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.

You’ll Float Too (It, 2017)

It_2017_PosterWhen I heard they were making an “It” movie…I thought this would be a bad idea.  It is a decent sized novel.  Steven King horror novels have a pretty painful track record on film. and tended to find more success in the genre of the TV Mini-series.  And we already had an It mini-series back in 1990.  Tim Curry pretty much defined the look of Pennywise in that series.

So, to say I went in with low expectations is an understatement.

It is the tale of a group of friends in the town of Derry who learn of an evil force in their town.  Derry has a sordid history, and grownups and children alike just disappear.  After Bill’s younger brother Georgie disappears while playing in the rain, he becomes obsessed with discovering what happened to Georgie.  As he and his friends have frightening encounters with a demonic clown, they band together to try and stop it.

Is it a scary movie?  Yeah, it delivers some solid scares along with a real creepy vibe.  The new design of Pennywise is brilliantly unnerving.  Add to that a bone chilling performance by actor Bill Skarsgård.  It is a visually rich fright-fest.

But what really makes It highly effective?  It’s kids.  These kids are a solid set of actors who can create sympathy, frustration and inspiration.  When Bill delivers a speech about why they need to enter the creepy house?  You kind of want to enter the house with him.  Richie provides a whole lot of comic relief (played by Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard) who constantly makes bad sex jokes and raises his hand for high fives that never arrive.  Sophia Lillis imbues Bev with a kindness that makes it clear why the boys start to have a crush on her.  These kids have some rotten lots in lives.  Overbearing parents, abusive parents…and bullies.  Vicious bullies.

It is not really about stopping a monster clown.  It is about overcoming childhood fears, finding strength and help in your friends.  And simply growing up.

It manages to be one of those rare things… a really good Stephen King horror movie.

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