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Shazaam! Movie Review (No Spoilers)

DC/Warner Brothers has done a shift towards more light-hearted entertainment and they went to the kid/superhero Shazaam with their latest release.

It’s a pretty big shift, one that began (arguably) with Wonder Woman and continued with Aquaman.  Overall, it’s a shift I appreciate because, well, I’ll admit I detested their grimdark approach from before.

So how does it work?  Well… it’s complicated.  On the one hand, the actors involved do a fantastic job.  Zach Levi totally sells his role as the titular superhero/kid.  The kid actors, too, do fantastic jobs.   Same for everyone else, they play their roles brilliantly and some of the side characters are positively awesome, feeling far more real than anything else and therefore reinforcing the suspension of disbelief.

On the other hand… holy crap is the opening dark.  I was actually getting pretty uncomfortable with it and starting to wonder if I’d been sold a humorous superhero movie cover on another grimdark Zach Snyder flick.  It got better, but given the tone and theme of the rest of the movie, they could have cut that whole section out or done it as a flashback.  The villain, too, is a dark, vengeful type totally at odds with the lighthearted tone of other parts of the movie.  He didn’t really fit, nor did some of the CGI.  I mean, it was cool to see… but it was also pure nightmare fodder for kids.

Which brings me back around to some of the branding.  They marketed it as a family movie, but I won’t be bringing my kid to it (I nearly did and now I’m glad I didn’t).  It’s not just some of the violence & CGI (which are both borderline for what I’d feel appropriate for young kids), but there’s some themes on family that are really, really dark for young kids to take in.

They’re mostly done well.  There’s no promises that are made by the story that aren’t paid off (sometimes in heartbreaking fashion).  The story is tight enough and flows pretty well from scene to scene, with no moments jumping out as not fitting.  There’s a few loose ends and some things you just have to make assumptions on (or just sort of ignore as being sequel material or something they didn’t have time to wrap up).  But those are minor things.

The humor is awesome.  There aren’t any jokes that fall flat and it all works organically.  The kinds of humor that would naturally come from the ridiculous situation.  Once it gets going, the movie is a whole lot of fun.

There’s a bit of awkward wording, some lines just don’t make sense in the context of what’s happening in the rest of the movie.  It’s either the CGI not matching up to the scenes or editing having changed what happened.  They’re small things, though, and easily overlooked with everything else going on.

All in all, though, it’s a fun movie.  It’s not one I’m going to go see again in theaters, but I will be buying a copy.  It’s also, as I said, not one I’ll be showing my son until he’s a bit older.  It passes the fun bar, it’s almost on track to match Marvel’s movie franchise, except for that whole darkness at the beginning.

 

 

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Paging Captain Marvel: Captain Marvel Movie Review (Spoiler-free)

Like many people, I’m sure, I’ve been buried with advertisements and tons of social media commentary about Captain Marvel.   Some people are gushing because “squee female hero” and others are screaming it’ll be horrible and the advertisements make it look dumb.

Political commentary by talking heads and actors aside… well, it’s a Marvel movie, so I figured I’d want to see it anyway… despite all the hype, advertisements, and stupid crap people are saying about the movie.

And I’m glad I did.  It’s first and foremost, a Marvel movie.  It follows the same formula of their origin story movies and it does it fairly well.  Despite what hype might say, it’s not all that groundbreaking.  The CGI is great, the action is solid, the humor is there to highlight and accentuate, but isn’t the main theme of the movie.  It’s a movie about a hero finding herself.

It’s also one of the strongest heroes we’ve seen so far, with the power equivalent to (or maybe even exceeding) DC’s Superman.  There’s challenges that come with telling a story of a hero that powerful, and by and large, the writers pull it off.  We get to see Captain Marvel being strong and smashing stuff, but also trying to figure things out and learn who she really is.  We also get to see normal (or at least, merely mortal) humans taking on aliens who are far out of their league and it was pretty refreshing.  There’s lots of scenes in a variety of these movies of awesome heroes taking on superhuman threats and looking cool while doing it, there’s far fewer of regular people standing up to those threats with nothing more than bravery and their own cleverness.  They did a good job with that in this one.

There were a few twists and turns with the story, many of them are foreshadowed heavily enough that you can sort of see them coming, but there’s a couple things done for humor that are pretty well set up.  For as awesomely powerful Marvel is, I wish they showed her struggling with controlling her power a bit more, especially around us fragile humans.

The setting is mostly believable, though they laid some things on a bit thick.  I think the messaging was a little too ham-handed in parts, I’m not sure if that was the way certain villains were portrayed or just that they didn’t take the time to explain more of the background.  The ending was a bit rushed, too, but I’m not sure how the movie could have ended much differently given the setup.

It’s not my favorite Marvel movie, but it’s got it’s moments and there are a couple of great scenes.  Could it stand on its own?  Now that I couldn’t say.  Captain Marvel doesn’t have the same emotional grab to as broad an audience as other Marvel characters.  Iron Man started the franchise with a complex character with numerous flaws, a talented, brilliant, selfish, arrogant man who had lots of room to grow.  He was a character with his own inner demons to face and a story of arrogance and personal failures that basically drove the plot of the movies all the way up through the first Avengers.

Captain Marvel has power, but I don’t think she has that same resonance… or maybe I’m just not the target audience for that resonance.  She’s strong, she’s confident, but she’s too perfect.  She doesn’t have those flaws that mere humans can see as reflections of their own.  Her moments of awesome in the movie were cool… but there was never a moment where I felt I really resonated with the character.  Some of the side characters, absolutely.  There’s a side character who was far more dynamic and whose heroism (for the relatively short screen time she had) was fantastic.  I found myself wanting to see more of her than the main character.

Overall, it was fun.  There was plenty of dramatic tension to the fight scenes.  There were high stakes and the movie answered questions about the universe and opened up a whole new range of other ones.  Oddly enough, they’ve set themselves up for sequels to a prequel without really spoiling too much.  I enjoyed it, despite all the hype.  If you’re on the fence, I recommend seeing it for yourself.  Take what you’ve heard with a grain of salt and just see the movie.

 

King of the Seas: Aquaman Movie Review (no spoilers)

I watched Aquaman last night.  I’ve got to say, I haven’t been this hyped up about a DC movie in… well, ever.  Which is pretty amusing considering Aquaman has been sort of a joke for a long, long time.

The movie manages to live up to that hype.  It’s fun, it’s got good action, an understandable plot, and motivations for the characters that actually make sense.  They do a great job showing Aquaman’s character, in little things he does, not just the big dumb hero stuff of saving the world.  Some of it is sort of check the box, (save the nuns, check, save the trapped guy, check), but a lot of that stuff is cliche for a reason: it shows that he actually cares enough about people to risk himself to save people caught in the middle of his battles.

There’s a whole lot of comic book technology/magic.  It’ll make your head hurt if you think about it, so just eat your popcorn and enjoy it.  The other thing that rubbed me raw was the 2-3 minute pause to lecture about environmentalism.  Okay, I got it, it’s going to be a priority for the people (mer-people?  Atlanteans?) involved.  However, maybe instead of pushing issues that we’ve actually fixed in the past fifty years, you could focus on real environmental issues like illegal fishing trawlers that are pushing fish to extinction?  Oh, wait, those are Chinese fishing trawlers and WB doesn’t want to risk the Chinese market for the movie, so that won’t make the screen.

The movie glossed over some of the who’s who,  as well.  We get that the “fishermen” and the “brine” kingdoms don’t want to fight.  They’re also fish people and crabs, apparently, with no mention of how or why they evolved that way, while the Atlanteans somehow stayed as they were.  It didn’t need a ton of exposition, and I’ll admit, it all looked cool, but a bit more about what happened that they all changed so much might have been good.  Same for the Trench, though the sahuaghin-like creatures obviously couldn’t talk for themselves, it would have been nice to know what drove them so crazy (maybe the pressure, maybe they made pacts with cthuluoid entities, who knows?)

But by and large, the movie had good pacing and a plot you could follow.  Mamoa’s Aquaman shows moments of intelligence and compassion (two features sadly lacking in other DC movies).  I found myself on the edge of my seat for some of the movie because they actually made you care about the characters and there were a couple of times that I had no idea how they were going to get out of situations.  The underwater fight scenes are epic, the underwater cities are pretty epic, too.  There’s a bit too much shaky-cam at times, but I could still follow the action.

There’s also a lot of homages to the inspirations of the comic books.  There’s a HP Lovecraft book, Jules Verne references, and enough references and asides to make geeks, well, geek out.  They were little things, but the fact that they were there suggested a lot of thought went into the movie.

