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.

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

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

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – A Good Batman Story Trapped in a Terrible Film

Batman v Superman

      “Batman v Superman” is a terrible film. There is a good film in here (“The Dark Knight Returns” and what could have more fully come with that) but all that is drowned out in the baggage of Lois and Clark and anything involving some of the worst villains I have seen on screen. Lex Luthor and Doomsday are absolutely terrible characters and I never felt threatened or interested in them due to how they were written and portrayed. This is a film that tried to do so much and ended up completely failing because of it.

     The film was directed by Zack Snyder and wrote by David Goyer with Chris Terrio. The film was produced by Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven.

     The story starts with “Man of Steel” leaves off with Bruce Wayne witnessing the destruction of a Wayne Tower by Superman in the “Battle for Metropolis,” after saving people he is filled with hate towards Superman and thinks he is a threat that must be dealt with. Elsewhere Lex Luthor plots Superman’s destruction as well.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Visually, this film like “Man of Steel” is beautiful. The dark color pallet creates a visually stunning film that Larry Fong truly did a masterful job portraying. It looks like comics turned film, which is one of the few things this film has going in it’s favor.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer once again creates a beautiful score and with Junkie XL we actually get some pretty rocking pieces…for example Wonder Woman has a fantastic theme that really captures the power of her character.

Perry White – Fishburne is finally allowed to do something! I really enjoyed the small role he played in this as the cynical editor of “The Daily Planet” who knows he is in a dying industry so is making the most out of what is profitable.

Alfred – Jeremy Irons is a great Alfred. His wit is dry and sharp and you can tell that he’s given up on helping Bruce Wayne move on so simply does what he can to protect him and help him realize the bigger picture. He really is an awesome character and I wish we’d gotten more time with him.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Ben Affleck is a fantastic Batman and I can’t wait to see his solo outing. He potrays Batman who has lost all sense of grounding and has gone full Punisher so well…this is the Batman of “The Dark Returns.” He’s lost everything and is ready to do anything to protect his city and people, even if it means killing an unknown quantity like Superman. From his branding of criminals, to his shooting of minions…this Batman has lost all hope and really doesn’t reclaim any sense of self until the very end.

Against Authority and the Corruption of Power – A running theme is one of anti-authority and a critique of power, especially that which is absolute. We see the government hearings, Batman and Lex attempt to hold Superman’s power in check, while in the case of Lex and Batman they were already a corrupt power already out for themselves…in this way there really aren’t any heroes. No one is there to protect the innocent and reel unchecked power in, and that is the true tragedy of the film as this should have been what the film was about with a moral Superman and vigilante Batman.

Okay: Wonder Woman / Diane Prince – We don’t get to know Wonder Woman all that well except to learn she was around in World War 1 and is a Meta-human. She has an awesome theme song though and the scenes we have with her are alright. I’m interested in her solo film at least.

The Cons: Lois Lane – Lois continues to be a cipher and plot device and I couldn’t stand her character. She never brings up Jimmy Olsen or his death or asks Superman why he isn’t looking at the bigger picture beyond her, she’s part of the problem with Superman and that never gets called out. She is a core reason why he’s so selfish.

Martha Wayne – Martha is just kind of there and also enabling Superman’s lack of growth as she tells him that he owes humanity nothing (um, Earth is his adopted world so he owes it by being a part of it) and she like Lois just needs to be saved and focuses as a cliched plot device.

Superman / Clark Kent – This guy is a cipher who can only see Lois and random people on television tops. I thought he’d seek to write the wrongs of the battle of Metropolis but instead he spends all his time being selfish and not taking those who may die in his fights into account. He has no moral high ground over Batman and is just as bad. If Lex had actually been a well written character I would have been rooting for him to kill this guy.

Doomsday – Boring villain who looks like a giant Cave Troll and gets more powerful when he is hit with energy. Seriously, he only exists to kill Superman. He wasn’t even needed in this as Batman could have killed Superman and realized his mistake…instead we get a villain that is poorly rendered CGI and has zero character.

Let Luthor – Where Doomsday has zero character Lex lacks a consistent character. I didn’t know why he wanted to kill Superman as him being anti-alien and super hero made no sense when he created Doomsday, his plots were also pointless too as Batman was already trying to kill Superman. Jessie Eisenberg is just awful. Seriously, this guy annoyed me more than Sandman and Venom in “Spider-Man 3” and Doctor Doom in the “Fantastic Four” films. One theory is he is Lex Jr. and the real Lex Luthor is still in the wings, I hope so because this guy is an inconsistent joke who comes off as a really poor rendition of the Joker.

Lack of Focus – There are three films in this. The Batman film, which is good. The Justice League film which goes from okay to bad, and the Superman film which is just terrible. Either one of these films on their own could have been a favorite, or at least enjoyable yet flawed like “Man of Steel.” Instead it all feels rushed and I found myself face palming and sighing multiple times during this film. I didn’t care about the characters because we were never given time to, or in the case of Superman and his villains…they were so poorly written no amount of time could have fixed it.

The Ending – Superman dies but maybe isn’t dead, he sent Lois a ring proposing to her, Lex says a bigger bad is coming from beyond the stars and Wonder Woman and Batman work on forming the Justice League to honor Superman…None of this worked.

