Latest flick from the DC Comics cinematic universe is based on one of their outside the Justice League characters and is more geared towards kids, though it has a few rough moments. Movie finds orphaned Billy Batson (Asher Angel) running away from foster home after foster home to try and find his real mother. His latest place of residence is a foster home run by Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews). Here he’s befriended by Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), who is partially disabled and a real superhero fan. His superhero know-how comes in handy when guardian wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) chooses Billy as a champion to take his place as a protector and to hold his power. Now all Billy has to do is say “Shazam!” and he transforms into a muscular adult superhero (Zachary Levi)…but in body only. Learning how to be a hero is tough enough on it’s own for a kid, but Billy/Shazam is challenged by the bitter and angry Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), who was rejected by Shazam as a child and now wants revenge…and has seven powerful demons to help him get it.
Flick is directed by David F. Sandberg, who cut his teeth on horror flicks like Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation. This probably comes in handy as the script by Henry Gayden, from a story by he and Darren Lemke, features the before mentioned demons and thus a few spooky sequences. Sandberg does a good job at the sentimental and silly stuff, too, though in both cases, the script throws in a bit too much of it. The schtick of a 15 year-old kid being in an adult superhero’s body wears out it’s welcome after a while with numerous scenes of Billy/Shazam acting like a brat and using his newfound fame to get himself attention and money. Probably what a kid would do, true, but here it’s drawn out a bit too long. The whole film could have been a bit tighter and wouldn’t have missed about ten minutes or so removed. There are some fun bits and the flick has heart, but it can be over-sentimental at times, too and really goes for all the clichés about trust and family, though superhero flicks in particular can get away with being cliché. It’s oddly one of the things endearing about them. The climactic confrontation with Sivana never really gets all that exciting and Billy learning that he doesn’t have to fight alone is exactly what we expect to happen. The flick overall is very predictable. Not a bad movie, but one that could have used a little tightening, a little more excitement and less repetition with it’s hi-jinx.
There are no complaints about the cast. Zachary Levi is a hoot as the teen in an adult body imbued with superpowers. He’s charming and funny and even if the bratty hero bits are the focus for a bit too long, Levi is fun in the part. His overstuffed costume is a bit off-putting, but otherwise Levi is a good fit for the role. Asher Angel was very good as Billy. The film’s sentiment may get schmaltzy at times, but Angel is endearing and likable and handles the emotional requirements very well. Grazer is also likable as the partially disabled nerd who has a strong interest in superheroes and now gets to be BFF’s with one. Mark Strong makes a solid though unremarkable villain. He’s a very reliable veteran actor and it was cool to see DC give him a second chance at villainy after the prospects of his being the evil Sinestro in a Green Lantern sequel dried up. The rest of the supporting cast are also good and all perform well in their roles.
Overall, this is a flick that tries hard and doesn’t miss the mark by too much. It has some fun sequences and a likable cast, but maybe plays out it’s schtick a bit too long and might be a bit too silly at times for some tastes. The film feels like it could have been a bit shorter and tighter, without harming it’s story and drags a bit midway through. It’s loaded with clichés which make it a bit predictable, but still has a lot of fun bits and with lead Levi being perfectly cast as the kid in a hero’s body. As a superhero version of 1988’s Big, at least they had the respect to pay that film a nice homage. Stay after the credits for two additional sequences.
Horror fan Dax (Robbie Kay) is excited to go the the ultimate horror movie festival, “Blood Fest” with his friends Krill (Jacob Batalon) and Sam (Seychelle Gabriel). However, his psychologist father (Tate Donovan) protests all things horror due to the murder of Dax’s mother by one of his patients years ago. His father forbids him to go, but Dax goes anyway only to find the horrors of Blood Fest are very real.
Horror/comedy is written and directed by Owen Egerton (Follow) and has a severe case of The Cabin in the Woods envy. Much like that film, the horror homages fly fast and furious while a bunch of nerds watch and manipulate from behind computer consoles. It still has its heart in the right place, even if Egerton hasn’t come up with the most original idea, unlike his twisted and disturbing Follow. The cast are very charming, especially Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Batalon and feisty Seychelle Gabriel, who steals the flick from leading man Kay. There is some nice gore and some cool fiends…mainly zombies, vampires and clowns…to harass our characters and it’s amusing enough even if it’s big reveal is no surprise, and the film is quite derivative of things seen before. Also stars Barbara Dunkelman as a wannabe actress trapped inside with our heroes and a cameo by Zachary Levi.
Yes, it’s true I have covered both these films before but, with Thor: The Dark World recently being released on home media, I decided to revisit it and the first film together. They actually make a really cool double feature with each film bringing it’s own style thanks to two different directors yet, they still blend very well together with their mix of fantasy and real world adventure. It is also interesting to see Thor as we first saw him, the arrogant hot-head, in contrast to the more noble and humble warrior he has progressed into over the course of the first film and The Avengers. That and his relationship with Jane Foster is resumed as well. A really entertaining night of popcorn entertainment with a little extra courtesy of two contrasting yet equally talented directors.
