Tag Archives: DC Universe

DC Actioner “Blue Beetle” is Best When It Brings Culture Center Stage

The cure for superhero fatigue? Cut tie-ins to extraneous characters and multiverses of quantum physics straining credulity, focus on an outsider of humble roots, tell an origin story we haven’t seen before and raise the stakes for a showdown involving characters we enjoy. Basically do what Ángel Manuel Soto’s does in Blue Beetle (B+)! Buoyed by Cobra Kai star Xolo Maridueña as the movie’s charismatic protagonist, Soto tells the story of a working class Mexican-American family in the fictional Palmera City facing a supernatural shock to the system that jettisons them into life as DC Universe warriors. The film is consistently engaging with escalating threats and joyful action abounding. The hero’s family customs and worldview are central to the film’s successful audience engagement, with George Lopez and Belissa Escobedo as comic relief highlights in his close-knit Latino family. Only Susan Sarandon misses the mark with an underdeveloped role as a ruthless baddie. The adventure overstays its welcome a bit, but novel and nostalgic flourishes keep the film fairly fresh. Bobby Krlic’s symphonic score sets a manic mood, and the special effects are competent enough to populate a believable world. Families will enjoy seeing a multigenerational group of likable characters rise to the occasion.

“The Flash” Trots Out Dopplegangers and Guest Stars to Distract From Ho-Hum Plot

A speed trap of half-baked time travel comedy and junky action sequences surrounding a phantom zone menace, Andrés Muschietti’s The Flash (C) runs around in more circles than a Lazy Susan dishing out a smorgasbord of DC multiverse morsels with limited entertainment value. At the center of this carousel of excess are two performances by Ezra Miller, and a little of this eccentric actor goes a long way. Reversing time to save his mom’s life, the titular sprinting action hero opens up portals of paradox that produce a doubting doppelgänger plus an encounter with an underused original cinematic Batman Michael Keaton, who along with Sasha Calle as Supergirl must battle Michael Shannon’s General Zod, whose character is given virtually nothing to do. Despite some funny opening moments involving slow cooking and an aerial ballet of super saving, the schtick gets old fast, and the retread plot lines give way to a bitter after-haste taste. The visual effects are uniformly second-rate, and the two quipping Barrys’ vaudeville act collapses and careens toward a desperate parade of cameos in the final reel. There are more guest stars and CGI characters than a caravan to The Love Boat by way of The Polar Express could accommodate. Muschietti eschews solemnity for all-out stoner comedy, and perhaps, for some, even a glimmer of fun in the generally grim DC Universe can feel like finding renewed life in the fast lane.

“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” is a Better Than Expected Superhero Installment

Sometimes a comic book movie can simply be a fun adventure, and the latest DC Universe installment, David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! Fury of the Gods (B) is just that, a rollicking escape. The funny Zachary Levi leads a Philadelphia posse of scrappy superheroes harboring a collective secret: They are actually teenage foster children who can transform into caped crusaders in a snap. The story doesn’t really plumb the full depth of the family trauma and psychological implications inherent in the premise. but it plunges head-first into a mythological action barnburner with the teens fighting titans. The moviemakers disguise their earnestness with wry, throwaway humor especially via teen actor Jack Dylan Grazer, but they squander some chances to dial up the camp value of Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu as daughters of Atlas. There are long passages with pretty elaborate special effects, evocative of the original Ghostbusters with mixes of laughs and thrills packed into showdowns on expansive streets. Opportunities about to root for the underdogs. The film is largely family friendly and keeps enough plates spinning to nourish viewers for its duration.

The Rock Can’t Save “Black Adam” from DC’s Drift

Now in theatres.

Bulking up has clearly served Dwayne Johnson well, but his new entry into the DC Extended Universe, Jaume Collet-Serra’s Black Adam (C+), is weighed down by repetitive effects, extraneous characters and an overly engineered storyline. There’s plenty of good stuff in the mix including spurts of effective action, but the film rarely transcends its trek into the soggy slog. Johnson is sufficiently slick as a stoic Terminator-type character exhumed from a bygone era, and Aldis Hodge brings delightful brawn and braggadocio to his heroic winged foil tasked with keeping the title character’s powers in check. Bodhi Sabongui is strong as a surprisingly likable young supervillain whisperer, and Noah Centimeo should have been given more to do because his awkward shape shifting character is amusing. Despite some good elements, though, the film’s rarely achieves a fresh or fierce enough tone to make it stand out as an amazing entry in DC’s uneven cinematic pantheon. 

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (2021) Restores Epic with Panache

The ambition and creativity its original director intended before a family tragedy prompted him to eject from the helm of his 2017 version of his film are now on full display, as are the material’s flaws, in the 2021 remix of the DC superhero origins movie Zack Snyder’s Justice League (B). Told in six acts like a binge series in four-hour film form (the even numbered sections are best, by the way), this desaturated operatic opus reconstructs and recontextualizes the story of how Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman unite to bring back Superman and defeat an intergalactic villain. The R-rated reshuffling puts more focus and pathos on some of the younger cast members, Ray Fisher as Cyborg and Ezra Miller as The Flash, yielding some freshness and fun amidst a rather epic canvas of reliable action film favorites. Most of the visual effects are glorious, some downright mythical, and there are some pretty compelling action set pieces even though the risks seem low with this breed of formidable fighters running the table. The solemn film’s zigzagging epilogue feels like a dozen plot threads in search of a next franchise. Overall the additional world building, newly rousing score and compelling clarifications don’t adequately make up for for a bifurcated focus and sometimes disjointed narrative that bogs down some of its subplots; but ultimately too much of a good thing is so much better than not enough of a mediocre one.

Link to review of the 2017 cut of the film

“Shazam!” is Great Superhero Fun

Shazam! stars Zachary Levi.

A fun hybrid of Big and The Goonies, the DC Universe gets a lively dose of life and levity with the introduction of David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! (B). The film’s teen protagonist is grappling with new powers which cause him to toggle back and forth between awkward adolescence and transforming into a full-fledged adult superhero just as he joins a foster family with a bunch of precocious step-siblings. Asher Angel and Zachary Levi are superb and funny as the boy and his adult alter ego, respectively, and the film’s family includes Jack Dylan Graser as a cunning sidekick and Cooper Andrews as a lovable lug of a foster dad. The movie is aimed squarely at a family audience, despite a few early scares courtesy of Mark Strong’s viciously one-note villain and a bunch of beguiling CGI monsters. It’s a touch overlong, but the comedy, action and surprises pile high with fairly consistent success, and there are even a few moments of genuinely moving domestic drama. The movie creates characters for whom the audience can truly cheer in an environment largely well imagined. Expect the origin stories explored here to bring further marvels to DC.