Review – Say The Magic Word and Win a Prize! (“Shazam!”)

Okay, here we go… again. In the 1940’s, Shazam was a comic book where young Billy Batson spoke the word,”Shazam!” and then turned into an adult superhero called Captain Marvel. BUT! In 1991, trademark conflicts between DC and Marvel, had Shazam and Captain Marvel separate into two different characters with their own backstories. Got that? Good!
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Director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) must’ve seen way too many 80’s movies, ’cause this newest entry into the DCU has all the earmarks of one. From the stylized photography to unique camera work that looks like an old TV episode of Wonder Woman or The Six Million Dollar Man, this thoroughly fun homage to the old comic book heroes is pure family fare. We start with not our hero, but the villain of our story, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana who, as a child, was dissed by the last remaining wizard, Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). Y’see, Thad wasn’t ‘pure of heart and mind’, but pretty evil, so much so, that the captured Seven Deadly Sins demons (Pride, Envy, Greed, Lust, Wrath, Gluttony, and Sloth) inhabit him, giving him evil super-powers.

Meanwhile, there’s orphaned teenager Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who’s dropped off at yet another group home. Here he meets his new “family” of outcasts and his soon-to-be new BFF, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), who may be disabled, but is a walking encyclopedia on superheros. After a scuffle with some bullies at his new school, Billy is summoned (via subway) by the Wizard Shazam to be his champion on Earth. By speaking the word “Shazam”, Billy is quickly transformed into the adult-sized Shazam (Zack Levi), complete with a red body-suit, flowing white cape/hoodie, and a glowing yellow lighting bolt on his chest!

Well, THIS is certainly cool! But not as cool as learning his new super-powers, with the help of his “coach” Freddy, who trains Shazam in the art of being like Superman or Batman. Although, Freddy’s gotta come up with a better name than Captain Sparkle Fingers or Thunder Crack! Shazam says his name again and BOOM! He’s teenager Billy Batson again, back at his group home and maintaining his secret identity. Oh, but as Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility” and Billy/Shazam goes nuts with his alter-ego, using it as an excuse for money-grabbing selfies and shameless goofing around.

His selfishness gets the better of him when evil Dr. Sivana comes a’callin’, wanting Shazam’s powers for his own. Cue the big, bad, fight scene and the inevitable “villain forces the hero to do something by capturing their loved ones” scenario. BUT! This third act comes with a surprise that I won’t ruin for you, but is straight outta the comics. What’s equally surprising here is the screenwriter, Henry Gayden, whose last film was the hilariously awful Earth To Echo and the TV series Zombie Roadkill. Carefully weaving a story culled from the comic books, Gayden stuck to the story and came up with a fun, thrilling, and very 80’s rendering of this Shazam origin film. Look for future Shazam movies (oh yeah, there’s more coming), and even his place with the Justice League!

No doubt the chemistry is right, as Angel and Grazer (or Levi and Grazer) make a terrific team together with their natural charm and likeability. Mark Strong, back to being a villain again, is always a treat as he does villainy so effortlessly. Director Sandberg, after having been associated with such films as Annabelle: Creation and other Swedish films, certainly knows his way around the camera for this genre. The story, targeted at kids for sure, flows with an even pace and has a great deal of comedy thrown in. I can only hope any future sequels can maintain this level of excellence.

 
Kick-Ass (2010)
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Kids becoming superheros isn’t anything new, just ask Image Comics when they published this crazy graphic novel about a nerdy teen who sets about doing the impossible: roaming the streets and protecting the innocent, just like his comic-book heroes do! And he doesn’t come from another planet or shout someone’s name either!

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is your typical nerdy teenager living in Staten Island, NY and goofing around with his equally nerdy friends. Inspired by comic books, Dave plans to become a real-life superhero (like Batman). He buys a green & yellow striped scuba suit, arms himself with batons, and goes out at night to strike fear into anyone that would cause harm to another! It must’ve sounded good on paper, because his first night out, his gets stabbed AND then hit by a car!! After recovery, he gains a capacity to endure pain and enhanced durability due to having some bones replaced with metal.

With his absence from school, a rumor spreads that he is gay, making his longtime crush, Katie Deauxma (Lyndsy Fonseca), immediately his friend. What the hell, it works for Dave! He returns to crime-fighting and gains notoriety after saving a man from a gang attack. Calling himself “Kick-Ass”, Dave sets up a MySpace account (remember that?) where he can be contacted for help. But little does he know that a REAL pair of superheros are already on the job in the city.

Caped crusaders Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moritz) are, besides being father & daughter, unquestionably lethal and know what they’re doing. In fact, they save Kick-Ass from some deadly drug dealers and actually encourage him in his endeavors. Meanwhile, local Mafia boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) is getting pissed about all of the drug raids, blaming Kick-Ass, not Big Daddy, who’s been secretly wiping out Frank’s operations. But Frank’s on-edge son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has a nutty idea: he’ll dress up like a superhero called Red Mist, befriend Kick-Ass as a fellow crime-fighter, and then spring the trap.

But after seeing Big Daddy & Hit-Girl burn down a drug warehouse, Chris tell his daddy that Kick-Ass isn’t the one they want. Seeing too much violence, Dave decides to hang up his Kick-Ass batons, giving up his superhero lifestyle. . .that is until Big Daddy is captured and then live streamed tortured on the internet! Bolstered by this, and partnered with Hit-Girl, the two attack Frank’s stronghold in a third act finale that is ultra-violent, funny, and over-the-top wicked cool.

Written & directed Matthew Vaughn (The Kingsman Secret Service franchise), this movie is just about as crazy as it is magnificent in it’s content. Both parts bloody violence and hilarious superhero send-up’s, Vaughn (know for his elaborate visuals) doles out some of the wildest camerawork and hippest dialoge ever. Chloe, who was just a kid at the time, catapulted her career with this role as the hardcore slice ‘n’ dice Hit-Girl. Also, check out Nick Cage in his pseudo-Batman costume, doing his best Adam West impersonation. He’s glorious! Another career launcher was Mintz-Plasse who went full-tilt as the psycho Chris D’Amico.

This entire movie is about as good as it gets, which makes it’s sequel, Kick-Ass 2, that much worse. Without the OG director, writer, or obvious Matthew Vaughn flair, the second movie was lackluster, dull, and relied solely on shock value, rather than smart writing.

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