The State of DC

Yesterday I saw a poster released for the upcoming “Birds of Prey” movie and was reminded that the film is a thing, and that DC’s Joker film isn’t the only project they have in the pipeline. On top of Birds of Prey, they have Wonder Woman 1984 and a reboot of sorts to the Suicide Squad franchise, with a Batman reboot somewhere as well. 

They have previously dropped Man of Steel, where they gave us an awesome Superman in Henry Cavill. The fact there was no real structure around his film to build a wider universe on didn’t put off the executives from wanting to have their own Cinematic Universe based on it, and the leaderless DCEU was born. Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and Justice League followed to varying degrees of success, before Shazam and Aquaman sort of steadied the ship by being very okay.

Crucially, they botched Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad was a colourful mess. Fun to look at but no real substance to it, DC had fumbled the ball. This was all happening in a time when Marvel was building towards Infinity war and in the same year as Justice League, released Guardians 2, Spiderman Homecoming and Thor Ragnarok.

If done right in with the state of pop culture today, Justice League should be the biggest film in the world. It should be earning billions. It earned $657 million. That’s on a hefty budget for both production and marketing, meaning they earned very little on their biggest film. for context, all three of the marvel films earned around $200 million more than that, on smaller budgets.

This sent Warner Bros and DC into a panic of green lighting and then cancelling and delaying and re organising and just generally in a tizzy trying to figure out what went wrong. Well I could write forever on what went wrong, and I probably will one day, but I am wondering if they’re finally organised, or if they are still spinning out of control.

They have Joker releasing in a few weeks’ time, and it appears it is going to be a critical darling and a huge success in terms of quality, Box office will probably be decent if not spectacular. I have written about that film enough; I am excited and hopefully is a sign of DC allowing the film makers they hire to take their properties and make something they want with them rather than the designed by committee feel Justice League had.

Following that we have Birds of Prey coming out next February, starring Margot Robbie reprising her role as Harley Quinn. She was one of the better parts of Suicide Squad, and I am glad they kept a talent like her, but I have no idea what this film is. Harley Quinn without the joker took years in the comics, and here we have her already out on her own, with Jared Leto’s Joker nowhere to be seen from what I can tell. I am guessing a trailer isn’t far off, so perhaps by the next time I write I will have some idea what this film’s going to be. The lead is talented, and Ewan McGregor is in it as the antagonist, so the tools are there for a solid movie, I just have no idea what to expect.

Next June is the most hopeful I am for DC, as Wonder Woman 1984 hits theatres. The first film was good. Gal Gadot has been the shining light for DC and it seems like they’re positioning her at the centre of their universe, if there is still a universe. The poster for this film is a piece of art, and if the film can build on the success of the first, we could be on for a great film.

Beyond that, we have a Batman reboot. The reign of Batfleck is over, and to be honest I was disappointed Ben Affleck never got to show what he could do with the character in a solo film. He has immense talent for directing and acting, and I can’t help but feel it was a wasted opportunity not utilising those while they had him there. Robert Pattinson has taken on the mantle, and Matt Reeves is directing. Reeves directed the two most recent Planet of the Apes films, which were both fun and serious action films. That style and tone could translate well to a Batman flick, so here’s hoping for a return to form for the character.

After that there is a myriad of films slated, James Gunn is making a Suicide Squad movie, which sounds incredible quite frankly. What he did with Guardians of the Galaxy means I will watch anything he touches now. Shazam and Aquaman are both set for sequels, The Flash movie has been in development for years, The Rock was announced as playing Black Adam years ago but so far there’s been no sign of that, and then we have a potential Batgirl film. Oh, and a horror film called The Trench, based on the trench Aquaman dives down in his solo film.

All these individual films sound fun, what’s missing is any obvious connecting tissue. I am assuming that the plan is still to build a Universe that can eventually lead to another Justice League film. Right now, there is no team up movie to connect everything together in the pipeline, and maybe that is intentional. Perhaps they want to focus on the current slate and get each individual character’s film right before trying to bring them together. It was rushed before, that much is obvious, and in their haste to catch up to Marvel they tripped and fell on their faces.

I genuinely hope that all these upcoming films shock me and are brilliant, my fear is that so far, they haven’t made a single film that’s been there for me. They do have a chance now though, especially with Marvel having essentially capped off their MCU for the time being and will be focusing on new characters and ones we haven’t quite got the same connection to like Dr Strange. They’ve lost Iron Man and Cap, the heads of the MCU, and Spiderman is unlikely to be returning.

DC have all their toys, they have time, and they could step up and be the next big franchise. Here’s hoping they can get it right this time.

ChAzJS

 

Shazam! Review

DC step up to the plate just weeks before the next Avengers movie to try to remind the world they exist with Shazam!. He is a character i have a cursory knowledge of, but I don’t know his back story too well aside from the “Say Shazam! turn into a superhero” part of it. This films real attraction for me is Shazam himself, Zachary Levi. My all time favourite TV show is Chuck, the show he starred in as the title character. He is also Flynn Rider in my favourite new style Disney animated film, Tangled. Needless to say, I watched every trailer with slightly rose-tinted glasses, but once in the cinema, I put aside that love of his previous work to judge this film on its own merits. 

