SHAZAM: The Surprise Hit

I like surprises and I like proving people wrong. With SHAZAM! I got both a surprise and I proved people were wrong. Whenever I talked about movies I wanted to see in 2019, I always got the side eye when I mentioned I wanted to see Shazam. I would get comments like “You’re on your own”, “I’m not seeing that”, and “that looks stupid”. It seemed that no one I knew wanted to see this movie except for me. Everyone was trashing it. I even started to doubt whether I should go see it. Lucky for me I don’t mind riding alone and I saw Shazam. There were a few reasons that no one wanted to see Shazam. First, the trailers had turned a lot of people off to the movie.

The trailer showed the jokes and the light-hearted side of Shazam. A lot of the trailers showed kids joking around or Zachary Levi dressed as the hero in funny scenes. Nothing looked serious about this movie in a time where people are serious about their comic book movies. Then there is the fact that this is a DC Universe movie. Wonder Woman was moderately good and Aquaman was awesome but Warner Bros. is not known for producing good superhero movies based on comics. They tend to have a take on the characters that does not include using too much source material and making things their own. They have often missed the mark in their depictions of these characters.

This time they got it right.

The reason the trailers showed a light-hearted superhero movie, has a lot to do with the fact that Shazam is a light-hearted hero. Shazam is not gritty and dark. Shazam is light and fun. One of his nicknames that Dr Sivan calls him in the comics is The Big Red Cheese because he’s cheesy. Shazam is the story of a 15-year-old orphan, Billy Batson, who has bestowed the power of Shazam from the old wizard Shazam. When Billy speaks the wizards name, he becomes the hero Shazam and the form of Shazam is no longer a 15-year-old kid but of a grown man. However, even with the body of a grown man Shaam still has the mind of a 15-year-old boy.

So, you see where there is levity and humor in the story of Shazam. This premise of the story asks the question of what a kid would do if he had the ability to become an adult. The answers in this movie were quite hilarious. Zachary Levi totally pulls off the what if the movie Big was about a superhero. There is even a scene in the movie that pays homage to Big. When the transitions are made from Asher Angels Billy Batson to Zachary Levi’s Shazam they are done with believable ease. There is no awkward time in the movie where you would think that you had two separate actors. They truly came together to form one character and it was brilliant.

Shazam also told a story of family. It was about a boy who was orphaned and was in constant search for his real mother. He went from foster home to foster home always running away to find his real mother. The perception in his mind is that they would find each other and live happily ever after. Shazam is a coming of age story. This is a story on how the boy becomes a hero. Given great power and instant adulthood can be intoxicating to a young man and this is a story that shows a kid dealing with this to learn an important lesson. As he starts to understand more of the gift given to him with his new best friend at his side, he slowly starts to open his heart and let people in.

No good superhero movie is worth its ticket prices without a good villain. Dr Sivana is Shazam’s oldest backstory and an understanding of why he is the way he is. Mark Strong does an excellent job of playing this obsessed villain who wants to rule the world with magic. His reasoning is justified and you might even cheer for him at some point then you remember: this is the bad guy. One of the surprises in Shazam was the heartlessness of the villain. This is where the trailers were a little misleading. Dr Sivana was cruel and ruthless and this was not something that was portrayed in the trailer because you didn’t see too much of Mark Strong’s character in the trailers.

The villainy of Dr Sivana evened out the light parts of the movie and gave a legitimate fear for the hero. Just like any superhero, Shazam also had a sidekick through most of the movie. Billy Batson had been assigned a new foster home and met Freddie Freeman played by Jack Dylan Grazer. The Freddie character was a crippled foster kid who befriends Billy and helps him figure out this hero thing. Freddie serves as both comic relief and moral compass. Because of Freddie’s tenacity, Billy eventually lets his walls down to Freddie and the rest of his new foster family to accept them into his heart’

The only problem with this movie is that it is predictable. I’m not sure if that’s because I have been reading the source material on Shazam since I was 10 years old or because the script was transparent. However, in this case, predictable wasn’t a bad thing. You saw where this movie was going but the ride to get there was worth it. After I checked this movie out, I went back to all the naysayers and told them how good Shazam was. They all said that they had heard nothing but good things about it and will go see it. I couldn’t help but say I told you so.

So here is my review of a good movie which pleasantly surprised me and proved that I was right.

I’m good until the next one.

Kenny Walker Jr

“Us”…the atypical family movie

As a moviegoer, there are times when I truly desire the arrival of an upcoming film. Recently, despite being a die-hard Marvel Cinematic Universe fan, I bypassed Captain Marvel and patiently awaited the arrival of Us. Us is the sophomore film from writer, director, and producer Jordan Peele. The film, starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, and Elizabeth Moss, concerns a family who must fight against their doppelgangers in order to survive the latter’s nefarious intentions.

In many ways, the film asks, through its title and story, “who, and what, are we really.” Though there was a mild complaint (discussed later), I enjoyed the movie and its overall premise and execution. The characters are not “over the top” as in they are relatable. The two primary parents, Nyong’o and Duke, try to understand each other while balancing trying to understand their children, Joseph and Alex, with an additional backstory concerning a key incident in Nyong’o’s character’s childhood.

The aforementioned incident is a central factor throughout the movie and is an important factor in the film’s climax. This in concert with the flow of the story and how Peele presents each growing aspect of the situation allows the story to transition from a personal fight to an implied global scale as the film progresses. In the end, the audience is left with a “holy sh*t” effect that carries to the story’s conclusion.

Additionally, there is the “family forced survival” trope present seen previously in films such as Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes where in the members of the family must revert to their more primal methods in order to survive the ordeal. However, Peele, perhaps through his comical background, takes a lighter tone in how the family deals with their more violent actions.

As stated before, my ONLY personal complaint (mild spoiler) is explaining the origins of the doppelgangers. Not much, if any, room is given into explaining how they came to be or the circumstances in which they come to exist. From my personal view, there are two schools of thought. The first involves a goof in writing. There have been several films, especially in horror, where the ABSOLUTE answer is never given. Often in retrospect, one can attribute this to a misstep in executing the story.

In terms, if Us and Peele’s storytelling ability, one can argue that he either wants to leave the audience in limbo or wishes for the audience to come up with their own conclusion, which leads to the second school of thought, the unknown terror. The unknown terror is simply, if it cannot be explained, then its much scarier than to understand it. The best previous film example is Halloween in that you know Michael Myers is killing and you know he can’t be stopped; however, you do not know the why’s and how’s of how he came to this point. I personally went with the second school as it intensified the fear of the scenario. However, still, a hole that could sink the proverbial ship.

In all, Us was a thoroughly enjoyable film. Some complaints about the movie, apart from mine, have revolved around the anticipation of the audience wishing to see another Get Out type of film. The fact that Us is not like its sister film shows, in my opinion, the progression of Jordan Peele as a writer and director. No writer or director, worth their salt, will make a carbon copy of a prior film. If they do it can show the director distaste for possibly being forced or restricted when trying to create a new story (a la John Carpenter with Escape from LA). Us is Peele’s progression as a storyteller, and honestly, I expect newer and similarly good films from him in the future…and let’s face it, they’re letting him do The Twilight Zone so he’s going somewhere. Thus, get out, no pun intended, and go see Us because it’s definitely worth it.

James Hales

Captain Marvel: The First Marvel Studios Female Lead

Spoiler Alerts for Captain Marvel

We finally have a female lead superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Awesome. I realize that we normally do spoiler-free reviews but, in this case, it was hard to do without giving this movie a fair review and letting you know what I thought. There is too much going on and its relation to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m going to start with the elephant in the room. You want to know whether I liked it or not. Yes, I liked it. Truth be told it wasn’t’ the best Marvel movie but it was good. It did what it was supposed to do. But let’s break this down a little bit

Watching Captain Marvel reminded me of watching the movie Solo from the Star Wars franchise. It’s a prequel to the franchise that must tell a story yet fit into what was already done. Like Solo, this was a good movie however it was weighed down by obligations it had to make to the whole franchise story that has already been told and still needs to be told. We’ll do a Star Wars story in the future but now we are talking about Captain Marvel. So, this story takes place after Captain America: First Avenger but before Iron Man and after Peter Quill got kidnapped to space. The year is 1995.

Captain Marvel told a story of how Air Force pilot Carol Danvers received her powers and became Captain Marvel. It was a coming of age story of a woman who was deceived and commanded control of her life from her oppressors who had lied to her about who she was for over 6 years. It’s a classic and somewhat predictable story of deceit and lies. You know where this movie is going while watching but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. It was good for what it needed to do. This movie’s sole purpose was to introduce Captain Marvel and give her a place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and to fill in some gaps for the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself. For that purpose, this movie did exactly that.

In the MCU, Carol Danvers had a best friend in the Air Force named Maria Rambeau who, because they were women in the ’90s was not allowed to do anything but test airplanes for the service. During this time, Carol befriended an Air Force scientist named Wendy Lawson who was developing a new plane for the Air Force. So, Carol thought. Lawson was a Kree scientist named Mar-Vel who came to Earth to help Skrull refugees. The Kree and the Skrulls were alien races at war. After a test flight went bad in an experimental plane made by Lawson the two crashed because the Kree attacked looking for Mar-Vel.

When the plane explodes, Danvers gets powers from the energies that made the plane special and the Kree took her unconscious body and implanted false memories. This was to get her to fight for them. Then 6 years later a Kree mission goes wrong and Carol is kidnapped by the Skrulls and interrogated and eventually escapes and ends up back on Earth. She meets Nick Fury, gets her memory back and fights against the Kree who are really the bad guys in this story. She gains her freedom from the Kree, helps the Skrulls and becomes Captain Marvel. Simple story but theres more. So much more.

This story needs to tie in with the rest of the MCU to serve as a prequel to the next Avengers movie, Endgame. To do this the writers go to the one thing that has been a constant on Earth since Captain America: First Avenger: the tesseract. The tesseract is the glue that holds all the MCU stories together. The tesseract is what was harnessed to power the ship that Lawson and Danvers flew during their fateful crash. The energy from the engine of that device is what gave Carol Danvers powers. This is the same tesseract that was in Captain America: First Avenger and Marvel’s Avengers. This movie shows what happened to the tesseract between those two movies and how because of the tesseract and Captain Marvel, Nick Fury came up with the Avengers Initiative.

The Good

One of the good parts of Captain Marvel is the buddy cop movie that you didn’t really see coming, Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury and Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel had chemistry that carried this movie much further than it should have. In Captain Marvel, we get a much younger Nick Fury with two eyes. He’s not top cop but on his way. This younger Nick Fury is not so jaded and secretive as the one we are used to seeing. This Nick Fury has more levity. This levity does not take away from the effectiveness of the character. He is still formidable in combat and is every bit the hero at times where Captain Marvel is busy elsewhere.

Another good is the display of the powers of Captain Marvel. One of my concerns was being able to show such a powerful being and relate her to the big screen. At first, her powers were hampered by a Kree device but once she was able to fight back against that she was able to realize her full potential. In comics Captain Marvel is one of the most powerful beings in the galaxy and this was clearly shown. The special effects were well worth the wait. Another good was the relationship with Carol Danvers best friend, Marie Rambeau played by Lashana Lynch.

Once again, the chemistry between the actresses sold the story. You believed that these were the best of friends. Added with Akira Akbar who played Marie’s daughter who called Carol her Aunt, this became a solid back story. But Monica Rambeau was not just a character thrown in for cuteness. In a possible future of the MCU, this little girl will grow to be the next wave of superheroes. In comics, this character is the first woman to take the mantle of Captain Marvel debuting in Amazing Spiderman Annual #16 in 1982. Hopefully, we see a grown-up Monica become the hero she was destined to be

The Not So Good

As an old school comic fan, I was looking for the wink. You see, in comics before Carol Danvers became Captain Marvel, she had other identities. In comics, she did get her powers from an explosion however she first called herself Ms. Marvel. She had a specific custom that I thought deserved a wink. I could understand where the Ms. Marvel thing might confuse some because there is a new younger hero calling herself Ms. Marvel in comics. However, her costume isn’t the same and nod would not have killed the movie. I was disappointed in the Stan Lee cameo. Marvel did an awesome job of dedicating the Marvel opening montage a tribute to Stan Lee that was extremely cool and I can’t see a fan not liking that opening. But then came the much-awaited cameo.

Since Lee passed away in 2018, it had been public knowledge that he had filmed some of his fan-favorite cameos for at least Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame but this cameo, compared to others of the past was weak. There was barely a speaking part for Stan the Man, just a smile at our heroine. This was cleared up for me by watching a YouTube video by Kevin Smith. The director and actor who had close ties to Lee was told ahead of the movie release by producer Kevin Feige about the cameo. Feige had told Smith that this cameo was centered around Mallrats, a film made by Smith in 1995 in which Lee appeared.

The scene is Lee rehearsing his lines when our hero comes across him and suspects that he might be a Skrull. Now if you listen really close you hear Lee repeating lines, he must learn for the movie Mallrats and when he is approached, he just smiles. Apparently, this cameo was filmed a few months before his death and his health was not good enough for his voice to sound strong enough. Feige had called Smith to not only tell him about the cameo in relation to him but to ask if there was any audio of Lee saying the line. Lee doesn’t speak in Captain Marvel, what you are hearing is audio from 1995. In any event, Smith was honored and emotional about this cameo for obvious reasons. Hearing this story also made me rethink that this was a weak cameo.

The cat. I had a problem with the cat. For a plot point to hold a bit of significance you introduce this character out of nowhere and the only thing I could think is “where is the cat now?”. It was established that this was an alien cat so we can’t expect it to have the same life span as an Earth cat. This was a loose plot device kind of like Han Solo’s love interest in Solo. Where has she been all this time? This is one of the things that correlated these movies for me and is the problem when you insert a prequel that takes place between movies. It’s hard to insert plot points that were never seen before that has relevance on the whole storyline.

Overall

Overall, I think this is a good movie which adds further to the MCU. The sometimes weak and transparent plot was saved by the actors and the chemistry they were able to convey. With Captain Marvel you can tell a lot of other stories, one specifically where has she been all this time. This was a great story to lead into the much-anticipated Avengers: Endgame. Necessary because it all points to Captain Marvel being a huge factor in saving the day and defeating Thanos. So, here’s to hoping there is a bigger pay off to this movie in Avengers: Endgame.

Leave a comment and let us know what you think of Captain Marvel.

Kenny Walker Jr

The Supermen did not Reign: An example of reading the book is way better

Not everything translates well from comic books to animation. In a comic book, the writer can write a story and give explanations and backstories. They have monthly issues to plan and detail their story. When you move that same story that developed over an extended period from a book into animation, you would lose a good portion of the integrity of the new adaption. This was the case with Reign of the Supermen.

Following the 2018 animated movie Death of Superman, Reign of the Supermen was the second act in the famed 1993 DC Comics story about the death and return of Superman. In the original story, Superman is confronted with the alien Doomsday and during a massive battle both Superman and Doomsday are killed. During Superman’s, “death” for figures appeared to replace him: The Eradicator, the Cyborg Superman, Steel, and Superboy.

Superboy was a clone that was formed from the DNA of Superman and Lex Luthor and created in the labs of Cadmus. Steel was a brilliant ballistics expert who was once saved by Superman and created his armor to serve as a replacement to the Man of Steel in Metropolis. Eradicator was a weapon created centuries ago on Krypton by an ancestor of Superman that took a human form to replace Superman upon his death.

Cyborg Superman was a scientist-astronaut named Hank Henshaw who along with his crew was poisoned with radiation and ultimately blamed Superman for the accident. Though his body died, Hank Henshaw’s mind molded with alien Kryptonian technology and he became Cyborg Superman and used his identity to get revenge on Superman by taking his name and being the bad guy.

The actual story of the Reign of the Supermen in the comics took months to flush out a lot more backstory than I have provided here. DC had the brilliant idea to try to condense this in a 2-hour animation. Not the best idea. A lot of plot points in the original story were condensed in order to make the ultimate bad guy behind Doomsday killing Superman and Cyborg Superman being the bad guy impersonator be none other than Darkseid.

Watch this movie for the fun of watching a movie if you have nothing else better to watch but please do yourself a favor and get the trades or go digital to read the full complete real story of the Reign of the Supermen. It’s not so much that DC decided to change the story to condense it, it’s the fact that they did not condense it well. In truth, this should have been a trilogy: Death of Superman, Reign of the Supermen and Return of Superman.

One of the main plot points that ruins this movie is the last 15 minutes. The lackluster explanation to bring Superman back so that he can save the day. Then have him reunite with Lois and give the world the worse explanation why Clark Kent was missing while Superman was presumed dead was the worse rushed feeling to the end of a movie I ever experienced. Even with the plot change to tie it all together in a new way, giving this whole movie to the replacement Supermen and having Superman come back in another installment would have told a better story.

Another misstep was the voice casting. Tony Todd, who is an exceptional actor and has done great voice work in the past was dreadfully miscast as Darkseid. At no point did Darkseid sound like the God he is but rather just a very angry human crime lord. Similarly, Rainn Wilson did not have the power in his voice to properly portray Lex Luthor. Lex Luthor should sound like the egotistical mega maniac he is not whatever this was. It was too nasal.

It was not all forgettable, there were some highlights. Steel and Superboy were both portrayed very well and made you wish you had more time with their backstory or at least a chance to see them in action without a Justice League to save them. Although it was rushed to fit in the movie, the love between Lois and Clark was shown in the best way. Throughout this movie even presumed dead, Lois’ love for Superman was undeniable.

If there is nothing on your regular cable stations and you’ve watched everything you want on Hulu and you’ve got no one to Netflix and chill with, then, yeah, give this little movie a chance and kill some time. Otherwise, do yourself a better favor and read the source material for this story.

Kenny Walker Jr

Event Horizon, In Space You Can Still Visit Hell

The human desire for space travel is a concept in science fiction as commonplace as dunes of sand in a desert. Writers and filmmakers have taken the idea into multiple areas ranging from semi-fantasy as in Star Wars and Dune franchises to the semi-realistic in the Star Trek universe or Babylon 5. Within these stories are usually the wonderment of discovery and the evolution of social, technological, and even physical humanity. However, while most of us, myself included, embrace the awe and possibilities of this landscape, others have introduced the idea of, “what if this went wrong”, or “what if this was horrifying.”

The latter is explored in Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1997 film Event Horizon starring Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill, among others. The film, set in the year 2047, centers around a rescue crew sent to investigate the return of a lost starship, the Event Horizon, designed for interplanetary space exploration. Upon finding the ship, the crew begins to learn about what happened to the Event Horizon’s crew, have terrifying visions, and discover, much to their dismay, where the ship has been for the time it was lost. All culminating in a situation of absolute fear and horror which guides the flow of the film.

Event Horizon, as a story, is quite possibly one of the truest science fiction horror films ever produced. In the sense of science fiction, the viewer is introduced to the idea that while humanity has advanced significantly in space technology, the “big” elephant in the room comes to how does humankind travel beyond its solar system. Though not constantly harbored on, this element is a central aspect of the story. As science fiction fans we are given star travel plot devices within the majority of popular space operas. Star Trek famously has warp technology which set the pace for humanity to both explore space and served as a unifying measure as it was able to see that, to quote Deanna Troi, “We were not alone in the universe.”

Star Wars simply uses hyperdrives as a method of travel which is as commonplace, and easy to obtain, as a bicycle. In both franchises, the ability to travel through space, at times to different sections of the universe, is often without problem or consequence. Event Horizon takes a different stance in that while humanity is seemingly in a state of peace, it still desires, and desperately needs, to travel to other star systems. In this regard, the Event Horizon’s gravity drive is developed to cut a hole in space-time, via an artificially produced black hole, to instantly travel from one point in space to another. As a part of this want and need, there is a “mild” disregard for the possible ends to these actions which leads to dire consequences.

To loosely quote the character of Smith, played by Sean Pertwee, confronting Neill’s Dr. Weir, “you violate the laws of physics and expect nothing to happen.” This idea is central to the heart of the story, which leads to the horror. The most standout aspect of Event Horizon’s horror lies not with an individual antagonist, such as the xenomorph from Alien, but in another dimension. Throughout the film, the story leads you through hellish, pun intended, obstacles which in the end make you question, “what is this place where the ship came from.” Is it simply another dimensional plane of pure chaos, as stated by Weir, or is it, in actuality, hell. It is even stated during the climax that “hell is but a word, the reality is far worse.”

One is left to judge based on the events, this time no pun intended, that the ship is punishing the crew for their past sins and ultimately torturing and killing them for said transgressions. However, it is both known and unknown what the place is and what the ship has truly become. In one way this echoes John Carpenter’s premise of Michael Myers from the Halloween franchise. While you know Michael is a killer and is virtually unstoppable, you never truly learn the why for both aspects. The same principal element exists in Event Horizon. Additionally, the horror is just as much psychological as it is physical with each being as direct. As previously stated, the ship is a being that knows how and when to torture its prey, then at the right moment physically strike.

