Travelling Through the #DCEU, Part IV @ZacharyLevi @ponysmasher @martamilans @smugorange @realamberheard @thedcuniverse #movie #Shazam #Aquaman

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I really liked the DCEU, so I’ve decided to rewatch all of the DCEU movies in chronological order as I once did with the MCU. Doing so isn’t as important because the DCEU movies aren’t nearly as dependent on each other, but it’s something to do. 🙂 The order of the movies is Wonder Woman, Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, Justice League, Aquaman, and Shazam!

Aquaman

Having seen all of these movies again, the intro to DC movies is beginning to annoy me. It shows all of these heroes, but we haven’t seen most of them, and we haven’t seen the reboot for others. Get moving, DC.

Why would Atlanta choke on water? On another note, it’s a good thing they didn’t name her Detroit. That’d be weird.

I’m not surprised that Atlanta could kick Jango Fett’s ass.

The second it’s clear that Arthur could speak to fish and his eyes turned yellow, the FBI would be called.

Kill those Ruskies! No, wait. They’re not the bad guys.

All my knowledge of Aquaman comes from the cheesy, 70s Super Friends cartoon. I never thought of him as bulletproof. Not that it’s a high bar, but I like this interpretation better.

Well what do you know? Aquaman kills too.

If you let the water fill up, it’ll be easier to lift the bar off of him. I thought you were a pirate.

Sharks or seahorses? Sharks or seahorses? Who the hell would pick seahorses? These sea dudes seem to be able to swim faster than their mounts anyway, so the only reason to have a mount is because it looks badass.

Now we know why Ivan Drago could punch so hard. Steroids had nothing to do with it.

I thought they made a good choice with the special effects. The director was considering bubbles coming out of their mouths as they spoke. That would have looked dumb. This is much better.

I’ve already written about the bar scene.

“We already have an Atlantean living among us, and his name is Aquaman.” That’s such a good point that I find it hard to believe anyone doesn’t already believe in Atlantis.

Technology aside, Arthur got his ass kicked in a fist fight. That was disappointing to see.

“King Orm Marius v. Half Breed.” Love that.

King Orm choked on water too. What’s up with that? Do salamanders choke when they come out of the water?

“I think I’m gonna need a bigger helmet.” Hmmmm. That sounds familiar.

“Look, Fight Club.” I doubt she gets the reference.

“. . . she’s a mystery to me . . . .” Great choice of music.

Pinocchio? That’s a hell of a coincidence.

It would have sucked if that fragile bottle had somehow been damaged.

He certainly got a bigger helmet.

During the chase of Mera, the music sounded like something out of Super Mario Bros.

Okay, so his head’s in a toilet. How long will that work? Eventually, he’s going to have to find a more permanent solution.

I’m glad Black Manta survived. I’m not sure how he survived, but I’m glad he did. He’s a good villain, but he wasn’t the primary villain of this movie. He needs a little more than one fight as Black Manta before he’s toast, probably as a member of the teased Legion of Doom. He did look like a bug, though. I hate bugs.

Orange and green isn’t a good look, but I’m glad they stuck with it. Let’s just hope that they use more subdued shades going forward.

I always love me a big, climactic battle.

I still don’t like when leaders are chosen by birthright or combat. I’m not sure a magical trident is a better method.

Well, Atlanta hasn’t aged a day. Can’t say the same for Thomas Curry.

Shazam!

This is my favorite DC movie and certainly in my top five for comic book movies. And I love comic book movies.

As I’ve written, Shazam! occupies the same space in the DCEU as Guardians of the Galaxy occupies in the MCU (especially GotG2), but not just because they place the greatest emphasize on humor within their respective cinematic universes. They both deal with a dynamic not often addressed: the foster family. That is, not a family by blood or choice, but one that’s forced upon you by the system or circumstance. Sure, there’s some choice involved, but not nearly as much. Moreover, both Billy Batson and Peter Quill have an idealized view of what family is, and neither becomes whole until they have that naive view painfully shattered. I wasn’t raised in a foster home, but in a significant way, I can relate. This is clearly why I love these particular movies.

I don’t think that was a fair test. How would this kid know that he wasn’t supposed to grab the eye? How does he know which ones are good? He’s a bit young to make that decision on the fly. In hindsight, we know that Sivana was a bad guy because the script says so, but the scene didn’t do a good job of showing that.

Those are some dumb cops.

You can’t just walk away from a kid because he gets lost. The law will find you, especially if you don’t bother to move out of the city.