All in all, I’ll put it up as the best of the DC movies, hands down better than Wonder Woman and so much better than Batman v Superman and Justice League that it’s almost comical.  This is the sort of movie they should have done from the beginning, with a lead actor who’s given a bit of free reign to make his character his, to own it and add in his own humor.  Make no mistake, this movie succeeded because it embraced the weirdness that is an underwater kingdom and a superhero who swims well and can talk to fish.  They played that up for the ladies with a leading man who was eye-candy, but they also gave him the freedom as an actor to include his humor and swagger, and his performance felt far more human than the walking, talking, statues we had in Batman V Superman.

This was a fun, enjoyable movie.  It was good enough that I plan to see it a second time.  There’s nothing about the movie that startles or amazes, it was just a solid, fun movie.  I very much recommend seeing it in theaters, too, if for no other reason than to really enjoy the special effects.  A step in the right direction by DC, and I hope they’ll continue this with Zach Levi in the upcoming Shazaam.

Solo Movie Review

As the year has been pretty busy, I didn’t get to see Solo while it was still in theaters.  To be clear, I didn’t approach this movie expecting it to be the best Star Wars movie ever.  I wanted something fun and light-hearted, something to distract and entertain.  And coming away from it, that’s what I got.

It is fun, fast paced, and it’s got enough action and characterization that you come to care about the characters involved.  The movie went through extensive rewrites and reshoots when Ron Howard took over.  You can pretty much identify, scene by scene, where his influence is.  The actors, action, and plot move along comfortably.  Other sections lag behind a bit and there’s a much more campy feel.

The story has plot-holes you could drive a Star Destroyer through and additions to the Star Wars setting that range from interesting to asinine.  But it moves along well, the acting isn’t bad at all, and it passes the bar of being *fun* if a little bit of a stretch at times.  It feels very rushed.  Solo goes from a street rat to an “experienced” smuggler in the course of a movie.  Sections of the ending were clearly in the campier/more humorous tone rather than the grimmer, darker tone of other parts of the movie.  This would have made a better TV series than a standalone movie.

Solo is a movie that didn’t do well not because it wasn’t a decent movie, but because of the disappointment that fans had with The Last Jedi (and that in itself is a can of worms I’m not going to open right now, but you can read my review of TLJ ).  It’s also a movie that didn’t necessarily need to be made and which answers questions most of us don’t have.  We don’t need to know where Han got his blaster or his dice, or why he likes the YT 1300 Corellian Freighter.  There was a perfectly good novel series that covered all that, once upon a time.  It’s not to say the actors or director did a bad job.  They didn’t. There were sections where I was caught up in “young” Han’s story… but again, it’s a story that didn’t need to be told.  It was entertaining and fun along the way, but I wish the focus had been more on the story itself, rather than an origin story for Han.  I wish there’d been more characterization.  More ties to a greater universe, instead of the barrage of homages to the original trilogy.

Not a Hero Movie Review: Venom

I watched Venom this weekend and as it’s SF related (more or less), I thought I’d leave a review.

They spend a lot of time showing that Venom/Eddie Brock isn’t a “hero.”  At the same time, they spend an inordinate amount of time trying to make you empathize with him.  It works, it’s not badly done, but as with a certain scene in the movie, “He doth protest too much.”

The action is fast and relatively easy to follow, there’s very little of the shaky-cam that ruined so many action movies.  The humor is good.  The story is… okay.  It’s standard comic-book level.  The science could be worse.

It’s overall a solid movie.  I Iike Venom/Eddie Brock as a character.  There’s lots of potential to move on, and the weakness of hunger is pretty interesting.  There was a moment in the movie where I was really interested by the potential implications of certain things.

My wife and I came away from it with really nothing to talk about, oddly enough.  They didn’t do anything bad.  Everything was good enough that I didn’t really have any real complaints.  The bad guy was solidly evil.  The good guy had enough empathy scenes that you can go along with him doing some horrid things.  There’s a few nonsensical things, like where he brutally beats down some cops (slamming a few through concrete walls and throwing some twenty feet or more), only to hold back Venom from eating one of them (dude, you just killed all of them anyway…)

Those scenes aside, there’s nothing that didn’t really work.  The bad guy was totally creepy.  The good guy was sufficiently fun.  Tom Hardy can’t do a Brooklyn accent.  It’s a good movie for a night out.  I’d recommend it, but it’s a fairly mindless action movie where the good guy is willing to do some really horrid things (but you forget about them, because most happen off scene).  Is it worth seeing in theaters?  That’s for you to decide.

