DCEU

REVIEW: Shazam! (2019)

After being chosen by a wizard, foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel) becomes an adult with superpowers whenever he says the word Shazam.

Shazam! is so much fun! It fully embraces the concept of a child who can suddenly be an adult with powers, because it’s still 14-year-old Billy even when he looks like a grown up. This means there’s a lot of joyful wish fulfilment but naturally, as he’s still a kid, he can use his powers irresponsibly or selfishly. The balance of Billy learning and maturing, while still being a kid at heart is done very well.

Zachary Levi is brilliant as adult Billy/Shazam. He’s got this enthusiastic and youthful charm that works with comedic moments and is very much a believable kid. Billy’s foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is the only person who knows about Billy’s powers and, because he loves superheroes so much, helps him figure out what his powers are. The way Freddy and Billy’s friendship grows is great and while it should look weird this kid hanging out with an adult in a cape, Levi’s performance makes you see past his appearance, so it seems like two friends the same age are hanging out.

The first half of Shazam! is mostly the antics Billy and Freddy get up to once they discover Billy’s powers, but when the action and fight sequences really kick in, they’re dynamic and well shot. Having a hero that’s not particularly heroic, at least to begin with, provides some very fun fights.

There are so many surprises to be found in Shazam! with the third act being something different to what you tend to see in these big superhero films and it’s all the better for it. There are lots of laugh out loud moments in Shazam! and cheer-worthy moments too, but there’s equally lots of sincere and heart-warming moments about family, friends and figuring out who you are and where you belong.

For being a film that’s very much geared towards kids and feels like a good, family-friendly film 95% of the time, there are some surprisingly dark moments. When bad guy Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) gets his powers and seeks revenge on those who hurt him, it gets quiet dark and violent and there’s a character death that’s shockingly grim.

Besides from those darker tonal shifts, on the whole Shazam! is fun film with a lot of heart. The entire cast are great, the characters are realistic and relatable, and it’s just funny and charming. It’s a superhero film that’s full of childlike wonder and it’s just a very entertaining film. 4/5.

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REVIEW: Aquaman (2018)

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is of two worlds. Half-human and half-Atlantean he’s the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis but has grown up on land. When his half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) threatens to destroy the surface world, Arthur must become the king and hero he’s meant to be, so that neither world is destroyed.

The film does spend some time setting everything up, introducing new characters, their relationships and the world of Atlantis. The film opens with Arthur’s parents, lighthouse keeper Tom (Temuera Morrison) and Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), meeting and falling in love. Their relationship is one that’s very easy to get attached to very quickly, and somewhat unfortunately, Morrison and Kidman have more chemistry than Momoa and Amber Heard who plays Mera.

Once the story actually gets going, Aquaman is good fun. Momoa is a charismatic lead and as the plot develops you see that Arthur isn’t just brawn but is also a sensitive and kind guy. There is a lot going on in Aquaman. There’s the political intrigue and Orm’s desire to attack the land-dwellers, but there’s also a quest for a mystical item, and another foe for Arthur in the shape of Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Black Manta’s character introduction is impactful, but then he becomes a character that’s there to pop up and inconvenience Arthur and kickstart an action sequence.

Aquaman is visually spectacular. The whole underwater world is so beautiful and colourful, and Atlantis feels like its own technologically advanced society, completely different to what we know. The scenes underwater are action-packed and exciting, though it’s almost easy to get overwhelmed by all the computer-generated creations.

Aquaman may be a bit overlong and overstuffed, but it is completely bonkers and a lot of fun. It’s pure escapism with it’s kingdom under the sea, feuding royalty and political intrigue. 3/5.

REVIEW: Justice League (2017)

Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) team up to bring together a group of heroes to stand against a threat like none of them have seen before.

There are many things that are not great in Justice League, but the characters and their interactions are what makes this film a lot more fun and enjoyable that Batman v Superman.

The main problem with Justice League is it spends the first third of the film having to set up three new heroes we’ve not met before, Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), along with a villain in Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) who has a whole backstory as well. There’s a lot of exposition to get through, some of which is heavy-handed, and it slows down the pace of the film as it makes you to wait for any of the action scenes and the main plot to start proper.

When the heroes are together it’s nice to see them getting to know one another as they work together, but unless you know these characters from comics or TV shows, you don’t know enough about them to really care about them or become attached. Still, there’s some funny moments between the team of heroes as you start to see their personalities come through.

Justice League features an end-of-the-world-plot, but you don’t really feel those stakes due to this world seemingly not be populated by anyone but the heroes and people they know. Even when clashes between heroes and villains happen in a major city, there’s no one but the heroes around – it’s quite jarring and makes the threat not feel threatening.

Justice League is watchable, the characters are fun and the action (when it happens) is mostly exciting and engaging. However, the editing in fight scenes don’t always make everything clear and the plot itself has neither high stakes nor is always coherent. It’s the step in the right direction for the DCEU but it is a step down from Wonder Woman. 3/5.

REVIEW: Wonder Woman (2017)

When pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands onto the home of the Amazons, bringing news of a war to end all wars, Diana (Gal Gadot) leaves her home and all she knows to go fight to save those who can’t protect themselves.

Diana is a brilliant hero. She’s confident in her powers and her beliefs so there is none of the “oh the pains of being a superhero” that you often see in superhero movies. She is strong and compassionate, and while she doesn’t always understand the world of Man, the film never makes it into a big deal or is condescending about her lack of experience.

There’s humour to be found in her bewilderment and it’s all very charming but never patronising. I think that’s one of the great things about Wonder Woman, it’s never defensive about its titular character nor its story, it’s sincere in the way Diana and the film itself, celebrates inner strength and the power of love and compassion.

