening hear’s him call his butler Alfred (so much for secrecy) and second Aquaman calls him Bruce Wayne and Batman in front of a crowd of people. First off Affleck doesn’t react at all in either scenes (he doesn’t take in the criminal, he ignores Aquaman, etc.). Barry Allen / The Flash is also a rich drifter for some reason so how he has all that money for his computers when he see him having no basis of income is kind of crazy.

In the end these factors were too much for me to sit through another hour. This was bad and dissapointing enough as I grew up with these characters. I was DC long before I was Marvel as Bruce Timm’s “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Justice League” got me into these characters in the first place. I can’t recommend this film and the only reason I want to watch it at this point is for Wonder Woman and so I can complete it and give it a score. At this point I can only tell you why I walked out. This film isn’t worth your time. Check it out when it comes to Netflix or streaming, these characters deserved better.

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) – An Enjoyable Animated Adventure in the 1960’s Batman Series

  Adam West is a man who has left quite a legacy on the world. I knew primarily as the neighbor of Quahog on “Family Guy,” but got an appreciation for him when I reviewed the film that came out of the  Batman 60’s TV show, which I’ll post later in the review. The longer I’ve been with dark and gritty Batman the more I’ve come to appreciate the anti-fascist Batman. The one who is a public servant and at the end of the day is honorable, rather than the sometime psychopath of the modern incarnation that has existed since at least Burton’s Batman. West is a man who is going to be missed and this review is in honor of him.

“Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders” was directed by Rick Morales and written by Michael Jelenic and James Tucker.

The story takes place within the same universe as the 1960’s tv show as Batman and Robin face off against Catwoman, The Riddler, Penguin and the Joker as they come up with a plan to turn Batman evil in order to pull of an devious heist and steal a powerful device.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Writing – The writing is clever, from Robin’s word play and the articulation of Adam West to the many visual and verbal puns that cover this film like music…I really enjoyed the dialogue in this film and it is a big part of what kept me watching.

Batman and Robin – The dynamic duo are the only competent ones in Gotham as the Police Chief and Commissioner Gordon don’t know how to do anything but call Batman and Robin for help. I really like the duo, they have a great mentor/student and father/son relationship that is only further developed over the course of the film such as when Robin has to save Batman and we see Batman take his crime fighting to a fascist degree after he gets infected by Catwoman’s concoction. West’s Batman is wonderful in this as he always appeals to the villains’ better natures before fighting them. Like how Superman once was in film, he appeals to the good in people and Robin is the one striving to do the same. This innocence and lack of cynicism really lends power, especially in all the crap going on currently.

A Stand Against Vigilantism and Fascism – When Batman gets infected her turns into a dictator and takes over every role in Gotham City with the Replicator gun. He arrests everyone or takes their jobs and makes everything about him and his great nobility. It is a great critique of the Batman who does this and is rewarded for it…the Nolan, Snyder and Burton Batmans at the end of the day are not public servants…they are vigilantes that have no regard for the law outside of what they get out of it. This makes Batman an anti-hero, which isn’t bad but I hardly consider him a hero anymore…even though he is one of my favorite comic book characters. This Batman is an actual hero and his corruption to becoming like modern day Batman illustrates the flaws in the ideology of the current incarnations of the Dark Knight.

Okay: The Villains and their Plan – The villains just want to steal art…that is it and there is Penguin creeping on Catwoman. They are okay in that Joker just wants to have a good laugh and the Riddler needs clever Riddlers but they never become more than the one note villains which was a waste. I enjoyed when other classic villains from the show face off against them (an early Mr. Freeze!) as they each had potentially a bit more going on, given they were working with Catwoman and Robin to defeat the evil Batmen.

The Cons: Catwoman and Sexism – Catwoman pretty much only uses her sex appeal and the heroes’ chivalry as a weapon. This was a shame as her master plan to turn Batman evil is successful though she switches sides after being betrayed and again randomly wants to kill Robin and run away with Batman, implying she never changed before killing one of her lives? She is the only woman in the film and she is entirely defined by the male gaze, whether it is Batman or Penguin. This was a damn shame given how central she is the story. I really was hoping for better from her character and it was this issue that kept the film from being good, even though I found it enjoyable.

