Category Archives: DC Movies

SHAZAM! – A SPOILER FREE Movie Review


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With the release of SHAZAM! it is very, very clear the powers that be charting the course of the DC Movie Universe have completely altered their direction. While the early offerings were dark, real-world and gritty, the latest films (Wonder Woman, Aquaman and, now, SHAZAM!) are wildly different in tone from the earlier offerings and from each other. This is not a bad thing at all and, if it accomplishes nothing else, it does set the DC movies apart from their Marvel counterparts.

SHAZAM! is a different creature from all of the mainstream superhero movies that precede it in that it embraces the nature of its story so completely and that nature is family. SHAZAM! is the first, true family superhero movie. And it works. Overtime.

Though it does not share the dark overtones of many of the DC films, it is clearly in the same universe and their are constant reminders of this fact. Telling the story of Billy Batson, a young foster child moved from home-to-home, SHAZAM! is also something of a superpowered homage to Tom Hanks’ classic BIG.

Billy receives magical powers from a wizard which turn him from a 15-year-old boy into a superpowered adult with untested and unknown abilities. Part of the fun of the film is watching Billy (Asher Angel) as Shazam (a terrific Zachary Levi) learn just what it is he can do. Aided by Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) , a foster child Billy meets in his latest home, Shazam learns he can fly, is amazingly strong and has “bullet immunity” among other things. The interplay between Angel and Grazer is almost as fun as the exchanges between Levi and Grazer, the constant being Jack Dylan Grazer. This kid is fun!

And so is the movie. With a plot line that tips its hat to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Monster, INC, Ghostbusters and Big, a wonderful turn by scenery-chewing Mark Strong as the unrepentantly evil Doctor Sivana and a major, last reel reveal that should delight even the most cynical among movie goers, SHAZAM! is a world of fun. Director David O. Sandberg leaned into the craziness that is the story of Shazam and that was absolutely the right decision. He also littered the movie with just enough fan service connecting it both to the DC movie universe and the comic book history of the title character.

Be sure you stick around for both post credit sequences. One is incredibly funny. The other is incredibly bizarre. Both fit SHAZAM! perfectly.

SHAZAM! receives FOUR AND A HALF MAGIC 8 BALLS out of a possible FIVE

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Aquaman – A Movie Review


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CaptureWith a charismatic lead, a globe trotting, byzantine plot and some truly creative and over-the-top visuals, Aquaman delivers one of the most entertaining and pure comic book-y superhero movies an audience is likely to get. Utterly embracing every element of the sometimes bizarre history (yes, history – the character has been around for over 75 years) of Aquaman, the movie gets just about everything right by not shying away from its source material. Aquaman does not try to make its hero anything other than what he is: a super strong dude who can breath underwater, who can swim really fast and who can talk to fish. Striking a perfect balance between silliness and outright silliness, Aquaman is exciting, fun and refreshing.

Jason Momoa makes a perfect, bro-inspired Aquaman and while this take may be a bit removed from the character as he is typically portrayed in the comics, Momoa’s performance works perfectly. His Arthur Curry is a man not on a mission, a man who has saved the world once (Justice League, anyone?) and a man who is happy to be left alone. While he is aware of his background as an Atlantean, he has no desire to explore it. Just get this guy a cold one and some quality time with his dad and he will be okay. Momoa has the character down as if he has been playing him for years and, should his screen appearances as Aquaman continue, his casting will likely be regarded as spot-on as that of Robert Downey, jr. as Iron Man. Momoa is that much at home as Aquaman.

The rest of the cast is more than up to supporting him, starting with Amber Heard’s Mera, an Atlantean herself who is more than a match for Momoa’s Arthur Curry. Heard is almost as fun to watch as Momoa, diving in her role with the same self aware smile and assurance that flavors the film. Her Mera is powerful and passionate and Heard is terrific in the role. When she is given some comedic notes to play, she is equally good and she and Momoa have a very nice chemistry.

Willem Dafoe and Nicole Kidman bring their acting pedigree and reputations to their roles as Vulko and Atlanta respectively. Both chew the appropriate scenery and lend the proceedings their stature. Seeing both of them de-aged by computer is remarkable. Dafoe, in particular, seems to have traveled as rough a road as the character he plays.

Of the many things Aquaman has going for it, its treatment of its villains is a cut above the typical, megalomaniacal adversaries comic book movies usually present. The performances turned in by Patrick Wilson as Ocean Master and Yahya Abdul Marteen II as Black Manta are terrific, sure, but the manner in which the story treats the villains is just as good. Motivations are clear. Plots are, too. They have objectives and both see themselves as the hero of the story. Further, they both have legitimate reasons for their hatred of Aquaman and their enmity is no stretch. This makes for satisfying conflict above the normal fare.

Director James Wan has created and visually stunning – if sometimes overwhelming – world in which Aquaman swims. The colors (from the odd day-glo choice of Mera’s hair) leap from the screen. The aquatic characters have life and depth and are interesting and amusing and the set pieces, particularly the one involving characters known as “The Trench” are as involving and frightening as anything in other comic book movies. Much like his cast, Wan embraced the form here and the movie is all the better for that choice.

One part Raiders of the Lost Ark, one part Romancing the Stone and all parts comic book movie, Aquaman is a romp the likes of which does not come around very often, especially in the increasingly cookie-cutter world of super hero movies. The cast is terrific. The action is engaging. The plot is fun.

If you cannot crack a smile or two during Aquaman, you might be taking life just a little too seriously, bro.

AQUAMAN receives FOUR and a HALF ANTHROPOMORPHIZED OCTOPI out of a possible FIVE

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Teen Titans Go! to the Movies – A Movie Review


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TeenLooking for some brilliant silliness? Looking for a laugh-out-loud time at the movies? Looking for a self-aware, self-conscious, self-skewering narrative? If the answer to any of the above questions is “yes,” Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is for you. Based on Teen Titans Go! which is, itself, based on a classic DC comic book, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies takes the barest of plots (Robin believes himself the only superhero who has not had a movie adaptation of his adventures and sets out to get one) and manages to fill 75 minutes with some truly inventive and involving, hilarious scenes.

For Robin to get a film, his friends (Beast Boy, Cyborg, Raven and Starfire) help him with two plots. The first, and most uproarious, is eminently logical: if there were no other superheroes, the powers that be in Hollywood would have to make a movie about Robin. If he is the only show in town, what choice would they have? Thus ensues a devilish skewering of the origins of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and others (the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?). This may well have been the high point of the movie and it is so very good that it warrants a second viewing.

The second idea the Titans posit is that, if Robin had an archenemy, then he would be A-list enough to inspire a film. To that end, the Titans try to make an enemy out of Deathstroke the Terminator – a name not particularly kid friendly. It is changed to Slade in the television show (as Deathstroke’s civilian name is Slade Wilson) and the movie follows suit. One of the best running gags of the film is that the Titans consistently mistake Slade for Deadpool. Since Deadpool was most likely based on Deathstroke (you can read about that here if you choose… it is a pretty twisty story), this joke is all the more fun.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is fun overall. There are terrific voice performances (including Nicholas Cage as Superman and, if you do not get the significance of that one, here is another piece for you to enjoy) and the movie goes down incredibly easily. There is much for adults to marvel at (pun intended) while the kids laugh at fart jokes and, frankly, the fart jokes themselves are highly entertaining, too.

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies was one of my favorite movies of the late summer. Go see it. Sit back, relax and let the silliness and meta-humor wash over you. You will be glad you did.

Boo-yah! Bravo, Warner Animation!

TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES receives FIVE WAFFLES out of a possible FIVE

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Justice League: A (Spoiler Free) Movie Review


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justice-league-poster-fandango

Batman smiles!

