Monday, 27 March 2023

Shazam! Fury of the Gods (Movie Review)

The DCEU is officially dead, folks. Or at least it is currently suffering its biggest financial failure in the form of Shazam! Fury of the Gods. I finally got to see the movie for myself this past weekend, after being forced to sit out its opening weekend due to the unrest surrounding elections here in Nigeria. And while I'd thoroughly enjoyed the first film, I had approached the sequel with a healthy dose of skepticism. This was mainly because its trailers and overall marketing had failed to sell it as anything more than another generic superhero flick. But did the actual movie deserve better than the poor hand it had obviously been dealt?

The film continues the misadventures of Billy Batson, a teenage orphan (Asher Angel) imbued with the ability to turn into an adult-sized superhero (Zachary Levi). He now works to protect the people of his city along with his foster siblings, having decided to share his powers with them at the end of the last movie. But as it turns out, the source of those powers can be traced back to a titan named Atlas. And now his daughters, Hespera and Kalypso (Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu respectively), would stop at nothing to get those powers back for their own nefarious needs.

I guess I need to start by saying that I actually enjoyed my time with Shazam! Fury of the Gods, a lot more than I thought I would. The film tapped into most of the things that made the first one so great, like its lighthearted humor and overall sense of charm. And while it lacked the first one's heart and emotional pull, it tries to compensate with more action and spectacle. So if watching a giant dragon wreck an entire city is your type of jam, then chances are you'll find much to love in this Shazam! sequel too.

With that out of the way, it is fair to say that Shazam! Fury of the Gods was pretty much dead on arrival. Not only had last year's Black Adam left a bad taste in many people's mouths, it also didn't help that James Gunn had announced a full reboot of the overall DCEU before the new film even got to see the light of day. All this worked together to make the film feel inconsequential. Most people have already deemed it unworthy of checking out at the cinema. And who can blame them, when the company behind the film itself didn't seem to know what to do with it either?

Between all the delays and shifts in release dates, it was clear that Warner Bros. didn't have much confidence in the film. A part of me feels the movie would have probably done better had it simply been released alongside Avatar 2 in December as once intended when walk-in ticket sales are typically at their highest. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats and those who weren't able to secure tickets to the James Cameron effects extravaganza could have opted to see this one instead.

But hindsight is 20/20 like they say and the fact remains that the new Shazam is going to lose quite a bit of money at the end of the day. What that means for the prospect of subsequent entries or appearances by the character in the newly-minted DCU remains to be seen. But I am now more curious than ever to see how the other remnants of the old DCEU perform later this year. There has been much buzz surrounding The Flash, so I'll definitely be checking that one out on Day 1. As for Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, only time will tell.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods feels like an unfortunate product of an already-dead franchise. This is despite the fact that its filmmakers had done everything they could to craft an entertaining follow-up to the first film in the series. And while it is easy to point fingers regarding its financial woes, it is still a shame that it never got the fighting chance that it so clearly deserved. So even though there is plenty of fun to be had with the movie, especially if you were a fan of the first one, I still find it hard to recommend it over some of the other stellar blockbusters currently playing at the cinemas.

Saturday, 25 March 2023

John Wick: Chapter 4 (Movie Review)

The Baba Yaga returns in John Wick: Chapter 4. And as a big fan of the three prior entries in the series, I thought I knew what to expect heading into this latest one. But as I've also come to discover in my many years as a cinephile, more of the same is not necessarily a bad thing. So the question then is does the new John Wick movie match the thrills of its predecessors, or does it perhaps even manage to find new or inventive ways to exceed them?

The film follows the events of the last one, which if you remember had ended with a battered and bruised John Wick vowing to get revenge against the High Table, the organization that controls the criminal underworld he has been dragged back into. But like all things in life, this pursuit does not come without its own share of consequences. So before we know it, John is faced with his greatest challenge yet, one that would test the bounds of old and new friendships alike. And all that while the bounty on his head continues to rise higher in response to the stacks of bodies he leaves in his wake.

The John Wick films have always had a certain B-movie level appeal to them, with their revenge-driven plots, high-octane action scenes, and impressive stuntwork. But what really works to set them apart from other films of that ilk is their excellent world-building. Everything from the operations of the hotel Continental and the various rules and regulations that govern the High Table speaks to a larger-than-life mythology. And all through the series, the writers and director have always strived to shed more light on its world while gunning to outdo their previous effort.

The same is definitely true of John Wick: Chapter 4, a movie that barely ever takes its foot off the pedal over the course of its nearly three hours runtime. From the moment we catch up with the titular assassin preparing for bloody retribution, to the film's highly-kinetic third act, your mind is barely given any room to wander or lose interest. And while that might sound like overkill to some, it is simply true that its filmmakers know precisely what its audience wants, namely some creative action set pieces and a cast of colorful characters worth investing in.

