Movie Review: Shazam!

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14-year-old Billy Batson (Zachary Levi) becomes the adult superhero Shazam, who needs help from his foster brother (Jack Dylan Grazer) in David F. Sandberg’s first outing in the superhero genre. (Source: New York Post)

It looks like the DCEU is starting to gain its mojo, after the surprises of Aquaman and Wonder Woman. Fresh from directing two horror movies–Lights Out (based on his own short film) and the surprisingly solid Annabelle: Creation, Swedish filmmaker David F. Sandberg directs a superhero origin story described as Big meets Superman. Shazam! has been in development for years. At one point, Dwayne Johnson was attached to play Black Adam. However, Sandberg and screenwriter Henry Gayden decided for a more light-hearted tone with some frightening imagery thrown in the mix.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a 14-year-old from Philadelphia, who has escaped from numerous foster homes to search for his biological mother. He spends his days getting into trouble with the law until he gets sent to a new foster home with Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa Vazquez (Marta Milans). One day, he heads on a subway to get away from a couple of bullies, which leads him to a secret lair known as The Rock of Eternity.

There, Billy meets the ancient wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who explains to him he has been looking for a Champion who is “pure of heart”, and must prevent the Seven Deadly Sins, a group of monsters, to wipe out humanity. Reluctant, at first, Billy touches the staff and shouts “Shazam!” This turns him into the adult superhero (Zachary Levi, Chuck and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), who wears a red suit with a yellow lightning bolt on his chest. With the help of his new foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, It), a comic-book fanatic, Billy tests his new superpowers, while the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) is out to get him.

No other actor can capture the young-at-heart charisma while having a violent side than Levi. While he is no stranger playing dorky characters, this is the first time where he plays a superhero. This is by no means a simple role to pull off. Balancing his physicality with the emotional weight, he is nothing short of perfect. There is excellent chemistry between him and Grazer, who provide enough comic relief to keep the movie going. Prepare to laugh your head off when they test out superpowers, which contains the best use of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” since Shaun of the Dead.

Strong plays the best villain in the franchise, by far. It’s no surprise he can play these types of roles in his sleep. However, there is something about him as Sivana I find so captivating. Like its protagonist, he is dealing with family issues. His nasty nature shows in an unflinching prologue where he enters the lair as a child, but gains different powers when he becomes an adult.

For a movie to feature foster parents who expect their kids to respect one another is a breath of fresh air. There is plenty of thrilling action set pieces, but there is an uplifting theme about the importance of family. Seeing where Billy is coming from, it’s almost impossible not to get teary-eyed over. We are with him every step of the way.

For his first movie outside the horror genre, Sandberg hits it out of the park! Shazam! works as a superhero movie, a light-hearted comedy, a trip into nostalgia, and a Christmas movie. Expect to see more wise-cracking and ass-kicking from Shazam soon, since a sequel is currently in the works.

9.5/10

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Movie Review: Captain Marvel

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Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) suits up in Marvel’s Captain Marvel. (Source: Radio Times)

Last year was one helluva year for the MCU. Black Panther was history in the making upon its release. It became the highest-grossing film in the series as well as the highest-grossing film to feature a mostly African-American cast and directed by an African-American filmmaker. Not only that, it became the first superhero film to receive a Best Picture Oscar (but lost to the timely and old-fashioned Green Book). With Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp both ending on cliffhangers, audiences wait in anticipation on what will happen to our superheroes.

Captain Marvel comes into save the day. But first, here’s another film about the origins of the superhero.

Vers (Brie Larson) lives on the planet Hala, and is part of an alien race known as Kree. Suffering from dreams of another life on Earth as U.S. Air Force pilot Carol Danvers, she is caught in the middle of a war between her race and the Skrulls, who have shapeshifting abilities. Her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) wants Vers to control her emotions carefully. When her pod crash lands inside a Blockbuster video store in Los Angeles in 1995, she joins forces with a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to end the alien war before it’s too late.

It’s surprising to hear this movie receiving a mixed reception compared to the previous entries. Yes, it might have the familiar tropes of superhero origin stories of the past. And yes, it’s far from the best and the worst in the series. But–writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half-Nelson, Mississippi Grind) manage to bring in the fun and poignancy into this empowering tale of the means of being human.

Larson electrifies as the titular hero, whose superpowers include super-strength, endurance, stamina, and throwing fireballs with her fists. She has trouble remembering where she came from. Then, she reunites with her old friend Maria (Lashana Lynch), a single mother to 11-year-old Monica (Akira Akbar); looking through old pictures of herself trying to fit the pieces of the puzzles (in one emotional scene). As Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) tells her, “We don’t fight wars, we end them.”

The first act is sluggish than its predecessors. Once Danvers lands on Earth, the pace starts to pick up with its references to ‘90s nostalgia, witty dialogue, dazzling effects, and almost wall-to-wall action. Jackson’s Nick Fury provides plenty of good laughs, especially when he shows his soft side when he encounters a cat named Goose. The rest of the cast is fine although forgettable. Nevertheless, Captain Marvel is still a good time early in the year. Bring on, Avengers: Endgame!

8/10

Movie Review: Furious 7

The cast of "Furious 7" and director James Wan

The cast of “Furious 7” and director James Wan (between Paul Walker and Vin Diesel)

After the successes of Fast Five and Fast and Furious 6, the popular franchise has gone into another direction. Something fast? Yes; but something more furious. The title, Furious 7 is inspired by Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. The production for the movie delayed after Paul Walker’s death on November 30, 2013. Even though he was halfway through filming, Universal needed a plan to continue production. They decided to rewrite the script and provide body doubles and [hardly recognizable] CGI to capture Paul Walker. Director James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring) goes full throttle with Furious 7 by giving the best in pure entertainment.

After defeating Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) from the previous film, his older brother Deckerd (Jason Statham) plans to kill Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew one by one for revenge. Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) notifies Dom about Shaw after encountering him one night at the Diplomatic Security Service office. A government official named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) assigned him and his crew – Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Ludacris) – to take down Shaw as well as Mose Jakande (Djimon Honsou), a terrorist who created a program called “God’s Eye” in which every electronic device into a dangerous weapon. Along with a computer hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel), they spring into action together one last time.

Wan gives us the over-the-top fun we expected from these movies. The franchise is the prime example of pure Hollywood. Some of the stunts seem physically impossible, but that’s what makes those movies fun. It avoids the laws of physics. They are not to be taken seriously. In fact, most of the stunts are done practically, especially the car skydiving and the car jumping through three buildings. It gives the audience the sense of realism. My eyes have been fixed to the screen with jaw dropped to the floor. The movie features the best showdown in the series – between Vin Diesel and Jason Statham (who plays the best villain). It’s just as awesome as Vin Diesel and The Rock’s showdown in Fast Five.

Furious 7 gives a surprising emotional punch. I usually never cry during movies. But this is one of those rare occasions in which I cried my eyes out. After walking out of the theater, I realized the series is more than just street racing and pulling off these heists. It’s about being a part of a family and sticking together right until the very end. Dom Toretto is a convincing character because he and Mia have lost their family a long time ago. If he didn’t start his crew, he wouldn’t have a family. Dom and Brian are the heart and soul of the franchise. Brian is like the brother he never had. They have stayed on each other’s side for a long time. When it’s about that time, they go off their separate ways. It’s such a shame that Paul Walker had died in that car crash. But this movie is a great send-off for him.

Thank you, Paul Walker, for what you’ve done.

3.5/4