 

A Worthy Evolution: The Predator Movie Review

Hey everyone.  I went and saw The Predator this weekend.  It’s getting rather mixed reviews, so I thought I’d put in my own two cents.

You know the scene in Ant Man, where Luis  is explaining something and it rambles everywhere and doesn’t make a lot of sense, but is probably the best part of the movie?  That’s Shane Black’s The Predator.   It’s fast, it rambles, there’s scenes & dialogue that you think are going somewhere and end up going off on a tangent instead… and it’s a lot of fun on the way.

I’ll note that I didn’t give The Predator a very high bar to success.  It had to be better than the last Alien vs Predator movie (which was about as bad as dousing my eyeballs with lime).  It surpassed that by a wide margin.   In fact, I’ll rate it as one of my favorite movies this year.

There were a ton of 80’s references in the movie, everything from “get to the choppas” to the fact that the movie opened with no previews, it went straight into the movie sort of like movies *used* to do.

The humor was good, the characters were just strong enough that you could root for them without having to worry about a lot of angst as they died.  The Group 2 military folks were… well, very accurate in a lot of ways, from the inter-service rivalries to the fact that they dealt with horrible situations with dark humor and an unwillingness to give up.

The action was over-the-top and in some ways, just totally unbelievable.  But it worked with the overall story.  The Stargazer project boss was sufficiently crazy and evil that after a first couple scenes with him, you know he’s going to die horribly and you’re actually rooting for a predator as he dismantles his henchmen.

There’s some story and plot elements that either weren’t made clear enough or that they could have spent some time on… but I’ll accept the hand-wave in a combination of (very) unreliable narrator and the limits of the movie.  There’s details that we don’t need to know and that Shane Black streamlined the movie is obvious.  The couple of scenes where we get a break from the relentless pace are used to establish characterization and to add depth to the movie.

I’ve got a couple of complaints as far as the use of actors.  Yvonne Stahovoski’s character was almost criminally underused.  She’s a fantastic actress and I would have like to see more of her.  Olivia Munn’s scientist was a bit too much of a bad-ass for her background, but she pulled it off well enough.

Story wise, I felt like it was a combination of Lethal Weapon and Predator, with the gritty buddy-cop feel to the two lead military characters.  Which worked very well for me, especially with the blend of humor.  The references to 80’s and 90’s action movies were great.  I feel like it needed a scene with Danny Glover sitting on a toilet saying “I’m getting too old for this shit,” but other than that, I think it was far more “predator” than the last few movies in that vein.

The ending, too, sets the stage for a sequel I’d actually like to see, with humans using and adapting alien tech.  I don’t want to spoil anything here, but I definitely think it’s a great ending (even if they jump ahead missing some key details on how they got there).

The movie is surprisingly pro-military and at the same time, very anti-authority.  The ‘authorities’ have private mercenaries and conduct experiments and authorize murders and false-imprisonment of innocent people.  The actual military members we see are trustworthy, work hard, and sacrifice everything to do what’s right, even when they know they’re going up against something they can’t defeat.  There was a lot of the Aliens vibe from the “military” characters in this one, and I really liked that.

So don’t believe all the internet rage and certainly don’t judge the movie based on the critic reviews.  It’s crazy, it’s messy, but man is this movie a whole lot of fun.  So loosen your tie, sit back, and just enjoy the ride.

Movie Review: Ant Man and the Wasp

As things go, Ant Man and the Wasp was exactly the movie I needed to see.   If you’re a fan of the Marvel movies, or even if you aren’t, it’s fun, fast paced, and humorous.  The risks are dire and personal, this isn’t a movie where they’re fighting an alien of ridiculous power and strength.  These are people dealing with problems that make sense (even if some of those problems involve quantum mechanics).

It’s a movie that doesn’t hesitate to use humor to diffuse a tense situation and where the nonsensical is an acceptable route for problem-solving.  It rewards the audience for paying attention.  It also does a great job of showing that super-powers don’t necessarily solve problems and often times makes things more complicated.  It does all that without being preachy or boring, while still giving you enough time to process everything that’s happened.

And yeah, it ties into the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Captain America Civil War and Infinity War.  At this point, I’m having a difficult time thinking of a movie they haven’t done well enough to be entertaining.  Ant Man and the Wasp is fun, engaging, and there’s enough interesting emotional and “real” world problems that I really found myself on the edge of my seat.  So if you haven’t already seen it, go watch it already.