Shmee Survived The Endgame!

Avengers: Endgame feels like an impossible movie to review. Either you have spent the last decade at least partially keeping up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or you have not. If you have, Endgame is a great way to put a bow on the last eleven years of films and clear the slate for the next eleven. If you have not, it is all noise and references to things that don’t make any sense. Which makes it a unique piece of media.

Avengers: Endgame picks up right after Avengers: Infinity War. Our heroes have failed, and they are struggling with their failure. Though they wouldn’t be the Avengers if they didn’t Avenge something from time to time, so they assemble to save the universe one more time.

I am not going to lie, while I found a lot of moments in this picture really moving, the character work is really great, I have a lot of problems with the plot. Problems I cannot get in to without spoiling the movie. Just know that while you are watching it everything seems to hold together, but afterwards don’t think about anything too hard, or it all turns in to mush.

At the end of Avengers: Infinity War it was no accident that the original Avengers were the ones that survived. Because Endgame is about those heroes’ journey to where they are now, and how they have grown and changed. The new class will get their movies, this was one more trip with Cap, Tony and the gang. Plus, Rocket and Nebula. So, it is not surprising that the best parts of this movie are those characters interacting with one another. Everything that is not that those interactions is a little sketchy.

Endgame had me laughing, cheering, and crying, so in that regard it was a success, and it is a must watch for anyone with even a passing interest in Marvel’s films. What the Russo brothers did to tie up all these plot threads in the last two movies is astounding. It is an incredible achievement for them and Marvel’s producing team, but not quite all those pieces fit together as nicely as they want us to think they did. Though I am still quite excited to see what Marvel brings us next!

Shazam! Teaches DC The Importance Of Fun And Family!

Somehow here in the year 2019 DC has released a “Shazam!” movie. With this film, DC and Warner Bros are really testing if audiences are willing to see minor heroes make their way to the silver screen. Now to be fair, Shazam was in theaters before. Albeit he was then known as Captain Marvel (no, not that Captain Marvel), and that was nearly 80 years ago, so your grandparents may remember him if you alert them to the name change. Despite all that, Captain Marvel “Shazam!” is the best movie beginning to end so far of the new DCEU.

“Shazam!” like most superhero movies is about an orphan, but what makes this movie different is that he is still fourteen. You see an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou in his second Captain Marvel movie of the year) needs a champion to protect the world from the Seven Deadly Sins, but when things go south, he needs to settle on a troubled foster kid name Billy Batson (Asher Angel). When Billy says the wizard’s name, Shazam, he is transformed in to the perfect man. Who in this case is Zachary Levi.

If this makes you think the movie is a little like Big, but with superheroes, you would be right. Though, that would be unfair to “Shazam!” because it makes the most of its premise. Because while the trailers show that this film is funny, they don’t show all the heart, and its focus on the importance of family. Whatever that looks like. In this case a group home that Billy is placed in, and the movie is at its best when Billy/Shazam is with his foster brother Freddy Freeman played by Jack Dylan Grazer. The three leads have great chemistry. The rest of the family is very good too, but they are there mostly filler.

The villains on the other hand are not as good. Mark Strong’s Doctor Sivana is not given anybody to really play off for his scenes, so he falls a little flat, though I think his story pays off really well at the end. Also, the Sins are CGI characters that push the budget for this movie a little too much, so they stand out in a bad way, and they make the movie too creepy for younger children. Otherwise, this probably could have been a PG movie, but these are minor flaws in a great movie.

Wonder Woman would have been perfect if it had found a way to have a third act without a big grey thing to fight, and “Shazam!”‘s third act pays off the movie’s themes in a creative way, so while Wonder Woman is a better movie in parts, “Shazam!” is better as a whole. What I am saying is, “Shazam!” is probably the best movie in the DCEU and you should see it. Maybe take your grandparents, it might bring back some memories.

Shmee Takes A Ride With Bumblebee!

The Transformers movies have a record that could be kindly described as ‘spotty’. Most would probably just say terrible. Finally sensing audience dissatisfaction, Paramount and the multitude of production companies providing financial input in to the franchise decided to do a soft reboot of the property focusing on one Transformer’s origin, Bumblebee. It turns out this was a good decision. Bumblebee is easily the best live action Transformers movie.

Bumblebee starts out on Cybertron. Showing the vicious war that causes the Autobots to flee their home world. Things do not go well for Bumblebee (Dylan O’Brien) when he lands on Earth. He is almost instantly hunted by Colonel Jack Burns (John Cena), so he goes in to hiding as a VW Bug, and ends up the car of a teenage girl, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld). You can guess where things go from there.

While this movie shares a lot in common with the first Transformers film, it never feels like a retread. The core relationship between Charlie and Bumblebee is sweet, and you get the feeling that they both really need each other. It also manages to make a lot of 80’s adventure movie callouts without feeling stale or cheap. It is Spielbergian without feeling like a knockoff.

I would like to applaud two people behind the cameras for Bumblebee: First, Travis Knight. Bumblebee is his first live action directing gig, and only his second turn as a director. With the first being Kubo and the Two Strings (he is usually a producer for stop motion). His attention to detail that he must have developed for stop motion really paid off with Bumblebee. The story and the special effects really came together well, and that only works if you know how they will all fit together in post-production. Second, Christina Hodson. This is her first major screenplay, and she got a solo writing credit, which is almost unheard of in these days of large writing rooms. Given all that, it was a great script, and I expect big things from her. I hope her next screenplay, DC’s Birds of Prey, is equally entertaining.

