From a Child Into A Man (Shazam!, 2019)

Shazam_PosterIn the 40s Bill Parker and C.C. Beck created Captain Marvel.  Young Billy Batson is granted powers by a Wizard that allow him to become a supper powers hero to fight evil. The Wizard’s name, Shazam, was also the magic word that would allow Billy to transform. It stood for:

S – wisdom of Solomon

H – strength of Hercules

A – stamina of Atlas (including his invulnerability)

Z – power of Zeus (including his ability to summon thunderbolts)

A – courage of Achilles

M – speed of Mercury (including flight)

These are representative of his powers and he is meant to be a champion to stand in the way of the evil demonic Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed and Sloth). DC sued Fawcett, the Publishers of Captain Marvel on the grounds that Captain Marvel was far too close to Superman.  Eventually, DC got the rights to the character, but in the 60’s Marvel created their own Captain Marvel.  This resulted in a situation where the Captain Marvel title was off limits to DC. Within the books, they could call the character Captain Marvel, but it could not be the title of their books. DC eventually dumped the Captain Marvel name, referring to him as Shazam.

The film stays close to this, with Billy being chosen by the wizard Shazam to take on his powers.  Billy is a young orphan who had focused on trying to find his mother, constantly running from foster homes. When his latest attempt to locate his mother gets him tossed into yet another foster family. There he meets his super-hero obsessed room mate Freddy Freeman, who tries befriending the standoffish Billy.

After Billy reluctantly fights some bullies in defense of Freddy, he meets the Wizard Shazam. Shazam has been seeking a successor of his power, with everyone before Billy failing to be worthy.  It is interesting that Billy is presented as a decent kid who makes bad and selfish choices…but the moment that seems to trigger his worthiness is that he thinks he is not worthy.

Billy and Freddy begin by testing the powers and having fun with Billy’s grown up persona by getting out of school and stuff.  But when the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana appears (powered by the Seven Deadly Sins themselves) and demands the power Billy holds, the boys learn that there is more to power than zapping cell phones.

Just going to lay it.  I really enjoyed this movie. It is exciting, the jokes land and the premise of recognizing true family is touching.  This is the big push, the foster family is a group home setting overseen by a couple who came out of the system themselves and want to provide a real home.  The whole family is open to Billy, and the big theme is about Billy opening his heart to this family.

I find the film largely to be a real joy and DC has managed another strong film, close on the heals of Aquaman no less.  Since Wonder Woman, they have been turning things around.  Captain Marvel is not afraid to be fun.  Zachary Levi is great at channeling a fourteen year old boy who finds himself in an adult body. Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer play well together (as do Grazer and Levi).  I loved all the kids.  Mark Strong delivers as the bad guy.

I should point out that even though the film has largely been advertised as kid friendly, a few scenes may be far too intense for younger kids in a theater setting. Older kids and teens should enjoy this flick though. I had a great time and am pumped for another visit to Billy and his family.

Higher, Further, Faster (Captain Marvel, 2019)


Set in the 1995, Vers is a Kree warrior.  She struggles with no memory of her life past six years.  The Kree are in a war with the shape shifting Skrulls. Vers and a few Skrulls end up on earth, and Vers is in a race against time to locate the MacGuffin. She finds herself allied with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nicholas Fury.

Vers starts to put her life back together with the aid of Fury as the Skrulls close in, all while Vers awaits the arrival of her fellow Kree.

The film is action packed. Captain Marvel (Vers) is one of the more powerful of the Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes, but hardly over powered.  The action sequences are pretty exhilarating with good effects. The Skrulls are pretty cool looking, matching fairly closely their comic book counterparts. I really liked their transformation process.

The Relationship of Vers (who learns she if from earth and was named Carol) and her fellow pilot Maria works quite well. In fact, I really like the little team the film assembles. And then there is Goose the cat.  Greatest movie cat ever.

The film has Stan Lee’s final cameo and it has an extra layer if you are especially observant. Since this is set after Captain America the First Avenger and before Iron Man, there is a slight bit of prequelitis, where the film acknowledges some stuff that happens in later films. You know…answering the questions we never had. For the most part, these are unobtrusive. But there was really only one bit that really made me groan.  The film is largely self contained, so it does not lose to much focus from that.

