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.