Of course, all that good work behind the scenes would have been for not if Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena didn’t pull off their roles, but thankfully they were great. Steinfeld is a believable as a mourning teenager, and she and Bumblebee are cute (not a word I ever thought I would use in a modern Transformers movie review) in their scenes together. John Cena was given the job to be an over the top 80’s villain, and he rolled around in it like catnip. He was clearly having fun. Obviously, the special effects team that brought Bumblebee to life deserves a ton of credit as well because he was the most lifelike Robot in Disguise yet and displayed a lot of emotion considering he can’t talk for most of the movie.

Bumblebee is not a life changing movie. It is simply a fun popcorn movie made in the style of an 80’s Spielberg film, and that is more than enough to recommend this movie. It is almost worth a watch to prove that Transformers movies don’t need to be three hours of teenager ogling and explosions. They can be just as good as any other movie out there. By now you must know that I liked this movie, and that I think you will like it too. I am eagerly awaiting its follow-up, Prime.

Shmee Swims With Aquaman!

Thanks to Amazon and Atom Tickets I was able to see Aquaman a week early, so I am able to get a review out before the movie opens for once.  Aquaman is the sixth movie from the DC Extended Universe, and its second best.  Which to be fair isn’t hard, but it is still a good movie.  It is strange to think in this era of superhero films that an ‘A’ list hero created in 1941 is just now getting his own movie, but thanks to the 70’s animated cartoon Super Friends we think of Aquaman like this:

And not like this:

Anyway, the new movie from James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Insidious) and Warner Brothers seeks to change all that, and for the most part they do.

Aquaman takes place right after Justice League, but in no way do you need to know what happened in that film, just that it happened, and Arthur Curry AKA Aquaman (Jason Momoa) reflects on how he came to be.  He has also started being a hero full time.  That is until Princess Exposition  Mera (Amber Heard) shows up and tells Arthur that he needs to come to Atlantis and claim the throne from his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) before Orm can declare war on the surface world.

Aquaman has the pretty standard origin story flow.  He is a misfit kid dealing with some trauma (though not as bad as most superheroes), and he is a reluctant hero until he gains the confidence to fight.  Now that may not have sold you on this film, but what should, is that this thing is non-stop action and spectacle.  It is always showing you something cool or crazy.  I mean there are sharks with lasers fighting giant crabs, Black Manta has his big dumb helmet, and if that is not enough Julie Andrews plays a kraken.  None of this will win an Oscar, but it is all peek ocular cotton candy.

Sadly, it has a few things that bring it down.  This movie is over two hours long and at that it still has barely enough time to tell its story, so a lot of things feel rushed or at least very convenient.  I didn’t like Amber Heard at first.  She was stilted and wooden, but that is because she was given nothing but exposition to say for the first hour.  Once she was done with that she got much better and was clearly having as much fun as Jason.  Willem Dafoe also spouts exposition, but he is much better at it.  It is a gift it seems.

Aquaman revels in being a popcorn movie.  One covered in cheese with some candy on the side, and you can tell the actors were all having a lot of fun with it.  I mean there are dinosaurs in this movie and nobody says anything about it.  They just exist.  Why?  Because they are cool, and that is this movie’s MO.  If you are going in expecting more than that, you may be disappointed, but I had a great time.  It is strange to think that Aquaman is this year’s fourth best superhero movie, but it is still pretty good, and worth your time and money.

Shmee Swings Into The Spider-Verse!

I am not a huge Spider-Man fan.  I think it is because when I was a kid I was supposed to like him, so I disliked him out of spite, but he has grown on me over the years.  To the point now that I was eagerly awaiting this new animated Spider-Man film, and it seems fitting that only a month after Stan Lee’s death that his most famous creation would get its best movie.  Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t just a little better than the rest of the Spider-Man movies, it is Miles better.

At the beginning of Into the Spider-Verse, New York has gotten used to being saved by the blond-haired blue-eyed Peter Parker AKA Spider-Man (Chris Pine).  Things seem to be going his way.  He recently got married, and he has never failed the city on the big stuff.  Meanwhile Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is just an everyday kid.  Smarter than average, and has a good heart, but not extraordinary.  This changes when he is bit by very familiar spider.  When Peter and Miles meet during a mishap with King Pin (Liev Schreiber)’s particle accelerator their universe will change forever.

Everything is on point with this movie.  The writing is fantastic, the action is insane, it has a great cast, and it looks like a comic book come to life.  I am not sure why everyone thinks live action is the way to go with comic book adaptations because you can do so much more with animation.  I know some people will not like the sort of stop motion look they gave this film to kind of mimic the changing panels of a comic book, but it grows on you, and it gives the movie a unique feel.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse gets to the heart of what it means to be Spider-Man.  Living through the everyday failures but choosing to get back up and continuing to do what is right anyway.  Obviously, those failures include loss.  Almost all superheroes have tragic beginnings, and Miles’ is no different, but the movie never feels cheap and it drives Miles forward in believable ways.  Also we get to hear how tragedy as motivated the other Spider-People as well, and those stories help to inform Miles’ path forward.

The vocal cast for Into the Spider-Vese was great.  I already mentioned Pine, Moore and Schreiber who are all great, particularly Moore who really captures Miles’ complex feelings and wide-eyed awe of what is happening, but add to those guys, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, Jake Johnson, and Lily Tomlin and you can’t ask for much more.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse might be the best superhero movie released this year, and yes, I am aware Black Panther, Infinity War and Aquaman (review tomorrow) all came out this year, but it is that good.  I am on board for these high quality animated Spider-Verse movies, and hope Stan got to see it before he died because he would have loved it.  It was an ode to everything he and Ditko created in 1962.