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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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

Constantine (2005): A Decent Adaptation Buried Under Weird Pacing and Stilted Dialogue

Constantine

       “Constantine” is one of those strange films that doesn’t quite work. There are some great moments in it, especially when it felt like the amazing character Constantine was there (Keanu Reeves managed to pull it off when he was given good dialogue), but the weird pacing, clash of tones and overall stilted dialogue keep this film from ever reaching good. Constantine is a fascinating character who is driven by outsmarting the greater powers than himself, he’s a deal maker and cynic and I wish we could have seen more of that, as well as the personal nature of most of the stories in the “Hellblazer” series where his story is told.

     The film was directed by Francis Lawrence, written by Kevin Brodin and Frank Cappello and produced by Akiva Goldsman, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Michael Uslan, Benjamin Melniker and Lauren Shuler Donner.

     The story involves Constantine (Keanu Reeves) facing his mortality as he learns he has terminal cancer  as Detective Angela is pulled into his world after the mysterious suicide of her sister (Rachel Weisz plays both characters). As Angela discovers the magic that exists in her family forces plot against the world as Constantine and his allies must work to save it and prevent the end.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is one of the best parts of this film! There are half-demons and half-angels, and it takes place on the world stage in a world full of broken people. There are not heroes in this and that is part of what it makes it so fun.

Cinematography – The CGI is a little dated but the style of it is still amazing. I loved how Hell was done and how they presented seeing things that are hidden from us in our world. Philippe Rousselot did a great job.

Introduction to Constantine – We are introduced to Constantine as he kicks a warrior demon out of a girl. His interactions with the people and the demon is straight up Constantine. He’s standoffish, business all the way through and after takes out. Even his friends  give him space.

Hell – Hell is a twisted version of our world above and further below you have people consuming and being consumed. It was a very creative take on Hell and added terror to the demons we met.

Luficer – This Luficer is the threatening salesman and it works. He has power to how he speaks, with an heir of threatening kindness. I liked the white suit and the detail of him leaving behind black wherever he walked was great at giving him an otherworldly feel. He ends up punishing his son for breaking out and dealing with the half-angel Gabriel to try and take over and nearly takes Constantine until God protects him when he offers his life for Angela’s sister.

Chas Kramer – Shia LeBeouf was so much more likeable before “Transformers” and his later stuff. In this he’s Constantine’s driver and shows that he’s been studying up on how to fight demons too in the final fight, even though he does die he gets a lot of humanity and shows he isn’t just a fan, he wants to be respected.

Papa Midnite – This character is cold and cruel and after is chill and acts like an old friend again with Constantine. I like both versions of the character and just wish he’d been written more consistently. Djimon Hounsou does a fantastic job.

Constantine – Keanu can act when given the chance and he shows it here. We see him mad, sad, empathetic and all the emotions of a man dealing with death. His character also gets an arc too as his friends all die to Gabriel and Mammon but God protects him in the end when he finds belief and stops smoking since he got 2 chances as he kills himself twice over the course of the film (first to end the torture his parents were putting him through, second for the meeting with Luficer).

Okay: Constantine’s Arc – the arc was too easy, he is a cynical guy who knows that there are tons of higher beings out there but knows they can’t be counted on (even God drops the ball on letting his friends die and all the people who died from the fallout of Mammon and Gabriel getting their plans together) so him becoming a sudden believer made sense in the simplest of arcs but didn’t feel quite true to the character…so putting it at okay.

The Cons: Angela Dodson – Rachel Weisz is usually always the damsel and she is here too. She learns how to have psychic powers and is used by the villains almost immediately. It’s annoying and I hated that her character only seemed to exist in this role.

The Dialogue – The dialogue is stilted and sometimes characters will make comments that are meant to be jokes but it just ruins the tone of the scene and makes the pacing feel choppy.

Tone – The tone is thankfully largely dark but the moments of attempted humor don’t always work when they try go light hearted, I almost think this was meant to be a PG-13 movie but because they went for the R it just made the tone jarring.

Pacing – Thanks to tone and dialogue the pacing doesn’t flow all the time. The pacing of the opening and middle are fine but right around the end and leading up to the climax there are scenes that linger and it ruins the pacing.

    This is a film that is worth seeing once or renting and that is it. The great moments where Constantine is the cynical anti-hero of the comics make this film a lot of fun, and Keanu has more range than he is given credit…I think he suffers from having films with bad scripts or off tones, as this film does, but he is still a positive of this film. There were moments he felt like the Constantine in the comics, even though Constantine finding God and quitting smoking felt out of character, in all the “Hellblazer” comics I’ve read, nothing close to that happens. He makes deals and cons higher powers, he doesn’t give them worship. Still, I get why they did the arc, Constantine’s growth when it happens is hard write, so these writers took the easy way to write growth rather than writing something more complex, but given that they wrote the dialogue, the story is going to be brought down regardless. Rent it if you like Constantine, DC and Vertigo comics and films or like Keanu Reeves, but don’t go in expecting a good film.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Batman: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 27 – Mad as a Hatter – The Dangerous Stalker (The Mad Hatter)

Mad Hatter

“The Mad Hatter,” is a great episode in regards to introducing a creepy new villain and the importance of what love really is (which isn’t stalking). The premise is a scientist (Jarvis) creates a mind control device and begins to use it on his enemies and on Gotham to impress his assistant Alice he wants to own. From there the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment:

The Pros: The Mad Hatter – Is a really creepy villain. He mind controls those who disagree with him and sabotages the engagement between Alice and her fiance, and in the end even goes so far as to mind control her. All the while claiming love…it is sad that there are people like this in the world and he represents the worst of them so well. A worthy adversary and terrible human being.