Stephen King fans could view this in the same way as Pennywise the Clown creates absolute fear in his victims before killing them. All being said, both the ship and hell are mutual antagonists. In all, Event Horizon is, in my opinion, an intensely good film with an excellent and creative story and a cast that can carry it. In its original release, the movie was nearly panned by critics and even some viewers alike. In being both pure horror and pure science fiction, the film could alienate a viewer wishing to see one or the other. Additionally, the film carries a very hard gothic atmosphere to it. The ships, sets, and visual aspects are very dark and medieval cathedral-like versus the streamlined sci-fi pieces one is generally used to.

Thus, in some ways, this can stray the baseline science fiction buff away. The horror element also gleefully utilizes both gore and shock gore to a degree where one might think they are watching a Hellraiser movie albeit set in space, though there was such a film. In later years, the film would develop a profound cult following which has allowed its popularity to resurface in the past few years. As a die-hard horror and sci-fi lover, the movie is one of the truest bridges between both genres. However, every diamond is not without its coal.

The movie is a little over 90 minutes long, with an original cut being two hours and 10 minutes long. Though Anderson even stated that the original cut was “overly” long, he further acknowledged there were key points to the story within that 40 extra minutes which benefited the film. Paramount, following the film’s success on home release, wanted a director’s cut released. Unfortunately, the cuts were forever lost in a salt mine in Scotland, as the story goes, though a few cut scenes are available for viewing on YouTube. For anyone looking for a true space horror film, apart from Alien, Event Horizon is worth your time.

James Hales

Glass: a superhero movie, but not

In the world of film, great trilogies can be difficult to achieve. For every Star Wars, episodes IV to VI, of course, there is a Godfather, where one leaves you almost thoroughly satisfied and the other says “we should have stopped at part 2.” As a filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan has certainly had his share of greatness mixed with not so great. One would argue that The Sixth Sense was highly masterful as opposed to The Last Airbender which left much to be desired.

This past weekend the director’s newest work, Glass starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodward, and Sarah Paulson was released. The film is the final part of a trilogy which began with Unbreakable in 2000 and Split released in 2016. The trilogy revolves around the existence, and implications, of superheroes and supervillains in the real world.

The characters from the two previous films continue their individual paths of the hero David Dunn, played by Willis, the intellectual villain and titular character Elijah Price or Mr. Glass, portrayed by Jackson, and the “brute” villain with multiple personalities Kevin Wendall Crumb, played by McAvoy.

The story brings all three together after each is confined to a mental institution where their abilities, viewed as baseline mental disorders, are analyzed by psychologist Dr. Ellie Staple who believes their conditions are a form of delusions of grandeur. Through the course of the film, the characters are explored and, in true M. Night fashion, a myriad of plot twists and turns lead to a final conclusion which can launch the viewer in several directions depending on how they embrace the story.

A singular aspect one must realize when watching Glass is that it in every way is a superhero movie, but not. The film’s strength, as with the previous entries, is that it thrusts the viewer into a “real world” of superheroes and supervillains. This subtlety of content erases the ultra-fantastic elements of costumed teams of powered individuals fighting cosmic beings while placing the viewer in a possible, relatable, reality where disbelief is less suspended.

However, a soft weakness is, as, with any sequel, one must know the prior films. Glass is not a movie to walk into without watching Unbreakable or Split. There are literally only two new characters in the film with little points of extended explanation of the established characters. Thus, with no knowledge of the original players, the viewer will more than likely not grasp certain elements of the story. The film expects you to jump in and start swimming.

Overall, the film is a masterful conclusion to the series which started with Unbreakable. Truth be told, I have been waiting for this movie since I saw Unbreakable. As a die-hard comic book fan, one might say my appreciation lies solely in the superhuman subject matter. However, this aspect, though very important, is tertiary to the telling of a great story.

Shyamalan wove a tale of absolute fantasy and absolute reality that is impossible to ignore. While some critique the film in the context of high-level known superhero films, it would be best to judge the movie, and its setting, in a class by itself. In comic book terms, there are serials and then there are graphic novels, Glass and its predecessors are the latter. As previously stated, know the two other films and once viewed, one shall certainly enjoy and value Glass.

 James B. Hales

Aquaman Saves the DC Cinematic Universe

When I was a kid, I used to watch the Aquaman cartoon on television. The main reason I liked taking baths was that I could get in the water and pretend to be Aquaman. I would twirl my hands under the water to pretend to make whirlpools. To me, being Aquaman was cool. However, everyone else saw him as the lame fish guy.

With the new release of the movie Aquaman starring Jason Mamoa, Aquaman is no longer just the fish guy. Aquaman has made the title character what he was always meant to be: one of the most powerful and interesting characters in the DC universe. Director James Wan has breathed new life into Warner Bros. DC Comics properties with his take on this classic character.

Wan has made Aquaman one of the best DC Comic films in a very long time taking away the dark brooding elements that have plagued previous DC Universe films. Wan has returned to the hero in superhero showing his main character in the light and giving him a heroic quest to fulfill his destiny. We first got a look at Jason Momoa’s Aquaman in the Batman vs Superman cameo.

Then we got a full range of what this character would be from the Justice League movie. I must admit, I was not impressed. The character did not seem like the Arthur Curry that I had read about in comic books. This Arthur Curry seemed like a brutish bore. This movie proved me wrong. The Aquaman movie gives Arthur Curry background, personality, and depth. Jason Mamoa portrays Aquaman as a brute because in his world he has always been the most powerful person around.

