Shazam! – A Movie Review

If you’re looking for a family-friendly entry to the cinematic DC universe, Shazam! is your ticket!  Lighthearted, funny, and full of positive messages, this film will appeal to kids and adults alike.

That being said, I didn’t think it was all that great.

Let me explain why.

First of all, I would like to say that Zachary Levi absolutely shined in Shazam!  Like Paul Rudd, there is something unarguably likable about this man, so he proved the perfect actor for the role.  Levi’s a big fella which made him more than capable of filling the hero’s boots, but he’s also got a playful side to him that allowed the audience to believe there’s a teenage boy  in there.

Furthermore, the children acting in this film were wonderful, too, especially the two leads, Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer.  These two young men were really fun to watch in action.  They also have a foster family other children, all of whom were distinct and entertaining in their own right.  The script and the actors did a nice job of keeping these young characters both charming and likable.

Lastly, I’ve got to rave about the costume.  When the still first came out, folks were bashing the Shazam costume.  Let me tell you — it looks great on film.  I think it may be my favorite super hero costume yet to grace the big screen.  It’s modern yet classic, streamlined yet flashy, warm yet very, very cool.  Much of the film takes place in the daylight, so you really get to see it in all its glory.  Whatever team created that costume should be proud.

However, I do have some issues with the film.

My biggest complaint is that you’ve already seen the best parts.  The didn’t save anything for the actual film — they gave you all the best stuff in the trailers.  The best lines, the best jokes, the best “wow” moments … you’ve seen them all already.  That really disappointed me.

Also, it took way too long for Zachary Levi to arrive.  The movie starts with a focus on the villain, and it’s a good twenty minutes before we even get to Shazam.  Once Levi appears things liven up quite a bit, but it took awhile to get there.

Finally, the resolution is pretty apparent early in the film.  You probably guessed this from the trailers, but the focus on family is a driving force of the plot.  This isn’t a bad thing–not at all–but it also didn’t offer much else.

In fact, that’s Shazam’s greatest misstep.  There are no goose-bump moments.  When Wonder Woman climbed out of that trench and charged the enemy — goose-bumps.  When Arthur Curry walked out of the waterfall in the Aquaman costume — goose-bumps.  When Superman and Batman stood toe to toe for the first time ever on film — many, many goose-bumps!  Shazam! didn’t have a moment like that.  Shazam’s journey in the film has been done hundreds of times before.

Of course, I don’t think I’m the target audience for this movie.  Shazam has always been aimed at kids.  What fourteen-year-old doesn’t fantasize about being a big, strong, independent adult?  I’m really excited to see what my students think of Shazam!  Will it appeal to their sensibilities more than mine?  We’ll see.  After all, the entire plot really revolves around two teenage boys along with their foster brothers and sisters.

If you’re looking for a fairly innocent family film, though, this could be for you.  There is a little bit of profanity, so be warned, and I’m told there is one violent moment that struck my friends as tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film.  Apparently, this occurred while I was in the bathroom.  I’d have no problem taking my ten-year-old to it, but I would probably keep my six-year-old out due to language and some scary monsters.

So while Zachary Levi is really fun to watch, and while there are some very funny moments, I’m afraid the best parts of Shazam! were already shown during the trailers.

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The New Joker Trailer Proved Me Wrong

Did you know they are making a standalone Joker movie?

Truthfully, when I first heard about this film, it sparked not one bit of interest from me for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I believe the Joker is one of those characters that exists best on the fringes.  The less we know about him, the better.  The Dark Knight nailed his character by telling us virtually nothing about him.  To devote an entire movie to his origin, I thought, would weaken his character and provide too little content.

Secondly, I’m one of the few people who really enjoyed Jared Leto’s take on the Joker.  I’m not yet ready to cast that Joker aside in favor of this new one.  I appreciated Leto’s Joker because it was both classic and unique at the same time.  I’ve never encountered a Joker quite like that, yet his look struck me as comfortably familiar as well.  The contradictory interpretation suited Joker nicely.

Furthermore, I heard rumors that this Joker would not connect to any of the other DC movies and would, for all intents and purposes, be a standalone in an alternate reality.  Now listen, I’m a fan of the DC Multiverse.  I’ve often said that Warner Brothers needs to lean into this concept and really play up the Earth 1, Earth 2, etc. concept.  Fans would easily be able to grasp it.  However, the initial description of the movie didn’t sound like the Joker at all.  For example, they gave him a name, Arthur Fleck, and placed him in the 1980s.  Worst of all, it was said he would just be a failed comedian who loses his mind and dons the makeup.  No mention of Batman.  It’s been argued that Batman is the driving motivator of Joker’s mayhem, especially because it was partly Batman’s fault that the Joker fell into the vat of chemicals resulting in his madness.