In many ways, the film makes you wait for the action sequences, instead spending time allowing the characters to talk and learn from one another. These quieter moments are never boring and are often funny. That said when the action and fights do happen, they’re brilliant. The way you see Diana, and the rest of the women of Themyscira, fight is magnificent. They are all powerful and skilled and the way the camera shows off their skills is captivating. There is so slo-mo used, which does make sense as Diana can move super-fast, so you can really see how she avoids gunshots and bayonets.

Diana is an amazing character and the shots of her fighting side by side with Steve, and leading him and Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) into battle gave me chills. Gal Gadot gives a great performance, showing both Diana’s power and sensitivity in the face of war, and the quieter moments between her and the other characters are a delight. While there is sometimes a joke made about a woman in battle, none of the men who fight by Diana’s side ever doubt her or her abilities.

The villains in Wonder Woman aren’t the most well-developed but as that is something that could be said of a lot of superhero films, it’s not a huge complaint. I would much rather have a film with a fantastic hero and a mediocre villain, than a great villain and a dull hero. Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is an army General with grand plans and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) is a master at making poisons, she was an interesting character and it’d be cool to have learnt more about her.

Wonder Woman is a wonderful film. It’s very much a traditional superhero origin story but is a lot more charming and sincere with it. Diana is a brilliant hero who brings a sense of hope to the world. 4/5.

REVIEW: Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide-Squad-posterSecret government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) puts together a team of supervillains to take on a dangerous covert mission in exchange for shorter prison sentences.

Suicide Squad tries to juggle a lot. There’s a lot of characters so it begins with a bit of backstory for more of the major ones, namely Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) courtesy of Amanda Waller and a case file. The rest of them have less than a minute backstory and trying to set up all these characters this way did make the film slow to start. However, when you think the backstories are done and you can focus on the main plot of the movie, i.e. the mission, there’s flashbacks sporadically throughout the film that really interrupts the flow of the whole thing.

As well as the mission at hand, there’s also the Joker (Jared Leto) in the background, popping up every now and then to cause problems and provide more of a backstory for Harley Quinn. Much has been made of this new Joker and while he is naturally a lot different to previous incarnations, he is just OK. He is more of a gangster and his voice and laugh does sound odd and not necessarily in a good way but he is not on screen enough to really make much of a last impression.

The soundtrack to Suicide Squad is notable but not in a good way. It’s full of memorable songs ranging from Eminem to Queen and even features Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum – that one really doesn’t fit in the film. It’s as if the filmmakers wanted to have music queues for certain characters and just shoved in as many cool songs as they could think of. It was jarring and didn’t work for a lot of the film.

Suicide Squad is an entertaining film for the most part but it’s not as fun as the trailers make it out to be. Also while you don’t need jokes in every superhero film, any attempt at humour in Suicide Squad fell flat. Lines of dialogue or moments that were clearly set up to cause a reaction from the audience just don’t. These characters are an eclectic bunch and with a good script they could easily have bounced off each other and had some humorous moments or lines but there was nothing.

The big problem with Suicide Squad is by the end of the film, it wants you to feel like these characters all care about each other and even go as far to see themselves as a family unit, but it doesn’t do enough to make you feel that way. The film keeps focusing on the mission rather than the characters on the mission. Deadshot and Harley Quinn are the most fleshed out on the team and they actually have multiple interactions so you can see their relationship grow but all other characters are secondary and barely have any lines between them.

Suicide Squad is OK. The action sequences are entertaining but the film does nothing to make you care about these characters and that’s where it really falls down. 2/5.

REVIEW: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

batman v supermanBatman (Ben Affleck) vows to take on Superman (Henry Cavil) when he fears that if the alien’s actions remain unchecked, it could mean even more pain and destruction for humanity. Meanwhile Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is using Kryptonian technology to fuel his own ambitions and the world tries to decide what sort of hero they want and need.

This is Ben Affleck’s first outing as Bruce Wayne/Batman and he is brilliant in both roles. He is an older Bruce Wayne who has been the Batman for twenty years so he’s seen some stuff and is a bit world-weary and cynical. His relationship with Alfred (Jeremy Irons) is great and Alfred in general offers some great lines and the film shows how well Alfred and Bruce work together. All the Batman-related stuff is definitely a highlight of the film.

When Batman and Superman fight, it is brutal and it’s kind of great to watch. These are two of the biggest superheroes out there so to watch them duke it out is a sight to behold. Also when Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) finally makes her appearance it is an amazing “hero” moment and the soundtrack that starts when she appears is my new favourite piece of music.

The main problem with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is that there are a lot of characters with their own agendas so there are a lot of plot threads that don’t always seem vital or complete. Bruce Wayne has his own agenda, Lex Luthor has his own agenda and so does Wonder Woman, Clark Kent and even Lois Lane (Amy Adams). All these things are there and some of them are interesting but they just don’t really tie together that well. All these threads mean that the film feels really disjointed and the pacing isn’t that great a lot of the time, the first hour chunk especially is trying to set up so much stuff that it feels a bit bogged down and slow.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the launching pad for the DC Cinematic Universe and while it does a good job setting up some characters like Batman and Wonder Woman, sometimes it feels like it’s too much of a set up and there’s a moment where the film seems to pause to show off some characters that we’re very likely to see in future films. Batman v Superman feels like it’s trying to be too many things. As well as being a starting point for a new franchise, it feels like a gritty action film and a political thriller with the courtroom drama stuff. It feels like there’s too many ideas gone into Batman v Superman and not all of them worked or fitted together cohesively.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an alright film, there’s some great moments that really pull you in but on the whole there’s too much going on and the pacing of it isn’t so great. 3/5.