The cast is completed by Amber Heard who plays Mera and acts as a guide as Arthur discovers more about the other world he is from. Heard portrays Mera as the warrior princess who is loyal to Arthur. The undeniable chemistry between Momoa and Heard moves the story along as it is predominately about their quest to set Arthur as the proper King of Atlantis.

Patrick Wilson does a second outing as a DC comic book character (Watchmen) by playing Orm, Arthur’s half-brother. The misconception to those that do not know the comic book world is that they believe there should be an unfair comparison to the half-brother relationship of Orm and Arthur and Marvel’s Thor and Loki. Orm and Loki are two different kinds of characters from two different comic book universes.

Originally, in the comics, Orm started as the human half brother but over time his origin has been rebooted to the Atlantean half-brother. Orm is not a mischievous trouble maker bent on taking a throne that is not his but an Atlantean born and under Atlantean ways. Orm was trained as an undersea ruler and seeks to strengthen his rule and protect his sea. Orm uses deceit to trick the various Atlantean tribes that they need to unite under his rule for their own protection.

Nicole Kidman also does a second outing in a DC comic book movie (Batman Forever) by playing Atlanna, the Queen and Arthur’s mother. Hers is a tragic story of a Romeo and Juliet type of love that she has with Arthur’s father, Tom Curry played by Temuera Morrison. Both Kidman and Morrison sell this love affair with the limited screen time they are given. William Defoe portrays Vulko who serves as a mentor to Arthur teaching him some Atlantean ways and how to use his powers.

Dolph Lundgren portrays King Nereus, Mera’s father, who is the first King to willingly go along with Orm’s plans of conquest and revenge upon the surface world. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II portrayed Black Manta the typical villain out to get revenge on our hero for something he did in the past that the villain blames him for. Although this is a plot point that has been seen countless times, in this case, the villain is right.

It was Aquaman’s fault Black Manta’s, father played by Michael Beach, is dead. The typical scenario was made better by the fact that you got to see a classic villain come to life on the screen. You got a savage Black Manta with laser eyes and all. All in all, Aquaman was definitely worth the ticket price. I originally walked into this expecting a typical bad DC Universe movie that doesn’t hit the spot with its characters and came out thinking this is how Aquaman should be done and this is a direction that DC should keep with their movies.

Yes, there were a few plot fails like how did Orm and Manta meet to partner up in the first place and how did Vulko become Arthur’s teacher when he was a youth. Minor things that could be overlooked for the sake of moving a story. I’m going to take more baths and be a big kid playing in the water as Aquaman.

Kenny Walker Jr

 

 

The Spider-Verse Is A Cool Place To Be

 

I was never a big Miles Morales fan. Peter Parker was my Spiderman. In my 40 plus years of being a comic book reader, I was still old school. Almost everyone I knew that was into comics had jumped on the Miles Morales bandwagon since the character was first introduced in Marvel’s Ultimate universe in August 2011. I had not, however, until Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse changed my mind.

Into the Spider-Verse is a coming of age origin story of Miles Morales as Spiderman. It’s a movie filled with an alternate universe filled with a bunch of what ifs? What if a second person was bitten by a radioactive spider? What if Spiderman dies and another person took that mantle? What if there were other universes with other versions of Spiderman?

As I stated I was not a big Miles Morales fan and was not looking forward to seeing this movie. In a time where we have had six different live-action Spiderman movies, why would I want to see a cartoon Spiderman movie? Since Miles’ introduction in 2011, many people have been waiting for the character to make his live-action appearance. We have already seen Miles Morales on the more recent Disney Channel Spiderman cartoon.

This near 2hour cartoon movie was what the fans got and yes it was worth it. As an old-school comic book reader, this movie has confirmed in my mind that I’d rather have alternate dimensional Spidermen existing than clone Spidermen around. This dynamic is actually easier to explain and follow than trying to understand which Peter Parker is the real one and which is the clone.

This movie is set in an alternate universe where Spiderman (Chris Pine) is killed trying to stop the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from creating an interdimensional gateway and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) who is also bitten by a radioactive spider is charged with taking over the mantle of Spiderman. Miles finds a reluctant mentor in another alternate Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) who is trying to find his way back to his own dimension.

Along the way, they also encounter other versions of Spiderman from other dimensions who help them on their quest because not only do they need to stop the Kingpin but they need to get back to their own dimensions or be destroyed in the one they are trapped in. the storyline also depicts the other relationships important in Miles’ life such as his father, Jefferson Davies (Brian Tyree), who is a police officer and his uncle Aaron Davis (Mahershala Ali), who is one secretly one of the Kingpin’s henchmen, The Prowler.

The standout scene is the one with Stan Lee. Tasteful, meaningful and one of the funniest moments in the movie. And that says a lot. Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse is a computer-animated movie that plays out like a live action movie as you would read it from a comic book. Each Spiderman is given their own backstory sequence. The first sequence with the illfated Peter Parker in this dimension is almost identical to the Tobey McGuire Spiderman down to mentioning the loathed singing Spiderman bit in the third movie of that trilogy.

There are also remnants of Andrew Garfield’s and Tom Holland’s Spiderman. The voice acting is superb and some of the best in any other animated movie of this genre. There were moments in this movie that tugged at your heartstrings and also had you on the edge of your seat with action. You felt the passion in these characters to the point you could forget you are watching an animated movie.