  This is a film that could have been great. Had we gotten a story that only involved “Batman v Superman” and was Snyder’s “Dark Knight Returns,” it would have been amazing! There would have been focus, there wouldn’t have been the baggage and clutter and the larger themes wouldn’t have become lost within this mess of a plot. I don’t recommend this film at all, Affleck is not reason enough to see this film, just wait until the stand alone “Batman” film is released. This film is loud, pointless and the good of Batman is not enough to offset the cluttered story, terrible villains and bland Superman. I seriously don’t recommend this film. Not worth your money or time. Zack Snyder should have just done his version of “The Dark Knight Returns” or done another solo Superman movie.

Final Score: 5 / 10 For the good Batman story in the mess.

Man of Steel (2013): Great Villain, Bland Leads and a World Worth Exploring

Man of Steel poster

   “Man of Steel” is a controversial film, and after seeing it I get why. This is a film that isn’t a favorite, but I didn’t hate it either. I found the main leads boring but I found the world they inhabited fascinating, and I did enjoy the villain a lot. I found the writing clunky but the cinematography and score helped counter that in some ways…this is film that I’m torn over a little bit and at the end of the day, I did enjoy…even if I’m not likely to see it again anytime soon. What lead me to checking out this film is I plan on reviewing “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice” soon and since that is a direct sequel to this film, I figured I should do my research and finally watch it.

      The film was directed by Zack Snyder and written by David Goyer and Christopher Nolan with the producers being Charles Roven and Deborah Snyer, Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas.

     The story involves the origin of Superman (Henry Cavill) in regards to his childhood and the fall of Krypton leading to General Zod (Michael Shannon) returning to Earth in order to shape the planet into a new Krypton.

  The Pros: The Cinematography – Amir Mokri does a fantastic job on the cinematography and shows us a dark world full of life and color. We see it in the adventures in the wilderness with Superman and at the beginning especially when alien Krypton and it’s destruction is shown to us.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer creates a masterful soaring score that really captures the promise of Superman and also the danger of the villains he faces. These are aliens who are as powerful as the best of humanity’s tech and the score captures the alienness of Krypton and those who come from it, even Superman.

The Universe – I like this Universe. I found Krypton very cool, from the High Council, the Military, the fact that people are raised to be in certain roles (creating a caste system) and how Jor-El’s heresy leads to Superman’s creation and also the destruction of Krypton’s people, culture and world as a whole. I also like how humanity fears Superman…it feels believable and from that Superman’s vulnerability and inability to really save people as he doesn’t understand his power fully.

Krypton – This is my third timing mention Krypton, but it is worth doing so. I loved Krpyton’s design and the technology on the planet as well as the mixture of biology and tech. This was a world that I wanted to spend more time in and would have watched and loved the movie if it just took place here and wasn’t about Superman at all until the very end.

Jor-El – Russell Crowe was great as Superman’s dad. He was easily the best actor in this and the writing for him felt the most natural. His personal relationship and rivalry with Zod was fantastic too and I like how they had a grudging respect for one another, even up until the end. They were equals and in the end both were destroyed because of it.

General Zod – Michael Shannon is awesome! I really want to see this guy in more films after this. This is a guy who could ham it up and have an aura of fear and crazy about it. He reminded me of Jeffrey Dean Morgan who played The Comedian in “Watchmen.” I wanted to know this character more and he truly felt like a threat the entire time. I got why Superman couldn’t save people and had to kill him, as long as this guy lived Earth would be under threat of total annihilation and he’d do it and could do it, even without his technology.

General Calvin Swanwick – Harry Lennix is great in everything I’ve seen him in. He gives character and depth to a role that would usually be stock in any other film (and was for all the Daily Planet folks and the Kents). I hope he’s in “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

Okay: Superman – Cavill is okay but he isn’t given the chance to show all that much depth. He’s sad and angry and we see him smile…once. I get being thoughtful but Cavill isn’t that great of an actor, thoughtful just ends up looking angry. He was one of the weakest but I at least got his motivation and his desire to look after those around him.

The Cons: Lois Lane – Lois Lane is a plot device in this. She is a living McGuffin that moves around plot points to advance the story. Poor Amy Adams…the one time she has a chance to do something (relationship with Superman) there isn’t any chemistry. She really wasn’t needed in this story and her role could be filled by anybody.

Perry White – Fishburne is a good actor but in here he is just a stock character type. The Daily Planet doesn’t really do anything and he like Lois Lane is there mostly to be saved by Superman….

Jonathan and Martha Kent – These two are the final stock types….there is paranoid Jonathan who wants Clark to keep his powers secret until he’s ready even if people die…and his Mom who is just kind of there and isn’t given anything to do. These folks felt like American^tm

Blatant Product Placement – Superman fights in the IHOP, used to work at the IHOP and over the course of the film there. This was super annoying and thankfully the action distracted from this because every time something came I couldn’t help but be annoyed…I get films need endorsements and money to be made, but this doesn’t have to “Transformers” level obvious.

      This is a deeply flawed but enjoyable movie. It makes me want to go back and check out other versions of the character from Bruce Timm’s version of the character, the original Superman of the films and even the very hated “Superman Returns.” I’ll admit he isn’t the guy I’m drawn to DC comics for. It is hard to tell a compelling Superman story as so much of what creates drama is the facing of adversity and if you are someone with only one weakness, it’s hard to create tension. In that way Superman is only as interesting as the world around him and I found the world around him in this fascinating, even if the character paled in comparison to the villain.

Final Score: 7.6 / 10