All of these things deterred me from thinking I would like this movie.

And then, this morning, the first trailer dropped.  If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look …

I was wrong.

Totally.

Utterly.

Completely.

Wrong.

They are doing everything it takes to completely win over my interest, and that’s by giving me the totally unexpected.  I did not anticipate the unsettling tone regarding Fleck’s descent into madness.  And though I knew Joaquin Phoenix could act, I did not think he’d deliver such a disturbed character.  I could not predict changing the Joker’s “look,” though ever so subtly,  would render him even more terrifying.  They have captured something with Joker, something profoundly … creepy.

This trailer validates taking the film into a remote part of the DC Universe.  While you could argue the fact that this movie doesn’t even have to be the Joker, it could be any clown-based criminal, the fact that it is an iteration of the classic villain makes it all the more ominous.

After all, we know just how awful the Joker really is.  We know that this Fleck character is destined to become one of the most evil fictional villains in pop culture.  Watching him get beaten up and kicked by life time after time after time in the trailer’s short time span really strikes a nerve because we know that many of our mass murderers were similarly bullied in life.

Which leads me to my only real concern about Joker.  Because it’s so clearly detached from the other DC movies, I don’t mind the thorough exploration of his origin.  I actually think it’s totally appropriate to display every single life-altering tragedy that drives a man into criminal insanity in this context.  However, I am worried that they are going to make him sympathetic or even an anti-hero.  I don’t want to feel bad for the Joker, and I say this because he is so heinous.  Mind you, I’m generally not against villains being sympathetic.  But Joker?  No, we can never feel sad for the Joker.  (Of course, Joker has proven me wrong in every other facet, so it will probably do so again in this case as well.)

Joker seems to have tapped into something very special.  It’s unafraid, primal treatment of such a visceral character appears to be creating a film full of raw, unflinching emotion.  I know it certainly struck a nerve with me.  What do you think?  Let me know in the comments.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE

Aquaman – A Movie Review

If you’re looking for a classic hero’s quest story with incredibly innovative special effects and a great sense of fun, Aquaman is for you.

Jason Momoa absolutely shines in this third appearance as Arthur Curry.  He seems to be having a blast, which brings a certain level of mirth and joy to a character typically not known for such attributes.  His Aquaman is brash, tough, a smart-mouth, physical, and arrogant, yet Momoa plays him with such a subtle sense of nobility and goodness that you can’t deny his charisma.  Watching Momoa play Aquaman alone makes the movie worth checking out.  He’s having such a great time that we can’t help but join in the fun.

However, if you’re a fan of the classic hero’s quest story, Aquaman will delight you as well.  With a name like Arthur, the search for a mystical weapon, and a right to the throne, it’s almost a given that a hero’s quest must ensue.  I love that they did not shy away from Aquaman’s obvious similarities to the legend of King Arthur.  Almost every classic archetype is addressed in Aquaman, which is partly why I believe this movie will be a huge success.  The mysterious bloodline, the search for identity, the reluctant king, the quest into parts unknown, the need to unite kingdoms, the monster, the mentor, the loving mother, the wise father, traitorous siblings–it’s all there.  Like with Star Wars, Superman, and the Matrix, Aquaman hits primordial beats that we unconsciously desire.

If it’s action you crave, though, Aquaman will not disappoint.  Director James Wan is mostly known for action and horror movies.  This experience serves Aquaman very well.  There is very little downtime in this movie.  It’s almost nonstop action, and that action is so stimulating, so interesting, and so frenetic that you cannot refuse its brilliance.  Our first encounter with Aquaman occurs in a submarine, and while it’s not the most lavish or extravagant in terms of effects, it’s most definitely my favorite action scene in the whole movie.  The scene is tight, compact, and brutal.  Can you imagine having a fist fight in a submarine?  Now imagine that one of the combatants can rip the hull apart with his bare hands.  James Wan leans into this circumstance and creates an intense fight unlike any other.  There’s also a point when Aquaman and Mera must enter a place called “The Trench.”  This part of the movie is pure horror.  Even so, it’s also oddly exquisitely unique.

In fact, Aquaman is unlike any other movie that I’ve seen, and I mean that literally.   You will see special effects in this movie that you’ve never before witnessed, specifically in regards to the underwater scenes.  I still have no idea how they did it, but they have the actors talking underwater and it looks so real that their hair is actually flowing in conjunction with their movement as though they are actually underwater.  We all know that water exerts a certain force upon objects moving through it–one does not move underwater as one moves on land.  They captured this very well, too.  The actors don’t walk, they float.  They don’t run, they swim.  Part of me wants to watch the “making of” features to find out how they did this, but part of me also wants to just enjoy the movie magic as it is.

Incredible as the special effects are, the real beauty of Aquaman is in the details.  If you care to notice, you will see detritus floating in the water around the actors.  You will see creatures on the rocks, wreckage in the background, and tiny bubbles emitting from various sources.  And when Aquaman walks out in his “super suit” … it’s breathtaking.  They’ve done the impossible–they’ve made Aquaman’s gold shirt look freaking cool.  They zoom in tight on it, too, and when they do you’ll see every little scale, every overlay, every tiny piece of craftsmanship.

On that note, James Wan and the rest of the creative team have not just made a world for Aquaman to exist within, they’ve developed an entire universe.  They have birthed specific kingdoms, and each has it’s own appearance, technology, and history.  After all, most of the planet is covered in water.  James Wan seems to be taking full advantage of the possibilities this environment provides.

If I’m being objective, though, the movie has some issues.  While I appreciate the “hero’s quest” story, it never really pulled me in.  Does anyone truly doubt Arthur will win out in the end?  Some of the performances fell a little flat with me as well.  While Amber Heard looks great as Mera, I never felt any real chemistry between she and Momoa.  In fact, I think Momoa had more chemistry with Nicole Kidman, his on-screen mother!  Furthermore, the movie runs a tad long.  At two hours and twenty-three minutes, some of the spectacle began to feel like too much.  There are plenty of places they could have trimmed the movie up a bit.  I also found the music really distracting.  I love music scores, so I always pay attention to that aspect of a film.  The music did not suit this movie well … at all.  Truthfully, there were some odd choices in terms of actual songs–it all seemed to be a big of a hodgepodge.  Finally, there are some flat-out goofy moments in this movie–pure cheese.  You’ll know it when you see it, but there’s no refuting that it’s there.

But you know what?  That goofiness is part of Aquaman’s charm.  This movie wanted to have fun.  DC movies have been knocked for being too dark as they tried to recreate Christopher Nolan’s tone.  Aquaman is anything but dark.  It’s fun to watch a hero being a hero while having fun.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Green Lantern: Earth One by Hardman and Bechko – A Book Review

It made my day when I won this graphic novel by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko through Goodreads.  I’d been hearing good things about it, and even though I’m not a huge Green Lantern fan, I thought the idea of reworking him within the Earth One concept could be a wonderfully entertaining experience.

Even though Green Lantern has been rooted in science fiction for the last sixty years or so, word on the street said this book would strip away all of the fantasy elements the character carries and make it a true work of science fiction.

If you’re unfamiliar with the character, Hal Jordan is a test pilot who was chosen to replace a deceased member of the Green Lantern Corps, which is an intergalactic police force.  Each member wears a ring that will create hard light constructs of anything the wearer imagines.  However, Green Lanterns must recharge their ring every twenty-four hours with a battery that looks quite a bit like a … well, lantern.  That’s green.  This corps has hundreds if not thousands of members, and you can imagine all of the betrayals, deaths, love connections, uprisings, reshuffling of power, and so on that has occurred during the last several decades.

In this version, they broke with tradition and made Hal Jordan a rejected astronaut who currently works as a space prospector.  And … that’s about it.  Though the circumstances are slightly different, he still happens across the ring.  He eventually connects with other Green Lanterns.  He organizes and leads them.  This Jordan is more of an underdog, but I found the whole book very similar to what’s come before.  Even his costume is pretty much the same.

In my opinion, they did not take it nearly far enough.  They did not break away from his Silver Age roots in any meaningful way.  That’s generally been my issue with all of the Earth One books, though.  The idea is that these books would depict what these heroes would be like in today’s real world, and the answer is … pretty much the same.

I do want to commend Gabriel Hardman’s art, though.  He’s got an expert sense of anatomy and perspective, and his backgrounds are exquisite.  I also very much enjoyed Jordan Boyd’s colors.  His use of green light surrounded by the darkness of space felt fresh.  At times he seems to employ a dot matrix technique, which was also felt both nostalgic and original.

So while the book is well executed, I didn’t find it particularly inspired.  It wan’t the innovative science fiction extravaganza that I expected.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Superman: American Alien by Max Landis – A Book Review

You all know I struggle with Superman.  Many writers get the “super” right, but fail to truly capture the “man.”

Max Landis absolutely put the “man” before the “super” in this collection, and Superman is all the more “super” as a result.

The premise is short and sweet: Landis depicts key moments in Clark Kent’s life that define the hero he will one day become.  As a result, we get to see what is not often addressed: failure.  We see Clark as a child fearful of his own abilities.  We see Clark as a teenager reluctant to help out for fear of hurting someone.  We see Clark take a walk on the wild side with booze, boats, and women.  We see Clark get outsmarted and embarrassed by Lex Luthor.  We see Clark, for the first time in his life, have to truly fight to survive.