Which worked out for me because when I saw the 1 hour and 57 minutes run time of this movie, I was less enthused about seeing it. As I stated above, along with the Stan Lee cameo, this movie had humor to spare. Not only was there the basic obvious humor in the script but there was also the tongue in cheek humor. The part of the script where the writers used the typical comic book noir to poke fun at the movie itself.

Overall, I highly recommend Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse to everyone.

Kenny Walker Jr

Venom – More Bark than Bite

The things I do for you.

I love writing for you here on ObsidianNomad.com. I love putting together stories for my fellow nerds. So much so, I feel like I wasted two hours I will never get back and money for a movie ticket, popcorn and a drink that will never come back to me. All so I can give you this review of Venom. Before I tell you why I didn’t like this move I will say that it had great action scenes. However, I think we have moved on from that in comic book movies. Comic book movies need to be more than just great special effects and action/fight scenes. There needs to be a feasible plot. Although the studio cannot totally appease the fanboy and has to appeal to the masses, there must be some base in actual comic book lore.

That base for Venom should be simple: you can not have Venom without Spiderman. Period.

Now before you say anything: Yes, I did approach this with an open mind. I knew Spiderman was not in this movie and I didn’t like the idea. However, when I went to see this on a friends advice who had seen it before me I approached the movie with an open mind. I can no longer take this friends advice about any movie. Venom opened over the weekend staring Tom Harding as Eddie Brock/Venom, Michell Williams as Anne Weying, and Riz Ahmed as Carlton Drake/Riot. The story attempts to tell an origin story of the Marvel Comics character Venom without involving Spiderman.

The original comic book story is that Spiderman acquired this new black costume while fighting on the alien Battleworld with other heroes against villains in a scenario created by the god-like Beyonder. After returning to Earth, Spiderman discovered that his new costume was actually a living creature that was bonding with him in a dangerous way. Spiderman went through lengths to detach himself from the alien symbiote and feeling rejected the symbiote bonded with Eddie Brock to exact revenge on Spiderman. Eddie Brock was a nemesis for Peter Parker, Spiderman’s alter ego, in the journalism field. Brock’s hate for Parker melded with the symbiote’s hurt of rejection made for the perfect antagonist for our hero, Peter Parker/Spiderman. That’s how Venom was born.

This is not the case in this story.

I think of asking how can you do a Venom movie without Spiderman the real question is why would you do a Venom movie without Spiderman? The answer is simple: money. Sony owns the rights to Spiderman and subsequently the universe related to that character. Sony makes a deal with Marvel to use the Peter Parker/Spiderman character in a Marvel-related movie and infusing that character into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The new Tom Holland Spiderman is a hit in both Captain America Civil War and Spiderman Homecoming. Sony then, in turn, sees this popularity in the Spiderman universe and decides to capitalize in on it themselves and make Venom. Sony realizes that even if the everyday person has not heard of Venom the same way they have heard of Spiderman, at least the fanboys will know and rush out to see this movie. Sony also assumes that they can change the origin story of Venom because the character isn’t that popular with everyday audiences and it won’t matter. Wrong.

Sony wanted to cash in on the Marvel cow instead of doing the reasonable thing and making the same deal with the character as you did with Spiderman. Technically, you had the perfect opportunity. Spiderman was in space with Iron Man, Dr Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy during Avengers Infinity War. That was the time when you could have introduced the character to a symbiote then after he comes back from the “turning to dust” you had your Venom story. (I know I didn’t give anything away – you do know they are not going to keep Spiderman, Black Panther, Winter Soldier and most of the Guardians of the Galaxy dead, right?) Sony decided to do their own thing.

Without Spiderman, Sony had to create another origin story for Venom. In comics, when fused with Eddie Brock, Venom is the bad guy. When you make a movie solely based on the bad guy you have to make him a good guy or create someone who is worse. Venom could not be the antagonist throughout this whole movie. One of the changes you had to make to make this believable was to change the character of Eddie Brock. This character is no longer the egotistical self-absorbed journalist who will go to unethical means to make a story but a journalist who is compelled to go for the story that exposes corruption and is a voice for the people. You now have a man with a high standard of what is morally right and wrong. To have this Eddie Brock fused with the symbiote you have now changed the makeup of the character.

A good deal of this movie is spent with Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock fighting the symbiote and trying to make the symbiote understand good and evil. Instead of a psychopathic killing machine, the Venom symbiote becomes a walking joke for comic relief. The Venom “voice” that should be terrifying you, instead, makes you laugh. You lose concern about the life of Eddie Brock because you’re waiting for the symbiote’s next one-liner. I was waiting for the villain and I got Kevin Hart.

Riz Ahmed played a very typical villain Carlton Drake and there was no surprise where his character was going. Multimillionaire rich guy which the world loves and adores for his humanitarian efforts but is really an evil scientist that only Eddie Brock mistrusts. No depth, no rhyme or reason just a guy that wants to explore space by melding everyone with symbiotes. Michelle Williams plays Anne Weying, Eddie Brock’s confused girlfriend. I say confused because not only is the character confusing since she does everything she can against Eddie Brock throughout the movie but I’m not sure which direction the director gave her while shooting this movie. Michelle Williams loses her character playing around Tom Hardy and the Venom one-liners.