But more on that later…

If one were to peruse my prior reviews of DC movies, one would find that I have been far more generous in my appraisal of their quality than widespread opinion has been. I have also enjoyed them more, it seems, than much of the movie-going public (though, for the negative reputations these movies have, someone is seeing them – they make a lot of dough!). It should come as no surprise, then, that I very much enjoyed Justice League. There is a Seven Samurai, bring the heroes together quality to the film that is intentional and that works very, very well. Each of the five (six?) heroes of the Justice League are spotlighted quite nicely as they determine whether or not to band together against, you know, ultimate evil.

Let us begin with that self-same ultimate evil. The glaring disappointment in the movie is Steppenwolf, the antagonist whose actions bring together the League. Like many (most?) superhero movies, Justice League has a difficult time establishing Steppenwolf as more than a powerful force bent on destroying the world. He is powerful. He might destroy the world. His motivation beyond that is murky as is the CGI that realizes him on screen. There are some breathtaking CGI scenes in Justice League – very cool, very fun visualizations. Steppenwolf, unfortunately, is not one of them. He is just another generic, superhero movie villain with very little, visually or otherwise, to distinguish him.

The members of the League itself, however? Not generic. At all.

Justice League has a tonally different feel from the prior movies of the DC universe. Where those movies, in my opinion, delved surprisingly deeply into the implications of heroes living in the “real world” and the ramifications of their presence, Justice League end-runs any significant thematic rumblings in favor of save-the-world dynamics. And the dynamics are engaging, exciting and fun.

Batman (Ben Affleck having much fun in the cowl) knows something is coming for the Earth. He learned this at the end of Batman v Superman and he is aware that his actions have left the earth vulnerable, aware that Superman’s death is, at least partially, his responsibility. He and Wonder Woman (the again terrific Gal Gadot) embark on a quest to bring together other meta-humans to face the coming crisis. These are the meta-humans Batman and Wonder Woman learned of from Lex Luthor’s jump drive in Batman v Superman and the fun kicks into high gear when the team starts to come together.

Say what you wish about Zack Snyder as a director. I believe it is difficult to fault his casting choices. Jason Momoa (Aquaman), Ezra Miller (the Flash) and Ray Fisher (Cyborg) are all terrific and bring much to the party. Miller’s Barry Allen is a particular delight and he had a challenging task to differentiate himself from Grant Gustin’s popular turn as the Flash on television. His performance more than does that. He is hilarious and endearing. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is the surprising heart of the movie and the depths that could be mined with the character point to great potential. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman has a bit more going on than the tough-guy images shared in the previews might suggest. Individually they are good.

Together, they are great.

The fun of Justice League is found in the well drawn interplay among the leaguers. Director Zack Snyder, writer Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, who came into the movie very late in the process (and it is very difficult to tell where Whedon picked up from where Snyder left off) know that their stars will carry the day, so much so that the plot of the movie, which is more than serviceable, is less important than the players. It is difficult to single out any combination of the Leaguers as the best combination and that is a credit to cast and director.

If the DC movies (save the almost universally well received Wonder Woman) have been bleak, humorless, gray and meandering, Justice League set out to and succeeded in rising above those critiques. The movie begins briskly and does not take its foot off the gas until the final stinger scene (at the far end of the credits… stick around, people). It is rumored that Warner Bros. mandated a running time of no more than two hours. While I would have loved to have seen a bit more (and a long run time may have addressed some of the Steppenwolf issues), I understand the choice. And it works.

Justice League is a big, fun, superhero team origin story. It is a story of redemption for Batman who lightens up in this one, who cracks jokes and smiles and, through whom, perhaps the upcoming DC movie slate is changed. Future DC movies are well positioned following Justice League.

And, hey, let’s get Justice League II on the schedule.

Now, that the team is in place, I want to see what happens next.

JUSTICE LEAGUE receives FOUR AND A HALF BAT SMILES out of a possible FIVE.

