FlixChatter Review: Shazam! (2019)

There’s such a huge anticipation over this movie, and the early reviews have been giddily-positive. I have to say I was caught in a bit of Shazam! fever as well after seeing the second trailer, which promises a boisterous good time.

This movie is an origin story of the DC superhero that’s originally named Captain Marvel in the comics, but later renamed to Shazam! as Marvel comics held the rights to the name. I think Shazam is a more appropriate name for this given its whimsical, zany nature, though it actually started with a pretty dark sequence.

The movie took its time before we actually see protagonist in its superhero form. We see Billy Batson as a toddler getting lost in the crowd at a carnival, then later as a mischievous teenager (Asher Angel) playing pranks at cops. We follow Batson’s journey into another foster family where he meets his new friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). Grazer is SO good here, I absolutely adore him as Freddy who gives equal levity and credible emotional weight when the movie requires him to. I feel like the energy level shoots up significantly once the two meet up, which only gets better after the teenage Billy gets his powers from the Wizard.

Now the movie’s MVP is definitely Zachary Levi with his unabashedly-exuberant, relentlessly-buoyant performance. I have only seen him in the first season of Chuck in which he also played an effortlessly likable, goofy character. But Shazam is clearly a role he’s born to play. My favorite parts are the superhero discovery process, when Shazam is learning the extent of his strength, how to fly, etc. Those moments are so hilarious, filled with joyful good fun. I mean who hasn’t dreamed of taking on the people who’ve made our lives difficult, so all the scenes of Billy taking on the school bullies are pure wish-fulfillment stuff. I also laughed the hardest at the references to other DC heroes, esp. when Shazam throws a Batman toy  at the villain screaming for his help. It’s even amusing now given his alter ego’s name is Batson (read: Bat’s son) 😉 What makes Shazam works is that he’s still relatable even after he gains incredible powers. He doesn’t suddenly gain a conscience the way a mature adult would and behaves in an altruistic way like Batman or Superman.

I wish the trailers haven’t given away some of the funniest bits however, but it also didn’t show some of the less-fun scenes, mostly involving Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong). Heh, even his name seems tedious. Now, I have seen the British actor portray a bunch of evil bad dudes, from Kick-Ass, John Carter, Robin Hood, even in the BBC miniseries The Jury in 2002 where he beat the living hell out of [pre-Leonidas] Gerard Butler with a baseball bat. I always think of him as a strong actor (pun intended), albeit that he’s been typecast, but here I thought he’s pretty weak. In superhero movies, it’s not enough that we have a formidable hero, we also need a worthy villain to make the movie works as a whole. I just think Sivana lacks real menace, so he ends up just being infuriating and worst of all, cheesy. The scene of him and the seven-deadly-sin gargoyle creatures wrecking havoc in a board meeting is perhaps my least favorite moments, which is a shame given DC usually gives us such terrific (even iconic) villains like The Joker, General Zod, etc.

I also think that the tonal shift from the dark scenes to the lighter, goofier parts could be handled better. Some critics have mentioned that this movie has scary moments that might spook young kids. I think I’d agree with that, but it’s not a dealbreaker for me. Apparently director David F. Sandberg is known for his horror films (i.e. Annabelle: Creation) which explains the scarier parts of the movie. The screenplay Henry Gayden mostly works, as it has heart in the right place. The scenes with the foster family are genuinely moving. I appreciate how the movie champions the often ‘forgotten’ people such as foster parents & foster kids, people with disability, kids who are bullied, and made them the real heroes. It also shows a prayerful family who loves and accept the kids as they are, now THAT is rare to see in a Hollywood studio movie, but gratifying to see.

In the end, I enjoyed it for the most part despite the overly bombastic action finale that somehow many DC movies can’t avoid, and other flaws I mentioned. Shazam! is definitely better than most DC movies. Yes I know that’s not saying much given their track record, but surely the DC execs are ecstatic by this positive reception. Now that we’ve got the origin story out of the way, I look forward to what Shazam will do next in the inevitable sequels.