As I said, though, the action is good. However, the superhero genre has evolved past making movies with just good action. A standard for a lot of these superhero movies is the post-credit scene or scenes. Without giving them away I will say that I wish I had left when the credits started to get the taste of a poorly done movie out of my mouth before it got worse. I stayed because that friend that told me this was a worthwhile move told me to stay. Worse post-credit scenes ever that really did not get me excited for a sequel. The more I think about it the more I should really consider slapping that friend the next time I see him. I’m filing this one somewhere along with Batman vs Superman, Steel and Spiderman 3, you know, that movie where Peter Parker did a song and dance because he was infected with Venom. At least we got a musical number from that one.

Leave a comment and let us know what you think of Venom. Tell us if you think we are off the mark or right on point.

Kenny Walker Jr

Ant Man And The Wasp: Movie Review

The awesome thing about Marvel movies is that they all fit to tell a big story. Each movie tells its own story but there is also a bigger story to tell. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the big picture was revealed in Avengers: Infinity War. The big bad Thanos came to wreak havoc.

One of the big questions of that movie was: Where was Ant Man. Captain America said they had to call everybody but there was a lame excuse for why Scott Lang was not called. You’re looking at this movie and you say to yourself “wait a minute, the world is about to end and Scott Lang is sitting this out because he’s on house arrest?” It didn’t make sense but we finally got to figure out what Scott was doing while Cap and the gang were fighting in Wakanda.

For Ant Man and the Wasp, we get our returning characters of Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant Man, Evangeline Lilly as Hope Pym, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, Michael Pena as Luis, Dave Dastmalchian as Kurt, T.I. as Dave, Judy Greer as Maggie Lang, Bobby Cannavale as Paxton, and Abby Ryder Fortson as Cassie. Newcomers included Walter Goggins as Sonny Burch, Hannah John-Kamen as Ava/Ghost, Michelle Pfeifer as Janet Van Dyne/Wasp, Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Bill Foster, and Randall Park as Jimmy Woo.

The story picks up two years after Captain America: Civil War. Scott Lang has struck a deal with the government for siding with Captain America in Germany and has been under house arrest for the last two years. When we again see Scott, he has three days left of his house arrest. In the two years of his house arrest, he has had no communication with Hank Pym or his daughter Hope who are now on the run from the government for aiding and abeding Scott with the Ant Man technology. From his home, Scott runs a security business with Luis, Kurt, and Dave and has regular visits with his daughter, Cassie. While on the run from the law, Hank and Hope are on a mission to find Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife, Janet Van Dyne, who was lost years ago in the quantum field.

There are two baddies with different objectives throughout this film. Walter Goggins’ Sonny Burch plays a tech dealer who the Pym’s have been buying their equipment from. Sonny finds out who Hope and Hank really are and try to blackmail them to turn a profit from their technology and inventions. When they say no then he spends the movie trying to get their tech so he can sell to the black market. The other baddy is Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost. Ghost had a tragic backstory that linked in with Hank Pym that also had her after Hank and Hope’s tech. Ghost only help in her plight is Lawrence Fishburn’s, Bill Forster. For the comic fans, Bill Foster was the character who was once called Goliath and who died in the comic version of Civil War.

Paul Rudd plays through as, again, the reluctant hero whose sole motivation is being there for his daughter Cassie. He uses his same comic wit, charm, and timing that made Ant Man one of your favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe characters. Even as he helps the Pyms on their quest he is all about maintaining his freedom for his daughter. Abby Ryder Fortson’s Cassie is the heart of the film. She seems to get what the adults in the movie spend the whole film trying to figure out. The chemistry between Rudd’s Lang and Fortson’s Cassie is what makes this movie special. They portray a true father daughter bond where they both look at each other as heroes. We are also treated to comic book teases of when Cassie grows up as her own hero using the Pym tech.

Also, as in the first Ant Man, the comedy of Michael Pena was on point. Luis unique way of storytelling was cleverly inserted into the script without being forced.

The use of the Pym tech and the size gimmicks in this movie do not get old. We are treated to different uses in size control throughout the movie that are new and inventive. Watching this movie, I thought of a comic book identity of Dr Pym that he used while fighting with the West Coast Avengers. He didn’t grow as Giant Man or Shrink as Ant Man, he simply called himself Dr Pym and used his Pym Particles to shrink and grow things around him. I would be surprised if the writers did not take a page from that comic in this movie. This was not just a movie of two tiny heroes but a movie of science and the different uses of a size controlling technology. One of the other stars of Ant Man in the Wasp was every gadget used in size changing sequences and fights and the prop of the lab.

Overall, Ant Man and the Wasp was a good movie. It kept you interested and invested. You cheered for Scott, Hank and Hope to make their goal happen. As good as it was, I still am more partial to the first Ant Man but as sequels go this held up the bar. I did think Fishburn’s Bill Foster was wishy-washy and I’m tired of the cliché of the good guy doing bad to help someone but eventually turns out good character. Also, Goggin’s Sonny Burch gangster character was kind of like Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor in Superman Returns. There was no other point to this character making trouble and his only motivation was misplaced greed. The gangster and his crew felt like they were put in the film to have different reasons to show more shrinking CGI tricks. I think any real-life gangster would have had a second thought about messing with two size-changing heroes and a ghost villain just to tangle and steel from both or them.

The ad for the movie baost about a shocking ending. This is the part that is the biggest payoff. Without giving anything away, let’s just say the ending made sense in relation to Avenger’s: Infinity War. It’s the magic of Marvel. They know what the audience wants and how to use that to tie their universe together in every movie. The Marvel Cinematic Universe: the creator of the awesome post scenes. The scenes that make you hold in that soda you’ve been drinking for the last two hours.

Kenny Walker Jr