And the new John Wick film delivers all of that in spades. Each new set piece manages to upstage the last, as though the filmmakers had challenged themselves to find increasingly creative ways for John Wick to dispatch his foes before the whole thing eventually culminates in a surprisingly emotional showdown. A few of those set pieces might seem like variations of what came before, but trust me when I say you haven't seen action done quite like this.

And all of it is framed by some of the best cinematography I have seen in the genre. There is one particular shootout that takes place inside an abandoned building that looks like it was ripped straight out of Hotline Miami. The sound design and music that accompany these sequences also deserve mention, though chances are you might be too busy wincing at the bone-crunching stunts to notice that. The whole thing does threaten to become overwhelming before long, but to simply call the action in the movie over-the-top or relentless does a disservice to the level of love and care that has clearly gone into crafting each and every scene.

John Wick: Chapter 4 is the most fun I have had in a cinema in years. It takes the series to new heights as it builds upon everything that came before it. Most other franchises would be in danger of losing steam or becoming repetitive by their fourth entries, but this one shows that it still has more than a few tricks up its sleeves. So if we don't get any further installments following this most recent round of cinematic bloodshed, then I am at least glad that the franchise has been able to go out with one hell of a bang.

Friday, 17 February 2023

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (Movie Review)

Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has officially begun with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. And while the previous phase did have some highlights like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, as well as Spider-Man: No Way Home, I still came out of the whole thing somewhat disappointed. That was mostly due to a perceived lack of direction or much of the connective tissue fans have come to expect from the aging franchise. So does the new film begin the process of righting the ship, or does it merely compound the existing problems of an ever-expanding universe?

The film finds Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) enjoying his newfound fame following his involvement in the events of Avengers: Endgame. But after being stuck in the Quantum Realm for 5 years, he struggles to make up for all the lost time with his daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton), who has since grown up to be both a rebel and a brilliant scientist. During one of her experiments, she inadvertently ends up sending herself, Scott, and the members of the Van Dyke family into the Quantum Realm where they encounter an entire civilization of otherworldly beings. Now they must all work together to escape, even as they are faced with their greatest adversary yet.

The Ant-Man movies have traditionally held a unique place in the overall MCU, with their comparatively smaller stakes and focus on a particular blend of action and humor. As such, they've often served as palate cleansers between the larger cosmic-level events that define much of the franchise. All that changes with Quantumania though, a movie that serves as another introduction to Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). For those that remember, he had previously appeared at the end of Loki Season 1 as He Who Remains. But this time around, we see a far more sinister depth to the character.

He is currently being positioned as the next Thanos-level threat in the MCU, at least if the title of forthcoming installments like Avengers: The Kang Dynasty is anything to go by. And on those grounds, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania succeeds in showing us why we should care. It also offers us our first real glimpse at anything resembling some connective tissue between the films in The Multiverse Saga (Phase 4 - 6). Loki had introduced the concept of variants and multiple timelines, while both Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had established the concept of parallel universes (or the multiverse as they are known in the MCU).

This one begins the process of tying it all together, even though one could say it does so in a somewhat messy or convoluted way. Without getting into spoilers, the film sometimes felt overwhelming with its various sci-fi concepts and it frequently buckles under the weight of all the exposition it needed to make any of it make sense. But at least it never ceased to be fun or pleasing to look at, with far more creatures on display than any of the other MCU entries. It does lose some of the perspective-shifting thrills of the other Ant-Man films though, and their ability to make mundane objects and everyday settings look large and otherworldly.

The film also had some surprise cameos and returning characters from the prior installments, as well as some glaring omissions. Michael Pena's presence as Luis in particular was sorely missed, especially since the character has pretty much grown to define the tone of the Ant-Man films, with his over-the-top narration and flashback sequences. But I can see why he and the other members of the gang were ultimately left out of the new film even though a part of me wishes they had found a way to fit them in.

Speaking of things that didn't quite make it into the movie, you'll want to stick around for both the mid and post-credit scenes as I believe they set the stage for what is to come during the next two phases. Recent MCU stingers have admittedly felt disconnected from one another so it is nice to see ones that carry enough weight to make me feel eager to see what comes next.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania proves that the MCU still has a long way to go before it can get back to the pure thrills and exhilaration of its glory days. But at least it can be considered another pivotal step in that general direction. It might feel like yet another throwaway film in the MCU but I can see its true importance reveal itself as more information is doled out over the course of subsequent entries. And while it serves as a fun, standalone adventure in its own right, it remains to be seen if the current saga would be taking fans to any kind of a worthwhile destination.