I love Victor and Rosa, but I talked about that here. Rosa is played by Marta Milans, who’s in White Lines on Netflix. If you like her here, you can watch more of her there. I just started it. Also on Netflix is the AMC series, Halt and Catch Fire. That’s a great show in which Cooper Andrews (Victor) can be seen in a supporting role.

I loved Mark Strong’s villain in Green Lantern, and I love him here.

Everyone has bad stuff in their upbringings, but not everyone goes bad. This movie had me revisiting the question of where the line is drawn between “he couldn’t help it” and “stop whining and behave yourself.”

Freddy didn’t eat any of his lunch. He just threw out the entire tray. Not wasting food is an obsession with me. It’s not a good thing — makes weight loss tough — but it seems selfish.

Hitting the disabled with your car could get you arrested. Beating them up after the fact won’t make things better.

I never understood the icing up of the windows when a potential champion was summoned, but it was a cool effect. (I’m aware that there doesn’t have to be a reason.)

Shazam is settling for Billy. He really doesn’t have a choice but couldn’t properly test him even if he did. He got lucky with Billy.

I love the set up for Black Adam. We really need to see that movie.

Zachary Levi did an incredible job of portraying a kid suddenly placed in an adult’s body, starting with hitting his head on the way out of the subway car. He’s delightfully awkward.

“Stupid adult hands!”
“Superpowers? Dude, I don’t even know how to pee in this thing.”

Um, considering the first statement, it’s a good thing the second statement is true.

The failed mugging gives us our first glimpse into how flawed the characters are. They literally stole $73 from the mugging “victim.”

Shazam’s outfit is gaudy, but those shoes are ridiculous.

Bullets don’t just drop to the ground. They ricochet. Not very smart.

Again, acting like a kid. They can’t stand the taste of beer. I relate to this as well.

The major theme of the movie, care of Cooper Andrews: “It’s not home until you call it home. It’s something you choose.”

Some criticized the scene in the boardroom for being too brutal, but it had to be. The movie swung the pendulum towards comedy, but it’s still an action-oriented comic book movie. We occasionally needed to be reminded of the stakes. This scene did that for us, and as a result, none of the subsequent scenes had to be this rough.

I wish he had said, “Dude, where’s my car?”

Another example of how flawed they are: They stole hundreds from an ATM. Then after the Realtor scene, Freddy shows how selfish he is. He understands the rules of being a superhero, and he breaks them just to look cool. All of this is normal for kids, but it’s still problematic within the script (he could get his foster family killed), and good in the real world. We don’t get to see these characters grow unless they need to.

Eye of the Tiger is the perfect choice for the “lightning from my hands” scene. It takes place on the “Rocky steps.”

So Billy places the bus in danger, but we can still say does a good thing saving the passengers. After doing so, his first thought is, “Look what I did!” That’s not heroic.

A little physics lesson for you. It’s not the fall that kills you; it’s the sudden stop at the bottom. Catching the bus would still cause everyone almost exactly as much harm as letting it hit the ground. I know these movies have to defy science, but this one is an easy fix.

In the first fight with Sivana, we see another example of Billy’s childishness. We know from the script that Billy’s more powerful than Sivana, yet he’s still gets his ass kicked. On average, kids by far lack the confidence of adults. That’s why he loses. Good writing and acting.

The reference to Big is awesome.

Victor and Rosa (the stepparents) do a great job of “good cop, bad cop” when taking care of Billy.

She really is a good sister. 🙂

I wish I had learned at 14 what Billy learned in his reunion with his biological mother.

Billy transforming into Captain Marvel while jumping off the building is probably the best shot in the movie.

“If a superhero can’t save his family, he’s not much of a superhero.” Yep, that’s the catch phrase, and it also shows the Billy is finally emotionally whole. Giving the scared girl the tiger doll was a nice callback to his first scene.

“Billy!” 🙂

And now we have a bunch of kids put into adult bodies. I still love Darla trying to convince the fake Santa that she’s been really good this year. But again, it’s not the fall that kills you, but the sudden stop at the bottom.

Everyone’s cheering except the girl with the tiger doll. She’s still a little concerned.

“What’s a lair?”

The ending scene in the cafeteria is great. I wish Cavil could have done it.

Did I mention that I love this movie?

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Brie Larson’s Performance in Captain Marvel @leepace @brielarson #MCU #CaptainMarvel

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Binging Halt and Catch Fire inspired me to re-watch Captain Marvel because Lee Pace played one of the key figures in both works. Mr. Pace won’t be the subject of this story, but it triggered the viewing.