The film was a lot of fun and a lot better than the 1960’s film, which in many ways had camp that didn’t quite work and was really unfocused (https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/batman-1966-fun-camp-that-doesnt-quite-work/). This one was self aware but wasn’t insulting as I could tell how much passion was put into this project. I really hope that “Batman: The Caped Crusaders vs. Two-Face” which has Shatner playing a 60’s Two-Face. I really enjoy this Batman now and plan on checking out the show as whole, knowing that I’ll probably being seeing more of the sexism in regards to Catwoman, but I’ll also see Eartha Kitt who is one of the people I highly admire and of course Adam West in one of his most iconic roles. R.I.P. Adam West, may the good always defeat evil.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

 

Wonder Woman (2017): DC Finally Finds a Hero

     “Wonder Woman,” is a great. I just need to put that out there now before I get into the reasons why because it really is amazing and if you like comic book or super hero films you will enjoy this film. DC has been having a hard time finding heroes, Superman doesn’t really save anyone in the films he’s been in and when he does it is in a somber way, almost like he hates it…and Batman is beating up criminals and leaving them to die in prison so he isn’t exactly what I’d call a hero either as we never have the chance to connect with the people he is supposedly protecting. Wonder Woman changes all of that in her film. DC finally gives us the much needed hero which in turn may save their cinematic universe.

The film was directed by Patty Jenkins, written by Allan Heinberg and produced by Zack Snyder, Richard Suckle, Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven.

The story involves Diana (Gal Gadot) who is pulled into World War 1 when spy Steve Trevor’s (Chris Pine) plane crashes near her home, the Island of Themyscira. Going against the wishes of her mother Queen Hippolyta, she joins him to seek out and destroy Ares, who she believes is responsible for the War and the peace broken on her Island when Steve arrived.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is wonderful as we get a fish out of water story as Diana and her Island are outside of the world in a magic bubble. This leads to some great moments where Diana has to adapt to a world full of technology where there is patriarchy in all power structures and her very existence upsets them (as she is a princess from a Matriarchal Island). The premise is not only her hunting down of Ares but her own self discovery and finding her purpose and living what it means to be a hero.

The Universe – Themyscira (the Amazon Island) is an amazing place that looks like an ancient Greek isle where women outside of time train and fight and have representatives and well as Queen ruling them…we have World War 1 and see the horrors of trench and chemical warfare and we have Diana in the present, unaged showing that even as he has changed she is still the Amazon who left that Island long ago.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of the film as each of them reveals contradictions about themselves. Diana is confident and driven, but also unsure and can easily despair. Steve is a spy who lies, smuggles and kills but also will risk everything to stop the greater conflict and the other side characters reveal things about themselves too. My favorite character was Queen Hippolyta’s sister Antiope (played by Robin Wright) who is the Amazon General and went against the rules to train Diana and in the end dies preparing Diana for the fight against Ares…and the commandos who go with Steve and Diana are amazing too as each of them is broken and courageous, each in their own way.

The Horrors of War – The horrors of war and despair it can bring are handled really well in this film. One of the characters we follow has PTSD and another lost his dream when the Great War began. Diana also loses her mentor, her Aunt Antiope to a German soldier when Steve’s plane crashes near the Island…and at one point in one of the best parts of the film, Diana breaks the No Man’s Land in the trenches and saves a starving village…only for the Germans to gas the village…There is so much despair and the hope that we see are in the acts of saving others or simply surviving. War is hell, and this film presents it beautifully.

Okay: The Villains – There is Doctor Poison who we never get to know but is a sociopath only wanting to kill and destroy, we have a war obsessed German General who hams it up well enough but is forgettable…and of course Ares who appears first as an ally and reveals that he didn’t have to corrupt humanity much at all, just push their own destructive urges. Ares is the best of the lot but even he could have been explored a lot more. Each of these villains have potential but like Marvel Phase 1 Villains they are disposable and fail to enhance the story.

The Message – The message is one of hope and love (which is alright in presentation, but seems to have been completely forgotten in her exile) and a call for equality (the message that worked) as Diana simply by existing and standing up for herself, changes the circumstances of those around her. In speaking up and taking action she is the hero…whether it is to Ares, her mother or the British and German Generals.

The Cons: Bullet Time – The action overall would be great if not for the bullet time. There are so many scenes were the action is slowed down and it just hurts the film. There is no reason for them to do this and it doesn’t add anything to the story and just distracts from whatever the focus in the scene should be. This is a Snyderism that should be used sparingly, if used at all.

Diana’s Exile – After Diana defeats Ares, she goes into exile. We never find out what she was doing in between World War 1 and “Batman v. Superman” but for a movie that had her say her message is to bring hope and love to the world…we don’t see any of that and her making that her thesis statement should have been shown, rather than her going underground and only becoming Wonder Women at the end of “Batman v. Superman.”

This movie won’t be in my Top 5 of the year, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is still a favorite. This is a movie that remembered what it means to be a hero as the whole point of Diana joining our world was to protect the weak and fight for the innocent. This was something DC forgot when they started their cinematic universe to compete with the MCU. I hope going forward they can remember it. This is a movie I highly recommend and I hope it not only changes the DC universe but gives us more heroes like Diana in future films as we finally see more of the amazing women that populate the world of heroes.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

The Lego Batman Movie (2017): A Wonderful Satire and Celebration of Batman

    “The Lego Batman” movie is hilarious, a great satire and celebration of Batman and a great addition to the Batmanverse if you are any sort of fan of the character. This is a film that finally makes Batman fun again and brings in just how important the Bat Family is, which is something many of the live action films have forgotten. Before I get into story spoilers, I highly recommend this film. Much like the “Lego Movie,” it never stops being fun.

    The film was directed by Chris McKay, written by Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna, Seth Grahame-Smith, Jared Stern and John Wittington while being produced by Dan Lin, Roy Lee, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

   The story involves Batman who after defeating Joker and his Rogues Gallery once again is alone but finds his life changed when Jim Gordon (Hector Elizondo) retires and his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) takes his place and wants to work with Batman (Will Arnett). Dick Grayson (Mchael Cera) is also accidentally adopted by Batman who must now deal with caring for others again as Joker sets a plan in motion to reach the enemies in the Phantom Zone, as he’s hurt that Batman doesn’t see him as his nemesis.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of Batman is fascinating and Lego’s take on it adds a lot of much needed humor as well as a recognition of the campy roots that have always been a part of Batman to some degree. We see a diverse array of Rogues, the Justice League of course the people of Gotham.

The Action – The action is fantastic, with my favorite parts being the opening fight where Batman faces off against his Rogues and the Phantom Zone enemies invading and pretty much destroying Gotham. The action is fluid and quick and remains focused even with so much going on.

The Joker – Zach Galifianakis was brilliant casting as the Joker. He brings so much snide and emotion to the role and I loved how he had a co-dependent relationship with Batman where all he wanted was to be the most hated and Batman’s nemesis aka have a special relationship. His Joker isn’t all bad either as at the end he helps save Gotham and in the Phantom Zone is freaked out by the mentality some of the villains have.

The Bat Family – The Bat Family is wonderful as see Alfred is Bruce’s surrogate father just as he becomes Dick Grayson’s (Michael Cera doing some great comedy) surrogate Dad. Batgirl (Rosario Dawson is once again fantastic) is the one who sees the big picture of them working together and that it is needed and Batman is the inventor whose inventions help save the day. It is Alfred calling Bruce to action that helps him grow (Fiennes does a wonderful job as the character), Robin’s usefulness, innocence and admiration and Batgirl’s accountability that help him complete his arc and finally grow out of the fear that was with him on the day his parent’s died.