Monday, 2 January 2023

My Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies for 2023

Welcome to 2023. A new year means a fresh slate of movies to keep us entertained over the course of the next 365 days. Whether you plan on braving your nearest cinema or staying home with your streaming service of choice, there's plenty for you to choose from. But not all movies are created equally and chances are you will not have enough time to see every single movie that releases this year.

This is why I like to keep track of those movies I am looking forward to the most at the start of any given year. Those that read my list from last year might spot a few returning entries, owing to the fact that those movies had been delayed into 2023. Blame it on the lingering effects of cinemas shutting down for nearly a year. But without further ado, here are my Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies for 2023.

10. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Disney kicks off Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Ant-man and the Wasp: Quantumania on the 17th of February. But considering just how divisive some of the films and TV shows that made up the fourth phase had proven, a lot is riding upon this one to right the ship and start the new phase on a high note. The Ant-Man films aren't considered top-shelf MCU but I'm still hoping that this one manages to do justice with its introduction of Kang the Konqueror.

9. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Harrison Ford returns to one of his most iconic roles in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The film is meant to serve as his final hurrah as the world-famous archaeologist. It is also the first in the series not to be directed by Steven Spielberg, with James Mangold stepping in instead. And through the magic of de-aging technology, this latest adventure promises to be more in line with the earlier films in the series (because the less said about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull the better).

8. The Flash

The Flash is a film that looks like it just can't catch a break. Originally slated to release all the way back in 2018, the movie has suffered numerous production delays. Add to that all the ongoing shakeups over at the newly-minted DC Studios, not to mention the controversy surrounding Ezra Miller, and you have to wonder if it is ever going to see the light of day. But word on the street is that the actual film was received very well by test audiences, so fingers crossed that it finally makes it out this year.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

While there hasn't exactly been a shortage of Guardians of the Galaxy appearances since Vol. 2 (if I'm correct, they've been in both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, I am Groot, Thor: Love and Thunder, and the recent Holiday Special since then), the ragtag team is back once again for their next full-fledged adventure. And James Gunn returns to direct after he was briefly fired back in 2018, so we can expect more of his signature humor and focus on fleshed-out characters.

6. Oppenheimer

Not many filmmakers are as ambitious as Christopher Nolan who is known for often pushing the boundaries of what can be accomplished with practical effects. For his latest film, he tackles the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man responsible for creating the atomic bomb. So you can bet that I am interested in seeing what wizardry he works up to bring all that to life, short of detonating an actual atom bomb. He did after all crash a real plane for Tenet so we shouldn't put anything past him.

5. The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Video game movies have been faring a lot better than usual lately, with films like Detective Pikachu and the two Sonic movies serving as shining examples. Even more middling affairs like last year's Uncharted have managed to find some level of success at the box office. So the ground seems almost fertile for Hollywood to take another stab at what is arguably the most recognizable video game IP. The last Super Mario film might have been the stuff of nightmares but this new one looks very promising.

4. John Wick: Chapter 4

The Baba Yaga is back to dish out more of his wicked brand of justice in John Wick: Chapter 4. The last time we saw him at the end of Chapter 3, he'd been broken in body but not in spirit. And this time around, he has a fresh batch of goons that would need some knocking around. Donnie Yen and Scott Adkins join the ever-growing roster of assassins with a bone to pick, which means he's pretty much got his work cut out for him, and we are here for it.

3. Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning (Part One)

The first of two new Mission: Impossible sequels is out later this year. And if the trailers and promotional material are anything to go by, then it looks like Agent Ethan Hunt might be faced with his toughest mission yet. Tom Cruise has already defied death more times than we can count at this point, with the insane stunts featured in the last couple of movies. I still get goosebumps when I think about that HALO jump from the last one, so I am very excited to see what he has in store this time around.

2. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is another film that got bumped from 2022 into 2023. But between the time of the announcement of its delay and now, we've gotten two further looks (in the form of trailers) at just how the movies plan on upping the ante over the first one. The animation still looks about as breathtaking as it did in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse but it is the action that appears to be on a whole new level. June 2nd can't come soon enough.

1. Dune: Part Two

Denis Villeneuve is already getting ready to take audiences back to the deserts of Arrakis in Dune: Part Two, the second half of his adaptation of the seminal science fiction book by Frank Herbert. The first movie had felt incomplete due to the very nature of the adaptation but it was still able to introduce the members of House Atreides and House Harkonnen, as well as all the concepts that govern the world of Arrakis. So I am hoping that this new one builds off of all that while still managing to tell a coherent and satisfying story. And even though I've already read the book it is based upon, I would be lying if I said I wasn't anxious to see how well (if at all) the whole thing comes together.