Prior to seeing Brie Larson in Captain Marvel, I wasn’t impressed with her acting. Apparently, that created a bias, because I didn’t think much of the job she did in Captain Marvel either. I enjoyed the movie anyway because the character’s personality, fueled by her amnesia and her role as a soldier, didn’t require much range. In fact, it dictated that she remained as flat and one-dimensional as I’ve experienced. However, it left me concerned that in future performances she’d be equally flat and one-dimensional when the role required her do better. Her performance in Endgame didn’t give me any more confidence, because her role was limited.

Then the Room came to Netflix, so I watched it. I was curious as to how she could win an Oscar considering everything I had seen. In the Room, she was a completely different Brie Larson. I saw much better acting, so it was clear that she had the chops for the role. On the second, and now third, viewing of Captain Marvel, I see her performance in a different light. The extra dimensions are there; it’s just more subtle. As with Nebula, the script limited Carol Danvers be acted in a certain way — brooding, cold, distant, guarded — but Ms. Larson somehow hinted at the range of normal emotions inside. At times, she’s happy, playful, sorrowful, nostalgic, inquisitive, remorseful, optimistic, and goofy; I simply missed it because of that bias. My short term memory didn’t retain things I didn’t think I’d see.

The more I watch this movie, the more I appreciate the subtleties typical of an MCU film and Ms. Larson’s performance. My guess is that both Captain Marvel 2 and she will be just as good.

But Goose stole the show. You’ll have to deal with that, Brie.

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#Shazam v. Guardians of the Galaxy @ponysmasher @martamilans @smugorange @russburlingame @comicbook @BrandonDavisBD @janellwheeler @tylacinee @SunSoar25 @ZacharyLevi @karengillan #GotG #mcu #decu

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On April Fool’s Day, I enjoyed yet another quarantine watch party. This one was for Shazam, which I love. We were joined by the director, David Sandberg, and the actors that played Billy’s foster parents, Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews. The party was hosted by Brandon Davis of Comicbook.com, and Russ Burlingame joined in as well. We may have been joined by some other people involved in the film, but I wouldn’t know. I was clearly confused. For a moment I though Russ was the producer or something. Awkward.

Anyway, comic book movies are well-loved, but it seems most people love them solely for their action and fantasy elements. I feel that they don’t get the respect they deserve for the acting and screenwriting, which at times is top notch. After all, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU”) and DC Extended Universe (“DCEU”) have a few former Oscar winners in them. There are several themes that came up in our collective commentary that I wanted to discuss, some of which are shared with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Shazam occupies the same space in the DCEU as GotG. When I initially made that observation, my thoughts were narrow. I was referring to the fact that both were expected to lighten the mood of their respective cinematic universes by focusing a lot more on comedy than the others. All these movies have some comedic one-liners, and both Shazam and GotG were still very much action-oriented, but we all can see that the balance between those two genres were tipped a little further comedy for Shazam and GotG. But there were other reasons to make this connection that I didn’t initially appreciate.

Everyone Was Pretty Selfish

As with most stories, the primary characters in these films were flawed; to-wit: their motivations selfish. In GotG, Peter was a thief, Gamora was an assassin, Rocket and Groot were mercenaries, and Drax was motivated solely by hatred and loss. Each of those attitudes led to risks not only to their own well-beings, but to the well-beings of the entire galaxy. The same selfishness was common among the main characters in Shazam, and not just the villain. These flaws were normal for children their ages, and thus the stakes were initially lower, but when these kids were forced to deal with fantastic circumstances that don’t exist in the real world, they had no choice but to grow up quickly. It didn’t go so well. Billy stole from Freddy, and when they worked together, they willingly took $73 from the mugging “victim” knowing full well that Shazam was scaring her into handing over the money. They stole far more money from an ATM.

Eventually, Billy started to play the role of a hero, but only because his reckless behavior created the danger in the first place. Though he saved the day … well …

Billy’s still all about himself. Freddy had his own problems. He “understood this whole superhero thing” better than anyone, but he quickly broke his own rules.

Family Takes Many Forms

That second tweet isn’t strictly correct. The Vasquez family wasn’t an “adoptive” family; they were a foster family. That’s a slightly different dynamic. I’m not familiar with the details of the process, but in an adoptive family, at least the parents get to choose the children they adopt. In a foster family, that choice is made by the foster care system. Foster familes are forced on one another, and in GotG, that’s true as well. The Guardians were forced on one another by circumstance. This isn’t to say that freewill didn’t play any part; the Vasquez family chose to be a foster family to someone, and the Guardians could have split up as soon as they escaped prison (or at any other time). I’m just saying that there were far more severe limits placed on their respective choices, and that makes their coming together as a family more impressive.

And those families worked. By working together, the characters in desperate need of personal growth became better. They focused on more than just themselves. On the extreme end of the spectrum, Nebula’s realized relationship with Gamora, and then the other Guardians, led to her rhetoric shifting from “I’m killing Thanos because I hate him” to “I’m killing Thanos because he’s going to kill half the universe.” In a similar way, despite all the superpowers he had, Billy was still just a dopey kid who’s sense of family was an unattainable ideal, and like Starlord, that caused him initially to miss the family that was right in front of his face. Billy didn’t really evolve until he accepted his new family, and then he learned not only their importance, but everyone’s importance. The sense of family led to a sense of community.

The Stakes Were Still High

These are still action movies. The Guardians saved a planet from a villain who would eventually become a threat to the entire galaxy. That threat needed to be extreme in order to keep the movie from getting too lighthearted. Shazam was written to be even far more family-friendly, yet the boardroom scene was so dark that it received quite a bit of criticism. I don’t think that’s fair. A movie so lighthearted can cause the viewer to lose sight of the stakes. Doctor Sivana murdered several people, including his brother and father. Sound familiar, Ego? What about you, Thanos?

The Acting Was Solid

I won’t beat the dead horse any more than I must, but here’s a quick summary of my feelings on the actors of GotG. The actors in GotG represented the best acting ensemble in the MCU, and Karen Gillan’s performance was so good in the MCU and elsewhere (for example, no spoilers and spoilers) that I’m convinced that there’s an Oscar in her future if she’s given the right script. Similarly, the cast of Shazam! is probably my favorite ensemble from the DCEU. All the themes above required solid acting to pull off.

Zachary Levi did a fantastic job playing a kid in a man’s body. He had the same insecurities as any kid and tried to hide them by acting as a kid would assume an adult would act. Billy’s lack of a father figure added to the awkwardness, which Levi captured well. A lot of that is scriptwriting, but someone must act it out.

One thing that stood out to me was that Billy never showed a fear of the dark as Tom Hanks’s character in Big did.

This made sense because he had superpowers, but when he met Dr. Sivana, he had that moment of fear. Once he experienced Sivana’s superpowers and intimidating personality, that childish fear rose to the surface. He assumed (inaccurately) that his powers were no match for Sivana’s.

Later in the movie, Meagan Good had a similar but funny moment.

For context, she was an adult actress acting giddy around a guy playing Santa.

Marta and Cooper did a great job as foster parents, which was critical to advancing the main theme of the movie.

Perhaps they showed a little too much patience for Billy’s antics than they should in the real world, but this is a movie, so the script did what it had to do. The point is that foster parents should be patient, and that’s something to which I can relate. When push came to shove, they mixed the right amount of good cop/bad cop in how they dealt with Billy. That gave Billy the push he needed, leading to his catchphrase, “If a superhero can’t save his family, he’s not much of a hero.”

The child actors did a really good job as well. I don’t have much to say about them because they were kids playing kids, so nothing floored me there. However, having a script that takes advantage of a bunch of cute kids is always going to make some people happy.

Conclusion

I’ve never really read comics. I don’t know how faithful this movie was to the comics, and I understand that’s important to some of you, but I just don’t care. I’m taking this movie at face value, and I was impressed with both the acting and script. It was a lot of fun and may be my favorite DCEU film to date (though I really liked Wonder Woman too).

Postscript

There are some people included on my cc: that weren’t involved in the film and (to my knowledge) aren’t professional journalists. They were people that I “met” for the first time through this quarantine watch party, and they’re as important to it as the celebrities. It was a lot of fun. You may want to join us sometime.

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Travelling through the #MCU: Phase 1 @chrishemsworth @twhiddleston #CaptainAmerica #CaptainMarvel #IronMan #Thor #Avengers

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In an earlier post, I pointed out a few things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU”) that I really enjoyed. I don’t think the MCU gets the credit it deserves. Sure, everyone likes the sound and visuals, but no one expects these films to win acting or directing Oscars. I’m not sure that’s fair, but I digress. Since that post, I’ve started watching the entire MCU in movie-chronological order (Captain America, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, etc.) and will continue through the entire MCU that’s on Disney+ or otherwise available to me. This probably excludes the Spider Man movies and the Incredible Hulk.