I love this collection because Clark is so normal.  He’s funny; he’s a jerk; he’s fearful; he’s clever; he’s heroic; he’s full of doubt.  In a word, he’s all of us at some point in our lives.

Landis also addresses some nagging issues about Clark’s childhood such as how in the world did he avoid doctors?  The answer may surprise you.  Also, with the way  kids talk, could he ever really keep his abilities a secret while in Smallville?  That answer may surprise you as well.

Furthermore, Landis does not shy away from the fact that Clark Kent lives in the DC Universe.  While this is not necessarily the mainstream Superman we enjoy from month to month, this world still offers us a glimpse at Oliver Queen, Batman, Dick Grayson, Hawkman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and many others.   The brief appearance by Batman is especially relevant to this Superman’s mythology.

Each installment of this collection is a must-read in part because of the story line but also because Landis works with a different artist for each chapter.  I want to say that each artist perfectly embodies the tone of that specific issue, but each of these artists are so talented that they make everything look good.  You could assign any of them any of the installments and they would make it shine.

Next to All-Star Superman, this is my favorite Superman story ever.  I would love to read more of Landis’ take on the DC Universe.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Wild Storm: Volume I by Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt – A Book Review

The Wild Storm is a title that appears to be taking classic WildStorm characters, especially those from WildC.A.Ts, and rebooting them in a modern day, sophisticated world.

WildStorm was under the umbrella of Image Comics back in the 1990s when Jim Lee and other industry luminaries decided to start their own publishing house.  Jim Lee’s characters were cool, but rather shallow and derivatives of DC and Marvel’s icons.  Clearly, though, they had great potential as famed writers like Alan Moore and James Robinson took a crack at them.

In The Wild Storm, Warren Ellis, one of the absolute BEST science fiction writers alive today, takes the most charismatic elements of characters like Void, Voodoo, Grifter, Deathblow, Zealot, and Engineer and strips away all of the excess.  All of these characters now exist within one book, one story line, and are under the control of one vision, who happens to be visionary.

I’m all in on this book.  It is remarkably familiar yet utterly fresh.  I know the characters, I know the names, but I don’t know what’s going to happen next.  Ellis is always completely unpredictable and it’s obvious he’s building a comprehensive world in this title, not a super team.

Jon Davis-Hunt creates cinematic, dynamic panels in this book.  Most of the characters are wearing regular clothes in normal environments, but he makes all of it look GREAT.  He adds all of these little touches that strike the reader subconsciously but may not be obvious at first glance.  Things like shells flying though the air, glass shattering, hair blowing in the wind, or debris falling — these minor things connote movement and lead the reader sequentially from one panel to the next.  The art is so smooth and fluid.  Perfect.

The Wild Storm is full of intrigue, action, violence, heroism, originality, and just enough nostalgia to charm.  It’s obvious there is a sprawling, epic tale unfolding, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

I haven’t been this excited about a title in quite some time.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Batman: The War Of Jokes and Riddles by Tom King and Mikel Janin – A Book Review

I’m not totally on board with Tom King’s Batman. Tom King is a good writer, don’t misunderstand, but his take on Batman just isn’t really doing much for me.

In this volume, Bruce Wayne is in bed with Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. He is baring his soul regarding a horrific moment during his first year as Batman, a moment that occurred during The War of Jokes and Riddles.

First of all, that’s a really awkward name for a war. Maybe a little too literal as well. Don’t you think?

Anyway, Bruce is recounting his tale to Selina and we experience what is essentially a flashback. The Joker and the Riddler have declared war against each other, and all of the other villains in Gotham have chosen sides. There’s some perfunctory attempt at explaining why a band of murderous sociopaths would join forces, but it all fell a little flat with me. Eventually the story begins to focus on Kite Man. Yes. You read that right. That’s where it really lost its way with me.

I will admit that I appreciate King’s take on The Joker. Unfortunately, his Riddler seemed totally out of character in my mind. The whole story felt a little too contrived, a little too forced for my taste. It struck me as though they had a really cool idea to have Riddler and Joker wage war, but then couldn’t come up with anything any deeper than that concept.

Mikel Janin’s art, though, absolutely makes this volume worth reading. I believe his Joker is iconic, and his Batman is both regal and terrifying. I first discovered Janin on Justice League Dark, and his talent has only grown.

King’s moody, almost whiny Batman is not for me, but I appreciate the risks he’s taking and the new stories he’s trying to tell. His work is solid and well-executed, I just don’t care for his iteration of the character.

(His Mister Miracle, on the flip side, may be the best series that I’ve ever read.)

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)