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.

shazam

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Doctor Strange – A Movie Review

This is a Marvel movie unlike any other.  You will see insane special effects that absolutely transfix.  And though the movie is somewhat beholden to the cliched “origin story,” it does attempt, perhaps more so than ever before, to present a true journey to heroism.  In the end, though, it had a major flaw.

Doctor Strange is not a very heroic man in the beginning of the movie.  He is arrogant, egocentric, and concerned only with his work and resulting reputation.  Of course, the charming Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character, so we can’t help but like Doctor Strange even as he is saying things that aren’t very charitable.  A terrible accident steals his sense of self-worth, and in traveling to the Far East, Strange enters a world that forces him to set aside his ego and eventually evolve into a hero.

As I already said, Doctor Strange has some amazing visuals.  It’s also got plenty of action, nice moments of humor, a strong attempt at character development, and it knows how to walk a delicate line between the relatively grounded Marvel Universe and the surreal world of Doctor Strange.

I appreciate that they avoided well-trodden romantic angles (though I think they wasted a very talented Rachel McAdams).  I like that they kept Doctor Strange somewhat limited because he is mostly a novice at the mystic arts.  I also thought it was smart to show us the progression of Strange from being self-centered into a man willing to sacrifice.

Did it have Ant-Man’s sense of fun?  No.  Was it as funny as Guardians Of the Galaxy?  Nope.  Was the physical action as intense as The Winter Soldier?  Not by a long shot.  Did it have Iron Man’s flat-out charisma?  It did not.  Yet it was not a disappointment because it had a little of all of those things.  It was just different from the other Marvel movies, and I mean that as a compliment because the super hero movie must find new ways to unfold if it is to retain an audience’s interest, and Doctor Strange fought to do just that.

In talking with a friend after seeing the movie, however, we decided the movie missed a major opportunity that ultimately left it flawed.

SPOILERS AHEAD …

Like so many movies of late, Doctor Strange ends with our hero facing down a previously unseen “big baddie” in an alternate, trippy dimension.  While I love the method Doctor Strange used to defeat the “big baddie,” and while it certainly solidified his metamorphosis into a hero, it felt a forced and emotionally unimportant.  A major issue super hero movies have is that the big fight at the end must utilize grander and grander stakes, and while Doctor Strange attempted to circumnavigate the typical final conflict with the “big baddie” by employing a clever solution, it still felt disconnected to the story preceding it because, like I said, we had no emotional stake in this “big baddie” before the final confrontation.

On the other hand, Doctor Strange had an excellent ending gift-wrapped and ready to explore, but instead went with the “big baddie” approach.  Doctor Strange must confront The Ancient One near the end of the movie, and, by this point, we all love The Ancient One. She has a connection to the main villains present throughout the film, and by having Doctor Strange defeat her using the exact same technique as he did the “big baddie,” those villains could have lost their conduit to the “Dark Dimension” mentioned throughout the film.  Having a hero reluctantly defeat his teacher, and having a teacher forced to fight her student is the stuff of great depth and while the creators definitely could have wandered into cliched territory with this approach, I think the audience would have been far more invested in it as a final conflict.

Doctor Strange is visually stunning, has charismatic actors playing the leads, attempts a story told differently, but falls victim to many super hero movie mistakes, particularly that of the disconnected “big baddie.”

Image result for dr strange movie poster