There’s been so much ink on these topics that it’s rather pointless to try to leave an impression. These will be short observations of the things that either I liked the most about them or suspect many people didn’t really notice. I’m going to avoid most of my major dislikes. There’s no sense in raining on anyone’s parade (including my own). In case you have the time, I found it fun watching these movies knowing where these characters wound up.

Spoiler alert, I guess?

Captain America

In my last post, I spoke about the music. I love the music in this movie. I also loved Captain America’s team, the Howling Commandos. It’s a shame that, by design, they’ll get no more movies. I don’t think they could head up an entire (commercially successful) movie on their own, and their story with Captain America is done.

Captain Marvel

Like everyone else, I loved the Stan Lee tribute and his cameo.

I love that they made the Skrulls sympathetic. It was an interesting twist even for an MCU fan with no appreciation of the comic books, though I know that it was a twist for those that do. It also made for a good story, and I’m happy that the Skrulls are going to continue to play a role in the MCU (see Spider Man: Far from Home).

Iron Man

Some time ago, I read an article pointing out that the entire twist in Iron Man was given away in the opening scene. Knowing that the average American doesn’t speak Urdu, the scene showed Tony’s captors giving their demands in that language. As a result, many people overseas had the movie ruined for them. Duh.

Most interesting is how well this movie has aged despite being the first MCU film. The only thing tough to watch with this movie is the complete disregard for the laws of physics. But hey, you must suspend your disbelief in order to watch a superhero movie.

Iron Man 2

This is my least favorite MCU movie, but all its faults get a pass because it’s part of the larger story. I liked Howard speaking directly to Tony in the video. Tony’s realization that he was, in some sense, wrong about his father was handled well. I also loved Pepper and Tony’s “married couple” fight towards the end when Pepper learned Tony was dying. This despite Pepper Potts being the most annoying protagonist in the MCU.

Thor

When I was a kid, I wasn’t into comic books, but I was very much into mythology. The Norse legends were my favorite, so it shouldn’t surprise you to know that Thor is my favorite Marvel character. Origin stories are always tough, but I still love this movie. Maybe it’s my bias, but with Marvel going cosmic, perhaps this is the second most important movie in the first couple phases (next to Iron Man). Though Thor should be a redhead (damn it!), I thought the character was well-treated. At the risk of getting ahead of myself, his development through all three solo movies and the Avengers movies led him from a spoiled brat to the strongest Avenger, and with Ragnarök he finally became the near-invincible, dim-witted character I know from mythology (more on that later). It had to start somewhere, and this was a good start. A lot of this comes from Chris Hemsworth’s performance, which was stellar throughout. I hope he plays Thor forever.

And is there a better villain than Tom Hiddleston’s Loki? I also like the fact that Loki was a frost giant, which is consistent with his character in mythology. I did find it weird that his father was Laufey. In mythology, his mother was Laufey, and his father was Farbauti (though there are sources that don’t attach Loki to either).

Moving onto the movie itself, I do have a couple of issues. First, it seemed odd that Odin was ready to hand over the throne to such a dipshit, but it did make Thor’s banishment more profound. Second, why didn’t Heimdall get punished for helping Thor go to Jotunheim? Third: “Oh. My. God.” Worst. MCU. Line. Ever. Fourth: “Son of Cole.” Favorite. MCU. Line. Ever.

As for the music, it was appropriately majestic considering that the movie was dealing with royalty.

The Avengers

This was also an important movie in the MCU, as it was the first ensemble movie. Thor wasn’t nearly as powerful as he should have been, but he needed to be weak enough so that he didn’t trivialize the plot.

Shawarma. I know it has a lot of competition, but it remains my favorite end-credits scene in any movie.

And then there’s this guy, the biggest hero in the movie without a superpower to speak of.

Old German Man.png

One criticism: As soon as the nuke hit the mother ship, all the Chitauri dropped dead, as did all the “whale ships.” The entire enemy force just collapsed. I know this dead horse has been soundly beaten, but I have different questions. Why was there still a rush to shut the portal? The threat was gone. Why couldn’t they give Stark as much time as he needed to fall back to Earth? Why couldn’t Thor fly through the portal, attempt to find Stark, and bring him back? The answer, of course, is “drama.”

What’s Next?

That’s it for now. When I have some time, I’ll be moving on to Phase 2, which includes (in order) Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: the Winter Soldier (my favorite MCU film; expect a long discussion), both Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man. GotG2 isn’t actually Phase 2, but I’m watching these using in-movie chronology, so watching in phases isn’t quite going to work.

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