The Message – The story reveals the importance of consent and respect for others (especially when romance is involved). These are all things the Mad Hatter misses because he believes he’s entitled to Alice and is in love with the idea of her (She is his Alice to his Mad Hatter (the name he takes for himself). In the end rather than friendship having the potential to become love naturally he sabotages himself and relationships leading into his end in Arkham.

Batman – Is great once again at discovering what is going on and protecting the people who are mind controlled by the Mad Hatter as they are used to fight him. His resourcefulness is great in this episode.

The music – Is fantastic and whimsical. They took the “Alice in Wonderland” theme and ran with it to create the great score for this episode.

Okay: Alice – She is basically a blank slate. She has a fiance and is a supportive friend but besides that she doesn’t get much characterization sadly.

Cons: The Fiance – We know nothing about him and he is important to this episode. I wish we could have had him better contrasted with The Mad Hatter.

This is a good episode and even has a theme I hope kids back in the day got. You don’t stalk people and you aren’t entitled to people. Relationships arise out of consent, if not you aren’t really loving a person…just an idea, like the Mad Hatter.

I give this episode a 9 / 10.

 

 

Batman: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 26 – Appointment in Crime Alley – Those Who are Sacrificed for Greed

Appointment_In_Crime_Alley-Title_Card

“Appointment in Crime Alley,” is a great episode that shows the lives of the poor of Gotham and the cruelty of Roland Daggett. The premise is Daggett is going to destroy Crime Alley to set up a mall and develop the area by destroying it since he lost the right to zone it due to the City Council Vote. To do this he hires an arsonist and the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment:

The Pros: The people of Gotham – This is a great episode for seeing the poor of Gotham being active in their own lives. Whether it is protesting Daggett or reporting to Batman where his goons are. They take charge of their own lives even as everything is looking hopeless.

Roland Daggett – Is an amazing baddie. He once again shows himself to be untouchable and turns on the arsonist he hires when the plot fails so he doesn’t get captured by the police, leaving Batman feeling angry and hopeless and once again given hope by the Doctor who lived in the area who comforted him after his parents death.

Batman – This is a great Batman episode. You see how much he cares for the people and wants to help. You also see him powerless against Daggett which you rarely see in these episodes. Batman doesn’t always win. Was an important message for Batman in this episode.

The Message – Is powerful. We need to provide for and take care of the forgotten and the poor. Money is not more important than people. Daggett mentioned the corporate uncaring greed to Batman as the one who stood for the people (and the people stood for the people) against this. It is a very well done message and does it without telling us, it does it by showing us.

Okay: Music isn’t super memorable again.

An amazing episode that I highly recommend. It is still relevant today too as the poor and homeless are looked over in order for those who already have much to have more. There are some great emotional moments and this episode answers the “So What?” on why it was made brilliantly.

My score for this episode is 9.5 / 10.

Batman: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 25 – The Clock King – When Time Drives you Mad

Clock-King

“The Clock King,” is our introduction to the character by the same name. He is most reminiscent of the Riddler but his schtick is times and clocks rather than Riddles. This episode is his origin story and also explores the Mayor more. The episode begins with Temple introduced as an efficiency expert who has an important case to keep…the mayor says he should take a break…everything goes wrong on the break and he goes mad as his case fails, after it flashes forward seven years and the consequences of the actions from that day.

Here is the assessment:

The Pros: The Clock King – I like the Riddler and The Clock King is no Riddler but he has class and smarts that make him a worthy adversary. He even escapes Batman and the collapsing Clocktower he is so good. He also started out as an anal retentive normal guy. He just snaps cause his day goes so wrong (a theme of Batman’s rogues).

The Mayor – We once again see how he is possibly corrupt. We learn that he might have set up the break in order for Temple to fail. Of course this could all be The Clock King’s delusion but the mayor may be kind but he is also manipulative and all about power as established in past episodes. We see more of that in this one.

Batman – We see his brains as he manages to save the mayor and get himself out of an elaborate trap where the room is poisoned and oxygen is out of the room leaving Batman minutes to live. We see the brains of Batman this episode…as well as him discovering who The Clock King is.

Okay: The story – It wasn’t the strongest, but wasn’t bad either. Average I’d say. Batman investigates, minor villain origin story explored, etc.

The music – Not super memorable this episode and forgettable.

This episode does a great job of providing Batman with a new adversary who actually manages not to get caught (like Clayface). He is fun to watch too and actually challenges Batman intellectually…which doesn’t happen often enough with his rogues.

Good episode. I give it an 8 / 10.