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Wonder Woman – A Movie Review


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Wonder Woman Poster

 

 

Epic. Beautiful. Compelling. Inspiring.

Surely there are more adjectives with which to describe the cinematic triumph that is Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, but we will begin with these.

Wonder Woman is truly an epic movie with roots going back far further than the character’s 75 year publishing history. The origin story told here in succinct and touching fashion, connects Diana of Themyscira to a centuries long tradition of Greek gods and goddesses, to an island that truly looks like paradise and to the Amazons whose dichotomy of love and war is brilliantly realized. Diana’s story unfolds as we encounter her at three critical stages of her life and learn that the life she believes she is leading may not actually be the life she actually is leading. Brilliant actors led by Connie Neilson as Hippolyta, Diana’s mother and queen of the Amazons, and Robin Wright as Antiope, Hippolyta’s second-in-command and Diana’s guardian, populate Themyscria, the Paradise Island of Diana’s birth. Please, American cinema, give us more strong women characters like these. Confident, fully developed and realized, capable and compassionate, the Amazons are exactly the kind of wise and peaceful people from which Wonder Woman would come. These are not women to be trifled with or to underestimate. These are warrior woman who have retreated from a world too infused with violence.

The epic nature of this movie begins here, in this first act which plays so wonderfully it is over before the audience realizes how terrific it is, and that tone is set for all that is to come. There is something special going on in this movie. Something larger than summer popcorn fare.

Into that reality falls Chris Pine’s Captain Steve Trevor. Pine is best known as Captain Kirk from the rebooted Star Trek movie, but there is no vestige of his Kirk performance here. Pine is terrific and serves as something of the lens through which the audience encounters Wonder Woman. Our understanding of who she is grows along with his own. Trevor’s reaction is one part awe, one part incredulity as he learns who this beautiful Wonder Woman is. The relationship that develops between them is believable and touching, much like the movie itself.

Beautiful is the correct adjective to describe Gal Gadot and her portrayal of Wonder Woman. Yes, the Israeli super model turned actress is gorgeous (and the movie easily and confidently has some fun with this reality as opposed to ignoring it – bravo Patty Jenkins!) but the character is beautiful both inside and out. Gadot was the best reviewed thing in Batman V Superman and she commands this movie.

Her Diana is intelligent, gracious, strong and confident. She is the epitome of power. She is driven by kindness. She is enchanting and wise. Gadot’s performance is so spot-on that is it impossible to imagine anyone else playing the character. Think of how well Robert Downey, jr embodies Iron Man or Johnny Depp Jack Sparrow. That is the type of mastery Gadot effortlessly exhibits in the role.

It is a good thing Gadot is as good as she is because the supporting actors of the piece, Lucy Davis, Danny Huston and David Thelwis to name three, are very strong here as is Elena Ayana as Doctor Maru. Davis’ Etta Candy is great fun and Ayana’s Maru is tragically drawn. Thelwis and Huston tower over the proceedings whenever they are on screen. They lend it the epicness the piece deserves.

The three act, three location structure of the film is something of a call-back to Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (Krypton, Kansas, Metropolis and Themyscira, London, Germany) and the design serves the movie well. One scene in particular is a moving homage to Superman: The Movie that is sure to delight whether audiences note the resonance or not. Wonder Woman also owes something else to the 1978 movie – it owes its spirit.

Wonder Woman is just as compelling as Superman and more propulsive. The movie is ever moving forward to a goal, just like its main character. Diana knows her mission and sets out to accomplish it. The film does, too and Jenkins spends just enough time on each scene and in each location to keep the movie tight. Wonder Woman is the type of motion picture that audiences are going to want to see again.