Captain Marvel has faced some definite hurdles. It got pushed from 2017 to 2019 to make room for other films. The one other film to get moved (the Inhumans) actually went through a drastic change into a television series. Add to that a campaign against the film by certain folks who saw it as the opportunity to send a message to Disney and Marvel about “SJW Politics”. These folks also went on a crusade against star Brie Larson. Larson made a reasonable concern over a lack of diversity in journalists at press junkets, only to have people twist her words into a caricature and accusing her of saying things like she “hoped white men did not see Captain Marvel”. On Jimmy Kimmel, she joked about how she and Sam Jackson “hate the same people” and this was made out to be a reference to fandom (she made no mention of fandom).

Add in attempts to review bomb (put negative reviews of a product in order to create a false view of a majority of negativity. Often this is done to new product from creators who have committed the crime of having opinions) and the film had a bit of an uphill climb.

So…is Captain Marvel a hardcore Feminist and SJW screed?

No. In fact, if that is your perception of the film? Actual Feminism will kill you.

What the film actually is? Quite a lot of fun. No, it does not rewrite the script on the MCU. But I had a great time and the audience I saw it with were very into the film, even clapping after it ended.


Next Level (The Vatican Tapes, 2015)

The_Vatican_Tapes_PosterI gotta admit…I kind of thought this was a found footage film. Turns out it is not.

Angela Holmes seems to be a regular young woman. She and her husband seem to have a happy life, she has a father who feels nobody is good enough for his daughter. But then mysterious and fatal events occur around Angela. Father Lozano, a former military man turned priest becomes intertwined with their lives. While doctors try and find a natural phenomenon, Lozano suspects it may  be more.

After an incident with a mental health facility, she is put into the hands of the church.  And Exorcist is brought in to set Angela free. But things turn out to be far worse than they ever imagined, and their failure could doom the world.

The Vatican Tapes are a blend of your standard possession film with a slight twist into another genre of religious horror.

The performances are good, and I especially like Péna as father Lozano. The Vatican Tapes was better than I expected, but is never all that scary. Even the exorcism feels more like an action movie.  But I was entertained.

Gonna’ Get Me A Dragon (Eragon, 2006)

Eragon_Posterin 2001 we got the two biggest film franchises of the new century.  Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter proved the appetite was there for fantasy films.  And so everyone was trying to get the next major franchise, snapping up young adult fantasy novels.  One of those was Christopher Paolini’s Eragon.

Eragon is a young farm boy in a land that used to be protected by the Dragon Riders.  The dragons were wiped out, but there is a prophesy of an egg yet to hatch. Eragon discovers the egg and upon hatching the baby dragon hatches.  He and his dragon Saphira find themselves hunted by the evil King Galbatorix, who desires Saphira for himself. Or he wants to destroy her.  Whatever is necessary to keep his power. With the evil Wizard Durza, he has kept the princess Arya prisoner.

Eragon is trained by the secretive Brom as they prepare to take on Galbatorix and his minions.

While the books were modestly popular, this did not translate into success for the film.  And frankly, it is not much different from Dragonheart ten years earlier.  The film fails at offering all it’s twists.  Brom’s secret is pretty obvious, so it is not a surprise when it is revealed.

The film also takes poor shortcuts.  The Dragon seems to grow to adulthood in a matter of days. The effects are decent enough, but the film makes the choice of allowing us to hear the psychic connection between Eragon and Saphira…and it just does not work as effectively as simply having the dragon speak as they did with Dragonheart.

Eragon just never feels like anything beyond a want to be fantasy epic.  And it really feels like a direct to video knockoff, in spite of a cast that includes Rachel Weisz, John Malkovich and Jeremy Irons.

Speed Racers Pt 7 (Furious 7, 2015)

fast_and_furious_007_PosterThe seventh film in the series that has not apparently run out of gas (and fifth film directed by Justin Lin) finds the team no longer on the run and being a family.  Dom and Letty are working on their relationship, as she has not regained her memory.  Brian and Mia are enjoying parenthood.  Everything is going smoothly…well, except the fact that somebody is trying to murder the crew…and not just the crew, but anyone connected with the take down of Shaw in the previous film.  Which means Hobbs needs to team up with the family once more.