Satire of Batman – Batman is trapped as a perpetual child who plays rock and roll is an ungrateful narcissist and this on display, from tantrums (a good satire of Bale and Affleck’s Batman at his most extreme), his strange villains from his early run (Condiment King, etc.) his strange rivalry with Superman (Batman v Superman, Dark Knight Returns) and how a lot of it comes from Batman’s childish need to one up and be extreme, and his isolation and just lonely that really is. The great thing is, a character arc comes out of it!

Batman’s Character Arc – In the end this satire is a celebration of the character because his anger and rage is mocked but it is also explored and it goes somewhere. Batman grows up and realizes he isn’t alone. Besides “Dark Knight Rises” I can’t think of a film that has really done this well (“Batman Returns” did it but not well).

 Okay: Batman’s Rogues – Batman’s rogues don’t much besides being minions of the Joker and function as one entity (which was a shame) some of the references are funny though, from Condiment King (actual rogue) to Bane having Tom Hardy’s Bane’s voice. As jokes and references they are fine but they don’t exist as characters, which would have raised this film higher.

The Phantom Zone Villains – Gremlins, The Eye of Sauron, King Kong and Lord Voldemort are some of the baddies in the Phantom Zone. They also largely exist as references too and as villains so powerful Batman’s Rogues and the Bat Family have to team up to defeat them.

The Cons: The Legoverse – Gotham is built over dirty laundry and the Phantom Zone has a talking Lego that sounds like a kid. I didn’t like either of these things. I get it is the Legoverse but these things took me out of the great Batman story that was taking place and was the worst part of the film and only real con.

   This was a film that was amazing as a Batman film, but brought down by the ties to the Legoverse. It was that aspect that took me out of the great Batman story that was being told. There is fantastic character arc that takes place with Batman finally growing up, from Gotham being built over dirty laundry and the Phantom Zone talking lego…I still highly recommend this film and consider it a favorite. I’m curious to see what the Lego Team comes up with next and hope that DC can take note of the fact that Batman can’t remain static. The great movies have him grow and change, it is when that is forgotten we are given the dramatic child who Will Arnett satires beautifully.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Suicide Squad (2016): The DC Cinematic Universe Finally Discovers Fun

Suicide Squad poster

     Why couldn’t DC have given us a film like this sooner? This is a film that still is dark but shows that you can have fun and be dark, this is a film with a soul. It isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination but this is the fun that DC has needed for a very long time in their movies. This is the core reason, besides some great performances and characters that really make this a film worthy of checking out.

SPOILERS ahead

       “Suicide Squad” was directed and written by David Ayer and produced by Charles Roven and Richard Suckle.

      The film involves Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) putting together a group of meta-humans to work under the radar for the U.S. Government. Things go wrong though when one of the group, Enchantress (Carla Delevinge) rebels as well as the threat of the Joker (Jared Leto) who is seeking to save Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) from Waller and her organization.

The Pros: The Aesthetic – The aesthetic of this film is wonderful! This is a film of color contrasts where you have bright pinks, whites, red and purples with dark grey hues. Doing this ended up illustrating the personalities of our protagonists against the world they were a part of and reacted to.

The Tone – The tone is dark but there is humor that runs throughout it. This is a film that knows our heroes are crazy and broken so embraces it and lets them be themselves. This tone is a huge part of what makes this film work.

The Soundtrack – Steven Price did a great job choosing the songs for this album. We here Eminem, Queen and countless other songs that help capture the roaring crazy of our heroes and their world and situation.

The World – The world is a dark nihilistic world in which there are no heroes and a moral grey exists in all choices where there are less bad options but no good ones (Superman being celebrated for example I’d consider moral grey, he was never a hero to me in these last two films). Because of this it allows moral complexity to our protagonists and everyone’s shadow or light is revealed over the course of the film. There is good and bad that exist in all the characters in this film and no real villain besides Enchantress.

Amanda Waller – Viola Davis is amazing as Waller. She puts the Squad in line on multiple occasions and we never see her really break. She also manages to blackmail Batman into covering up her Squad’s operation and she doesn’t bat an eye when he threatens her. She knows she is the one who breaks people for the greater ends and we see that so many times in this film.