First of all, I have to say I am shocked at how much I enjoyed the teen actors in this film. All of them are great, and it follows on from my review last week of “Us” when I mentioned the rise of really great child and teen actors. The two main boys we follow, Billy Batson and Freddy, are funny, believable and as a result really entertaining throughout the film. Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer should both be marked as talents to watch after their performances in those roles.

Shazam! tells the origin story of the character, and it does a really does a good job of setting up the world, giving us the rules of the world, and then letting the hero have fun within those rules. We see him gleefully testing out his powers and can see the visible childish excitement in his face when he learns of a new ability. This is all performed well by Zach Levi, whose childish side has always been a part of his work. Whether it’s entirely in line with the comics I’m not sure, as I know in the Injustice fighting video game he goes from 15 year old boy and transforms into a hero who is essentially a different person. Here it’s treated as if this is a straight body swap, and he still has the mind of a 15 year old boy.

This all leads to some really wholesome, friendly fun with him and Freddy. The chemistry between him and Billy/Shazam is the driving force of the movie, and that bond that is created between them as the film progresses is heartwarming to watch unfold. The bond he has by the end with the rest of his foster family is a little odd, as there aren’t many scenes with some of them, but I think that’s actually to the betterment of the film as a whole as I think Shazam! gets its runtime just about right. A few more scenes of interacting with the siblings might have made me check my watch a few times.

Changing focus from the good guys, Mark Strong plays antagonist Dr Sivana. A cool name, a typically evil villain, and one that Mark Strong commits to and is as good as the role allows him to be. I saw a clip of Dwayne Johnson talking about how this film was developed with Black Adam as the villain but he felt telling two origins in one movie was a bit too much and would end up being a disservice to one of the characters, so they decided to take Black Adam out and make their own movie starring The Rock. It turns out he was right, as I found myself disinterested by the origins of Sivana and despite Strong’s solid performance, I just didn’t find him particularly engaging.

In a weird way, Shazam reminded me of a Phase 1 Marvel movie. The hero is nailed perfectly, and the villain is a generic guy who ends up with very similar powers to the hero. Applying that Marvel template is no bad thing though, as it means Shazam feels like a really fun time and actually has some really fun actions scenes that beat anything we saw back in Phase 1 of the MCU. Whether Shazam! is a match for Aquaman or Wonder Woman is another question of course.

My answer to that question, is Yes. Shazam feels like the final part of a tonal shift in DC’s universe of films. This is a funny film, I genuinely laughed out loud at some parts, and that is a far cry from the shocked outrage I felt watching Batman V Superman in the cinema. DC are on a good run now, with Wonder Woman, Aquaman and now Shazam! all delivering really fun movies. If next years Affleck-free Batman movie can live up to these last few films, I think we might just have the makings of something really good for DC here.

Good: Teens are all great, Zach Levi is perfect for this kind of role, Some good laughs sprinkled throughout. One of the coolest moments in any film when he jumps off a roof and transforms.

Bad: Despite good acting, the villain was just a bit too unsubtle for me, and Shazam’s suit, whilst comic book accurate, just reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Turbo Man in Jingle All The Way.

7/10 I’m off to find out where I can re-watch Chuck for the 4th time. 

DC Cast Shazam, and it’s Awesome. 

A story broke out over the weekend from the Hollywood Reporter saying that Zachary Levi has been cast as superhero “Shazam” in the DC film universe. This report has since been confirmed by the actor himself on his Instagram. 

For those who don’t know, Shazam is a young boy who transforms into a musclebound superhero whose powers rival Superman, whenever he exclaims “Shazam!”. I’m serious. That’s the premise for this character.

That taken into consideration, casting Zachary Levi, the star of one of my favourite TV shows Chuck, is a stroke of genius. It’s not a name I or anyone I know of would have suggested as a potential actor for the role, and it was initially shocking when I first read it.

Once I took a minute to step back and think about it, it actually makes so much sense. In Chuck he plays a geeky man-child who is thrust into a world he’s not ready for. Levi is convincing as both the fish out of water in the early seasons and the confident bad ass of later seasons, showcasing the range that you would need to pull off a character as unique as Shazam.

I think the best comparison to make for this is with Guardians of the Galaxy’s Chris Pratt. He was a guy who not many had heard of, but those that had adored him. And he hit the gym and buffed up to become one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most beloved characters.

I’m not saying Zachary Levi can do the same for DC, we all know the sketchy track record Warner Bros have with these films. I am hoping Levi can bring that same fun and energy that got me hooked on Chuck to this role. If he succeeds I think Shazam could be a surprise hit for DC.

We have a few years to wait, but I’m now actually excited for a film I thought would be a joke. Here’s hoping the Justice League movie doesn’t sink the entire DC Universe Films and make this news obsolete.