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Shazam!

comic book, DC, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

After dropping the ball on their two biggest superheroes, Batman and Superman, the DC Extended Universe looked like it was headed for trouble. Justice League was a mess, albeit a sporadically entertaining one, and while Wonder Woman was a cut above, one solid film isn’t enough to challenge Marvel’s box office domination. But then something strange happened, Aquaman was released and revealed itself to be a big, colourful fun movie that utterly demolished the box office. Aquaman! The butt of comic book jokes since time immemorial is now the biggest superhero in the DC pantheon. With that unlikely fact solidly in place, it’s not such a crazy idea that Shazam! could be next. But the question has to be asked: is it any good?

Shazam! tells the story of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a young tearaway who has basically made it his life’s mission to be a pain in the arse of the various foster families he lives with as he searches for his biological mother, who he was traumatically separated from years earlier at a carnival. Life takes a sudden, unexpected turn when an ancient wizard grants Billy the ability to turn into Shazam (Zachary Levi), a rather dishy-looking adult who can fly, is super strong and most importantly has the power of being able to buy beer without an ID!

The concept of an adolescent boy with super powers is both a bit terrifying and absolutely hilarious, and Shazam! does a wonderful job of milking it for every single chuckle. The scenes where Billy and bestie, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) test out Shazam’s superpowers for Youtube views are easily the best moments in the film, showcasing a wry, knowing wit and genuine belly laughs. Slightly less successful is the villain’s plotline, involving Thaddeus Silvana (Mark Strong) who previously failed to be worthy of the Shazam mantle and is now taking revenge against the world, using the powers of seven demons who are living personifications of the seven deadly sins. Mark Strong is solid, as always, but the plotline gives him little to do other than glower menacingly near the overly digital demons, who look a little like tech demos effusively excited by their very expensive particle effect technology.

Still, Marvel villains are usually a bit pants as well, and that shortcoming doesn’t negatively impact the surprisingly nuanced take on family that is the film’s ultimate message. Shazam! is over-the-top, extremely silly and more than a little juvenile and yet by leaning into the arrested development that so often underscores films in this genre, it actually manages to say something sweet and earnest. Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer do a wonderful job portraying good-hearted, albeit annoying, teenage boys and Zachary Levi absolutely sells being a goofy boy in a big man’s body.

Shazam! won’t change the mind of anybody suffering from superhero fatigue, but for the rest of us it’s an engaging, heartfelt ode to the slightly jerky teenager inside us all and our often untapped potential to do the right thing.

 
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Venom

comic book, Marvel, Review, Theatrical Leave a Comment

Created in the mid ‘80s and becoming inexplicably popular in the ‘90s, the Venom comic book character looks like an over designed toothy scribble without much personality beyond “really big mouth” and “likes breaking/eating things”. So, in a weird way having a terrible film based on a terrible character is somewhat fitting? Sadly, that doesn’t make schlepping your way through 112 long, tedious minutes any more enjoyable.

Venom tells the tale of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist/vlogger/sexy mumbling man who manages to blow up his life with Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) after executing a bone-headed plan to publicly expose the shonky shenanigans of Elon Musk-like evil genius, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). This leads, in a slow, roundabout way (that we won’t spoil, but it’s very stupid indeed) to Eddie becoming a host to an alien parasite that chats a lot, possesses super powers and has a penchant for biting off human heads. That last sentence probably makes Venom sound like dumb fun. Don’t be fooled, a couple of moderately entertaining moments aside the flick is a dud, making bafflingly poor decisions at almost every turn.

For a start the three main actors – Hardy, Williams, Ahmed – all deliver the worst performances of their respective careers. None of them will be ruined by this turkey, thankfully, but holy crap what a difference a decent script and a canny director make! Ahmed in particular appears to be drowning in a sea of godawful dialogue and staggeringly inept character work. The visual effects are okay but they’re in service of a character, Venom himself, who seems to change motivation and mood for no reason at all, leading to a climax with an almost identical foe that you might be able to make out if you squint really hard. Of course, by the time this flick reaches its third act you’ll just be glad it’s over, as all but the most masochistic audience members will have checked out over an hour before.

Venom is a bad film, poorly plotted, shockingly acted with nary but a couple of visually interesting moments to lift you from the oily black swamp of boredom. It’s not hard to see what director Ruben Fleischer was going for here, and once or twice snatches of the film that could have been shine through, but ultimately this is a jaw-dropping misfire and feels like a product of a time when comic book adaptations were notoriously bad like Spawn (1997). And hell, at least Spawn had an awesome soundtrack, the only appropriate musical accompaniment to Venom is the scornful, mocking laughter of an irritated audience.