Bruce Wayne/Batman – Batman is the reason Deadshot and Harley are in prison as Batman saved Harley from drowning when her and the Joker were on a rampage and Waller gave Batman a tip to take out Deadshot when he was around. The after credits scene was him and Waller making a deal with him getting more info on the Justice League in return for him covering up the events of the film. Ben Affleck really is great in this role.

The Joker – Leto’s Joker isn’t scary, he’s a lot of fun though. The man is a high energy gangster who is all about Harley and ruling over the gangs of Gotham. In this film his soul goal is the rescuing of Harley and it ends with him succeeding. Can’t wait to see him in action again against this world’s “Heroes.”

The Squad – The chemistry between the Squad is what really drives the film. If they had no chemistry this film wouldn’t have worked and would have been a throwaway rental rather than the good film that it is.

Captain Boomerang – Jai Courtney can act! After some of his past performances I didn’t think he could since he comes off as so bland. As Boomerang he is wonderful though as he fights and trolls everyone around him but shows that he can step up for others as we witness in the final fight.

Kantana – Kantana has the Sword of Souls that holds her husband’s as she took it from the man who killed him with it and has been avenging him since. She is awesome and I wanted to see more of her character. She is the serious character contrasted by the more laid back nature that everyone else has.

El Diablo – A gangster who accidentally killed his family with his fire power and is redeemed when he uses his power to stop the villains and save the team. I liked him and felt he should have had more interactions with the team before the end.

Killer Croc – Croc is amazing and my favorite character in this film besides Waller, Joker and Harley. He is fun, comfortable in who he is and shows he has humanity and that rejection by people won’t stop him from helping them.

Deadshot – Will Smith was alright…Deadshot having a daughter humanized him and his humor worked. At times it was hard to see Deadshot since it felt like the celebrity of Will Smith melted through but other times it was clearly Smith’s version of Deadshot so I have to respect him for that. He had great chemistry with those around him and Smith’s Deadshot never stopped being an anti-hero.

Harley Quinn – Margot Robbie owned this role! Also I have to say, I’ve wanted to see live action Harley on film for a long time. Margot owns this role and I hope she gets her spinoff film. In this we see her agency in regards to the Joker with the implication that the two of them have always been broken and that’s why there is something strange between them. Can’t wait to see where her story goes after Joker broke her out at the end! The Squad was like family to her, now we’ll see if that was all words and wanting someone since she thought Mr. J was dead or if she actually meant it.

Okay: Col. Flagg – Bland protagonist overall but I like that he kept threatening the crazies. He was a person who wanted control and could never be Waller so in the end lost control and was part of the Squad.

Enchantress – A Gozeresque villain who does a lot of damage and could have been a lot more. Her “Ring” Witch form is great and I liked her in the final fight, but her motivation was weak. Everyone wants to rule the world…give us more…

The Cons: The Government – Faceless agents except for Waller. This was a missed opportunity since we could have seen more people than Waller who have valid reasons to question and be against the Justice League.

Slipknot – Shows up and has his head blown off. No character at all.

Slow Motion Action – I hate slowing down fights, this slowdown almost ruined the final fight which had been fine prior. There is no reason to do this and it is stupid almost every single time it is used.

Too Much Tell Not Enough Show – We get a lot of backstories told to us that should have been shown in character interaction not Waller or someone else telling us the backstory. The Squad’s chemistry could have easily revealed those stories naturally.

    At the end of the day this was a good film that I would recommend. DC finally discovered these things called jokes and fun and actually managed to use them! See Snyder, these aren’t alien concepts! I didn’t like Ayer’s bullet time stuff but he did a good job of choosing this cast and letting their natural chemistry flow through the sometimes stilted dialogue. This is a flawed film but it is a film I’d watch again if only for the soundtrack and all the scenes with Joker, Harley, Killer Croc and Amanda Waller. DC, pay attention to this film, don’t lose the ability to laugh at yourself and have fun. The Suicide Squad new this and in the end it was part of the reason I cared about what happened to them. Ayer has finally brought humor and heart to a franchise that has desperately needed it.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10