As a character, Wonder Woman was initially created as an inspiration for young women to give them a character with whom they could connect much like young men had Superman and Batman. Throughout her history (and famously during the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s), Wonder Woman has been correctly co-opted as inspiration to women of all ages. More recently, she has been cast as an inspiration for peace. Amazingly, this movie honors all of those instincts in a conclusion that is perfect for this particular superhero movie and would be wholly out of place in any other. It is an inspiring ending to a moving  and inspiring film.

Wonder Woman is a movie that wears its metaphorical heart on its sleeve because it understands it must. It wears its heart on its sleeve because it understands its main character. It wears its heart on its sleeve because it understands it is okay to mean something even in a summer, superhero movie.

Wonder Woman stands for something important. It knows it can be an important film. It has a message to share. It does not shy away from the soul of its main character.

And it is all the better for those choices.

It is, from direction to star to execution, all but perfect. It is wonderful and I am eager to see it again.

WONDER WOMAN receives an unreserved FIVE GOLDEN LASSOS out of a possible FIVE.

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And They Will Come Together – Unite the League


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The trailer for this year’s Justice League movie is here and it’s pretty damn good! It’s been online for about 2 hours as I write this so, surely, the complaints are about to roll in about it being too dark, too moody, too bleak…, but let’s enjoy it right now for what it is: a terrific preview which I hope indicates a terrific movie.

Justice League Logo.gif

Oh, and note that early production materials were using the phrase “Unite the Seven.” Current materials say “Unite the League.”

And there is no mention of a certain Man of Steel anywhere…

For a deeper dive, here is last summer’s New York Comic Con footage as well…

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The LEGO Batman Movie – A Movie Review


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lego-batman-movieRemember when someone said to you “you’ve got to go see the LEGO Movie…it’s so crazy … it’s so funny” and you thought “LEGO Movie? Are you kidding?”

And then you saw it and couldn’t stop laughing.

The LEGO Batman Movie is the follow up to the whacked out LEGO adventure and, while it is not as breathtakingly fresh nor as side-splittingly funny as its predecessor, it is a worthy successor and a must see for any Batman fan with a sense of humor.

Will Arnett has created this singular version of Batman – an egotistical loner who believes that only alone can he do what he is meant to do and that is to save Gotham City. If, along the way, he can write and perform a few death metal songs, eat some Lobster Thermidore and kick some villains’ bricks, so much the better. Arnett is hilarious as Batman and, if you take kids to see this movie, get ready for them to imitate his over-the-top cadence and delivery (based on the ridiculous Christian Bale Batman voice) for days to come. In fact, try to keep yourself from doing imitating it. That is quite a challenge.

The story hinges on a the idea that Batman is such a loner, he will not recognize any relationship in his life, not with faithful Alfred (a wonderful Ralph Finnes), not with new ward Dick Grayson (the ageless John Cera) and not with his longtime enemy the Joker (an uproarious Zach Galifianakas). When the Joker realizes that Batman does not view the Clown Prince of Crime as his arch enemy, he concocts a plan no one could ever have seen coming: he bands together with villains from… well, I will not spoil the fun, let us say he bands together with villains never before seen in a Batman movie. The results are stunningly funny.

There are hilarious detours along the way: all filmed incarnations of Batman have a moment, Superman: The Movie is surprisingly and lovingly homaged, Tom Hardy’s Bane voice is parodied, Billy Dee Williams returns as Two Face, we discover Batman is a rom-com fan (and thanks so much to the Jerry Maguire folks!), we have two terrific musical numbers and more and more.

The movie is psychotic. The movie is loud and colorful. The movie is inspired.

Do not expect it to make much sense and do not look for complex through lines. Do look for fun and explosive visuals. Do look for excitement. Do look for fun.

Though it misses the boat on not having Ralph Finnes voice a very familiar villain (and what a miss that was!) and the second act gets a little bogged down and loses its way for a few moments, the overall movie is well worth your time. Lighthearted and fun, The LEGO Batman Movie is truly enjoyable.

 

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE receives FOUR AND A HALF LEGO BRICKS out of a possible FIVE. 

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