Tag Archives: DC superheroes

One Vision

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

by George Wolf

No matter what you thought of Justice League 1.0, the mere arrival of this “Snyder Cut” is fascinating on multiple levels.

It’s more than the Everest of fan service. There just isn’t any way Snyder’s DCEU epic – this version of it anyway – would exist without the Snyder/Whedon mashup mess of 2017.

It’s four freaking hours, people! You think Snyder’s gonna get that (and the extra millions for reshoots) without the whole hashtag campaign? But while the extended time and money giveth, they also taketh away, meaning that first JL debacle can take some ironic credit for all that’s better – and worse – about round two.

But it is indeed better.

More than anything, it’s a singular vision. The first was nothing if not a super-sized compromise, but this is Snyder unbound, no compromises. The 4:3 format is enriched with greatly improved CGI, specifically the “armor of scales” appearance of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), the underwater depths of Atlantis and the complete absence of Superman’s (Henry Cavill, again a perfect Clark Kent) distractingly altered upper lip.

The character development – as you would hope with this run time – is much more satisfying, especially with the two justice leaguers we know the least: Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).

And while truly important moments (Superman’s death and rebirth, for example) get the extra time they need to resonate, Snyder can still linger too long (those mini music videos, ugh) when he could be moving on.

Ben Affleck reminds you he’s a fine grizzled Batman, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman gets more badass moments and fewer leering camera angels, and at its core, the basic plot remains the same. Steppenwolf is seeking to unite the three “mother boxes” that will conquer another world for his master Darkseid (voiced by Ray Porter). But with the nurturing of return characters and the welcome appearance of new ones (like Darkseid), the chaptered storytelling feels more natural and complete.

Yes it is dark and brooding, and this League may hold the mother lode of daddy issues, but it never becomes tedious. And while you can’t quite call it fun, it is super, and heroic, and sometimes thrilling.

The stinger (actually an epilogue)? It’s a humdinger (nothing rhymes with epilogue), one that will more than satisfy the die hards while setting a major hook for more justice, darkly served.

Word Up or Nerd Up

Shazam!

by George Wolf

To paraphrase a classic segment from the old Letterman show: Can a guy in a supersuit get into a strip club?

Easily, which is pretty exciting for the teenage boy inside the super man inside the suit. And it’s just one example of the irreverent vibe Shazam! rides to bring home one of the most fun origin stories in recent memory.

The teenage boy is Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who’s just been placed in the latest of a string of foster homes. Just as he’s getting to know his foster family, including the superhero-crazed Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer from IT, impressive again), Billy is chosen to replace the aging Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) as protector of the Realms, bringing a youthful energy that will ensure the Seven Deadly Sin-Monsters cannot assume Earthly forms.

The super-villainous Dr. Thaddeus Silva (Mark Strong, gloriously slimy) does not approve, and vows to defeat the new Shazam (Zachary Levi) and assume all his powers.

So it’s on!

But first, Billy and Freddy have to find out just what superpowers are brought on by saying that magic word, which sets up a series of amusing tests and is the springboard for getting to know this grown up superboy while he mulls over possible super names.

“Thundercrack?” “No! That sounds like a butt thing.”

If you’re thinking Big (and the film acknowledges that you are with a cute homage), you’re right on. Writer Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo) fills the script with action, humor, heart and spunk, while director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) keeps things lively and engaging with plenty of impressive visual pop.

The entire cast is wonderfully diverse and consistently winning, and a few corny moments aside, makes the feels on friendship, family and responsibility land nearly as flush as the winking riffs on superhero tropes.

There really isn’t much Shazam! doesn’t deliver (okay, maybe it delivers a slightly bloated running time that includes two post-credits stingers), and as fast as you can say the magic word, DC has the best film in its universe since Bale was the Bat.

 





The Dunce and Future King

Aquaman

by Matt Weiner

A movie that brings together Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Julie Andrews and Dolph Lundgren is inevitably going to have a lot going on. That’s certainly the case for James Wan’s Aquaman, a weird mix of origin story, Arthurian myth and anti-racist appeal to coexistence. If that sounds like a lot for the frat bro character from 2017’s Justice League, well… it is. But thankfully it’s also never boring.

The new movie takes place after the events of Justice League, allowing half-man/half-Atlantean Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) to resume his day job of serving as a one-man Coast Guard and drinking. Flashbacks piece together Curry’s life story: his father (Temuera Morrison) fell in love with the queen (Kidman) of the underwater kingdom Atlantis, who later had to choose between endangering her taboo love child or returning to the kingdom.

A series of tragedies pushes Curry on his hero’s journey, with enough family strife between him and his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) to fill a Greek play. Together with the Atlantean princess Mera (Amber Heard), Curry strikes out in search of a golden MacGuffin along with his destiny, even finding time to pick up an archenemy for good measure (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta).

How much of a comfort it is that Aquaman is one of the better recent superhero movies depends on where you fall on the debate over whether distinctive directors should get picked for more of these big comic book projects (and given a long leash)—or if you wish we lived in a universe where they could pursue these visions without yoking themselves to Disney/Marvel or DC.

It is to the film’s benefit that Wan, veteran of horror franchises Saw, The Conjuring and Insidious, manages to tie Curry’s predictable Arthurian ascent to the most disturbing Lovecraftian horror this side of Hellboy. And it’s almost shocking to see the cotton candy brightness of Atlantis after the pummeling color palettes of Batman v. Superman and Justice League.

With his nonstop pace, steady stream of exotic settings and action that never gets bogged down in its own seriousness, Wan’s entry in the genre hits the mark as his loving homage to vintage Spielberg and Lucas—plus tentacles. Best of all, it’s a refreshing reminder that you shouldn’t need a flowchart and multi-phase corporate synergy to make a good popcorn movie.

Which is good because it doesn’t look like these franchises are going anywhere anytime soon, so if any other directors are looking to wed their creative vision to the corporate motherships then maybe I can learn to be more tolerant of the products they give birth to. It’s a message that sounds oddly familiar.