Have you seen Shazam!? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

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Did you that if you type ‘Tarzan’ on IMDb, there’d be about 200 titles popped up since 1918 all the way to 2016. So yeah, you could say that Edgar Rice Burroughs’ titular character has been adapted to death in various formats. But hey, Hollywood loves to recycle stuff over and over, and this one promises to make the Lord of the Jungle to 21st Century audiences.

What I do like about this one is how the story isn’t told in a linear way. By the time the film opens, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) has been acclimated to life in London as John Clayton III aka Lord Greystoke of Greystoke Manor, with Jane (Margot Robbie) as his wife. I’m glad this isn’t an origin story, though the film did reveal his backstory in flashbacks. In fact, director David Yates (known for his Harry Potter movies) use of flashbacks constantly throughout, showing us how he met Jane and so forth.
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Of course soon Tarzan ends up in Congo again, at the request of Belgium’s King Leopold II to visit & report on Belgian’s development on Congo. He’s reluctant at first, but American attaché George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) persuaded him to do so, suspecting of slavery of the Congolese people. There he crosses path with Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz) who’s in Congo on a rich minerals expedition for the Belgian king. It would’ve been a huge issue if it weren’t for the fact that Rom has been promised diamonds by the tribal leader Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou, typecast once again) in exchange for Tarzan.
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I was actually surprised how much I enjoyed the adventure ride with Tarzan, with Jackson being the comic relief throughout. I gotta say that without Jackson’s hilarious antics, I might not have enjoyed this movie as much as I did, because the film tends to take itself far too seriously. On top of that, Skarsgård plays his character in such a surly, dour manner that practically sucked the fun out of the whole thing. There’s a difference between Byronically-brooding and dull, and he definitely fits more with the latter. I mentioned on Twitter before the movie started that it’d take more than a 12-pack abs to make his character intriguing. Well, it seems that Skarsgård’s too busy working out and dieting rigorously that he forgot to infuse his role with any kind of personality, let alone charm. Oh btw, those who couldn’t wait to see Tarzan’s bare torso would be pretty disappointed that he didn’t take of his shirt until about halfway point. I should mention too that Skarsgård reminds me a lot of Sam Heughan who plays Jamie in Starz’s Outlander at times that it distracted me a bit.

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Robbie did her best with what she’s given. Her Jane isn’t quite a damsel-in-distress, though there’s still the obligatory rescue when she’s held hostage by Rom. As for Waltz, well he’s better here than in Spectre, but his mustache-twirling villain-y is becoming more of a tiresome schtick. It seems his fun baddie performance a la Hans Landa is long behind him, what a pity.

There’s also the issue with the whole colonialism and slavery that critics think are tone deaf. Now, I actually think the filmmaker/writers strived to make Tarzan more than ‘another white savior’. Jackson’s character is based on a respected real life African American minister/soldier/lawyer/writer and he’s got a major role here that includes saving Tarzan’s life. Even the moments where Tarzan returns the favor is downplayed a bit and that bit when Williams climbs onto his back as he swings down from a tree vine is pretty hilarious. I didn’t expect this Tarzan movie to be some sort of buddy comedy but at times that’s how it played out, which doesn’t always work but Jackson is always a hoot. There is also a quiet moment between Williams and Tarzan when Williams reflects on his past that I think is quite memorable. There are moments that tugged at my heartstrings too, as Tarzan and Jane seem to genuinely care for the Congolese residents, both the people and animals of the jungle.

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Having just seen The Jungle Book, the cinematography here doesn’t quite match that one, and at times it appears way too dark and gloomy. But there are some beautiful shots and some of the action sequences are pretty fun to watch. The soundtrack byRupert Gregson-Williams was pretty rousing at times too, though now I could barely remember it. Somehow every time I hear the word Tarzan I always think of Phil Collins’ fabulous song You’ll Be in My Heart from the animated Disney version.

This may sound like a backhanded compliment but given my low expectation coming into this, I’m not disappointed. I guess I wasn’t expecting something truly epic and it wasn’t, but as far as Summer popcorn flick go, it offers an adequate escapist good time.

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Have you seen ‘The Legend of Tarzan’? Well, what did you think?