I’m not that familiar with the Marvel comics version of Thor, so, I have to take the movie at face value and as such, Thor is a lot of fun. The film takes place both on Earth and in Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) home realm of Asgard and Kenneth Branagh does a nice job of switching back and forth between both worlds and keeping the tone even and the narrative flow fairly smooth (more on that later). The film fits in very nicely with the world created in the Iron Man films and yet has it’s own style and flavor as it tells the story of arrogant Prince Thor and his path from banished and disgraced warrior to hero of both Earth and Asgard. The cast works really well together and in filling their roles. Hemsworth brings a nobility to Thor, as well as, keeps him charming during his arrogant beginings and then makes believable his humble awakening during the course of the film. Natalie Portman is energetic as the pretty scientist and love interest, Jane Foster and she and Hemsworth have a nice screen chemistry together that actually gave their growing relatrionship a realistic touch despite the fantasy story elements. Tom Hiddleston makes a good villain as the devious Loki, Thor’s brother and Anthony Hopkins is a regal and strong Odin. Kat Dennings is cute as Portman’s sidekick, Darcy and her antics are just enough to provide humor without being annoying and Stellan Skarsgard is fine as a fellow scientist, Dr. Selvig who grew up with norse mythology and provides some exposition for those not in the know. And I would be remiss in not mentioning Rene Russo as Thor’s mom. There is plenty of action and the SPFX are top notch especially in the portrayal of the mystical Asgard which is beautifully designed and realized. Thor’s flying was the hardest thing to pull off and they smartly keep it to a minimum and it works withing the context of the scenes. My only gripes are minor. The middle of the film slows down for about 20 minutes… though it does give the opportunity for some nice character interaction… but, soon picks up as the film heads toward it action filled last act. The earth sequences don’t quite flow as smoothly as the Asgard sequences leaving me to believe there was some editing to get the fim under 2 hrs but, it is not jarring. And, finally, the set of the New Mexican town just doesn’t quite look like a real town, it’s layout does make it look like a set, well built, but still a set. But these problems are small and don’t ruin what is an overall very fun and entertaining movie that has some nice fairy tale touches as well as plenty of action. Stay through the credits as usual with these films.
A solid 3 and 1/2 hammers!
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)
Thor was one of my favorites of the Marvel Phase 1 movies. I loved it’s fun mix of fantasy and real world adventure and thought Hemsworth made a noble and very likable hero. And now the Norse God turned superhero is back in his second solo adventure and a welcome return it is. Thor: The Dark World opens 5000 years earlier with an alignment of the planets being taken advantage of by the Dark Elves and their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) to unleash a weapon called The Aether which will convert all the worlds into dark matter where only the Dark Elves may exist. Thor’s grandfather Bor (Tony Curran) defeats the invaders and they are assumed destroyed and The Aether is hidden away never to be found… or so Bor hoped. But, in the present, the worlds are aligning again and the long dormant Malekith and the remaining Dark Elves seek to destroy all once more and, as fate would have it, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) stumbles upon the hidden weapon and it is absorbed within her. Now hunted by Malekith, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) brings Jane to Asgard against Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) wishes and must somehow find a way to stop Malekith, banish The Aether and save the woman he loves and all the known worlds… and the only one who can help him is his devious stepbrother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) imprisoned in Asgard’s dungeons by Thor’s own hand. This second solo adventure is this time directed by Game Of Thrones and Deadwood director Alan Taylor who creates a much grittier and down to Earth version of Asgard then the bright and magic kingdom-ish version we saw in the delightful first feature directed by Kenneth Branagh. It’s still recognizable as Asgard and it blends perfectly with the first Thor but, we get to see far deeper into the city and into it’s halls and pubs and get a more lived in and functional look at Thor’s homeland. The tone of the film is also darker at times and that was a nice change from the upbeat first film and Avengers but, so not to get too dark or grim, the film is punctuated with a lot of fun and humorous sequences especially those involving Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), the latter’s trip to Stonehenge being especially hilarious. I thought the humor and the darker story elements were blended just fine and there was plenty of action and strong drama throughout till the big free-for-all ending set in London where Thor and Malekith finally get to throw down. And the action and special effects do not disappoint, they are top notch as with all the previous Marvel films. The budget is onscreen in all aspects of the production from sets to costumes to FX. Taylor gets good work from all the cast. There are some nice character moments in between the drama and destruction and all the actors are now very comfortable in their roles and work very well together. Hemsworth is once again a noble hero who has grown since his first visit and the battle in New York. He and Portman still have a nice chemistry together and I liked their scenes especially when Thor has to explain where he’s been for two years. Dennings gets a bit more screen time and handles it well getting some of the bigger laughs and Hiddleston is once again scene stealing as Loki. It was also nice to see Rene Russo finally get a big scene and have a bit bigger part this time and Hopkins is still endearing as the weary but, majestic Odin. We also get some nice scenes with supporting characters Heimdall (Idris Elba), Sith (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (now Zachary Levi) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) but, those expecting expanded roles from this bunch will be disappointed. Newcomer to Thor’s world Christopher Ecceleston, is OK as villain Malekith but, he really doesn’t make a strong impression or stay with you after the film is over. To me his somewhat tepid villain is the film’s only real stand out weak point and a stronger villain or more screen time to really establish Malekith as a threat would have made this flick even better. Taylor’s interpretation of Don Payne and Robert Rodat’s script is highlighted by a moody score from Brian Tyler and some nice cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau. Overall, Thor: The Dark World is a very entertaining follow-up that gives us enough of the action, drama and suspense we are looking for and takes it in enough of a different direction to keep it fresh but, not straying too far as to alienate us. It’s not perfect, as stated the villain could have been stronger, there are a few slow spots here and there, especially in the first half and we can tell there was a bit of editing to manage the running time but, for all the entertainment we get, those minor flaws can be overlooked. A fun and worthy sequel to both Thor and The Avengers and certainly less schizophrenic then the mixed bag that was Iron Man 3. As with all Marvel films stay through the entire credits for not one but, two additional sequences and keep an eye out for a couple of really fun cameos. Another solid bit of entertainment from Marvel and Disney.