The big threat here?  Shaw’s big brother… uh… Shaw.  Well, this brother gets a first name as well.  Overseeing our intrepid clan is Mr. Nobody…played by Kurt Russell.  Because if your films are full of familiar faces and names… you cannot go wrong adding Kurt Russell to the mix.

Seven ups the stunt ante again…”Gee, we had a tank last time?”  How about skydiving cars?  Cars driven from from skyscraper to skyscraper…via the top floors?  In this film, they crash cars and use pieces of the cars in hand to hand combat.  The Rock picks up a giant gun and starts to shoot down a helicopter.  And then?  It gets nuts.

Overall, it is a pretty solid effort, though false a bit short of the sixth entry.  Part of this is due to the film having been faced with an unexpected tragedy before they were done filming.  After leaving an awards ceremony Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner) and a friend were killed in a car wreck (the friend was driving).  It was very clear from the response of the cast and crew that they had all gotten very close, and were crushed by the loss of their friend.

But this forced some story alterations.  I doubt their plan was to send Brian out of the series.  But now they had to adjust the story to do that.  With help from Paul’s twin brother they filmed some final shots.  The final moments are full of heavy comments about not saying good-bye and how things are never going to be the same.  They are clearly paying their respects to Walker, which is both understandable and touching.  But it does make things a little awkward.

Paul Walker has passed away, but Brian and Mia are just done with adventuring and are going to raise their kids.  Yet, each character speaks as if they will never see Brian and Mia again.

Overall, while not quite as strong as Fast Five or Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7 is still a lot of fun…and it could have made a nice finale for the franchise.

Hooked On a Feelin’ (Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014)

Guardians_of_the_Galaxy_PosterWhen Marvel announced Guardians of the Galaxy, it was met with a pretty collective “huh?”  The announcement of director James Gunn was not much help.  Gunn had directed 2 films prior.  The Sci-Fi comedy Slither and the dark super-hero satire Super.  His writing credits were a bit more substantial.  While comic fans knew who the Guardians of the Galaxy were, the masses did not.  And this did not bode well for early anticipation.

And yet…James Gunn managed to deliver one of Marvel’s best films to date.  A traditional “Mismatched Crew Saves the Day” tale, the writing and performances make the most of the weirdness to carve a very fun film.

The film opens with young Peter Quill at the bedside of his dying mother.  When he runs off, he is abducted by aliens.  Because in Marvel’s world, that is just the kind of stuff that happens.  After a heavy-hearted beginning, we are introduced to grown up Quill.  In what seems like a serious sci-fi moment, Quill walks the landscape of a dead planet.  He pauses and puts on earphones and the booming sound of Come and Get Your Love.  This sets up a tone for the film that is highly effective.

We learn that Quill is not the brightest and gets by on luck.  As he tries to pawn off the magical McGuffin he steals from an old temple, he finds himself dealing with the green skinned Gamora who is after the McGuffin.  At the same time, Rocket (a talking raccoon) and Groot (a talking tree) are bounty hunters pursuing Quill.  This leads to all of them being imprisoned.  They are forced into a team, getting a late addition of Drax (Also green skinned and also tattooed).  Drax wants to kill Gamora, because she is an associate of the mad Kree Warrior and religious zealot Ronan.  Ronan killed Drax’s family and he is seeking his vengeance. Quill talks the other four into a prison escape, as Gamora knows someone who is interested in the McGuffin.

The prison escape is both action packed and highly entertaining.  Gunn keeps everything moving, and even when the film slows down?  It has momentum.  Gunn makes sure not to ignore the development of the Guardians.  They have opportunities to grow and Gunn (along with initial screen writer Nicole Pearlman) and overcome their situations.  Vin Diesel has one line, yet manages to imbue different emotions every time he says it.  When Drax discovers that Ronan does not appear to remember him or his family…he is lost and beaten.  He was entirely of no consequence to Ronan.  It causes him to alter his perspective.  He also starts to get the value of his friends.  Even if he does not understand how to talk to them.

The film focuses on the Guardians as David’s to Ronan’s Goliath, and it really works.  The cast is effective,  Probably the biggest flaw of the film is Ronan.  This has not been uncommon, a lot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films seem to be thin on their villains (usually expecting to be overcome by good casting).  Otherwise the film is full of humor and excitement.  Gunn took an unknown group of characters and made a strong tale of friendship and misfits overcoming adversity.

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