Shazam!

Avengers: Endgame

30/04/19

It’s pointless to try and give this one a body swerve. It lumbers over the cinematic horizon like a behemoth, gobbling up viewers and crushing box office records beneath its massive feet. Resistance is futile.

As one of the few reviewers who was distinctly underwhelmed by Infinity Wars, I still need to see how the Russo Brothers are going to extricate themselves from the corner they’ve seemingly painted themselves into. Oh, right… like that. Well, I guess it was the only way possible…

By the way, those of you who like to cry ‘plot spoiler!’ every time a tiny detail is revealed may want to think twice about reading the following two paragraphs. Just saying.

Endgame opens briefly on events shortly after Thanos (Josh Brolin) has made the most calamitous finger-snap in history. It then moves on five years to show the remaining Avengers trying to come to terms with what has happened to the world. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is now a ruthless swordsmen, carving up Japanese gangsters with relish, whilst sporting a disastrous new haircut that makes him look like a disgruntled cockapoo. Captain America (Chris Evans) is attending therapy classes, but is still impossibly clean and healthy. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), on the other hand, has really let himself go and now sports hippie dreadlocks and a fearsome beer belly. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has learned to manage his anger issues and is permanently trapped in his green, oversized alter ego, Hulk. And… well, so on.

Then, up pops Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) recently returned from imprisonment in the quantum realm. He brings along an idea that might just undo the Infinity Curse and return the world to where it was five years ago. So the Avengers assemble for one more mission.

OK, so my main beef with this is the same as it was with Infinity Wars, only even more so. There are just too many superheroes for comfort. The way things stand here, they seem to outnumber ordinary people, which can’t be right, surely? And you know, I, for one, am happier with those movies (like Shazam!, for instance) that know they are essentially kids’ film’s and feel no shame about it. Endgame, however, is for the most part so serious it hurts – it’s a great lumbering leviathan, creaking beneath the weight of its own self-importance. Happily, the po-faced stuff is leavened every so often by some much-needed humour, most of it coming from Hemsworth’s corner. (I love the fact that Thor never has to apologise for losing that gym-ready look and Hemsworth always has a cheeky glint in his eye that suggests he knows how ridiculous it all is but couldn’t care less.)

To give the Russo Brothers their due, this doesn’t really feel like a bum-numbing three-hour marathon. It’s action packed enough to allow the time to zip by and, if the script occasionally feels ridiculously over-complicated, well that’s just par for the course when you have an audience that picks so avidly over every little detail. And pick they will. Reports are that people are going back to watch the film over and over again.

Of course, as ever, we are presented with a great big climactic battle, made even more of an endurance test by the fact that the scriptwriters feel duty bound to include every single lead character from the preceding twenty-one movies in the Marvel EU. That’s an awful lot of spandex to take in. And then of course, once the punch up’s done and the dust has settled, there’s the little matter of tying up all those loose ends…

Look, the cinema going public has made its mind up on this, and who am I to say that they’re wrong? I can only speak for myself when I repeat the old mantra ‘less is more.’ Give me one superhero and one villain, and I’m a relatively happy bunny.

Endgame is undoubtedly a big movie, but maybe not in the way it thinks it is.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

Advertisements

Shazam!

27/03/19

It’s generally accepted that, as comic book universes go, Marvel is the outfit that employs a lighter touch, whereas DC habitually plays things dark and po-faced. So Shazam! is clearly an attempt to give the latter franchise a kick up the spandex-clad backside, playing things primarily for laughs and making a pretty good job of it. Unfortunately, the tone of the film tends to veer alarmingly back to the dark side every now and then and, whenever it does, the momentum is temporarily lost and has to be recaptured.

Shazam! began life back in 1939 as a comic, where the central superhero was known (rather confusingly, given recent film history) as Captain Marvel, but the origins story remains pretty much intact. This is the tale of young orphan, Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who loses his young mother in a crowd one day and, years later, is still desperately trying to find her. For no good reason, an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounso) gifts him with the ability to transform himself into the titular superhero, Shazam (Zachary Levi). But before we see that origins story, we are obliged to sit through another one, a scene from the childhood of Thaddeus Sivana, who will one day grow up to be played by Mark Strong and who will be a very bad egg indeed.

To be honest, the opening twenty minutes of the film are a bit of a trial – indeed, I am actually considering walking out of the screening until Billy’s first transformation occurs and the film takes a huge step in the right direction. The central conceit – what would a superhero be like if he was actually a fourteen year old boy? – is a bit of a masterstroke and Shazam’s early attempts to come to grips with his newfound abilities, aided by his nerdy friend, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), are laugh-out-loud funny. Likewise, Billy’s interplay with the foster parents who take him on is nicely done with some lovely dialogue between him and the other kids in the group home.

But of course, it’s only a matter of time before a grown-up Dr Thaddeus Sivana shows his face and matters lurch straight back to the dark side. Sivana has managed to find a way to channel the seven deadly sins, giving himself superpowers of an altogether more sinister kind than Billy’s. A scene where Sivana flings his older brother through the window of a skyscraper and then orders his brutish parasites to chow down on a boardroom full of businesspeople (one of whom is his father) does not sit particularly well with the humorous stuff I’ve just been enjoying so much.

The film continues to seesaw its way along in this disconcerting fashion and I find myself constantly having to reassess my position on it. For the most part, it’s enjoyable stuff and even the distressingly long, CGI-assisted final confrontation is, I suppose, par for the course in a superhero movie. There’s a brief coda that provides a brilliant last laugh and a post credits sequence that suggests the possibility of a sequel. I’m not sure this idea has the legs to go very much further, but Shazam! is, for the most part, entertaining and, unlike so many comic book movies of recent years, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Which, when I think about it, may be the best recommendation of all.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney