Shazam! Fury of the Gods review

Directors: David F. Sandberg
Cast : Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Rachel Zegler, Ross Butler, Ian Chen, Meagan Good, Faithe Herman, Grace Caroline Curry, D.J. Cotrona, Jovan Armand, Lucy Liu, Djimon Hounsou, Helen Mirren
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 131 min
Opens : 16 March 2023
Rating : PG13

2019’s Shazam! was generally considered to be a successful entry in the DC Extended Universe, and in 2023, its sequel arrives as the DC Universe is in a state of flux. The Shazam family is back, hoping to bring more of the adventure and heart that served the first film well.

Billy Batson/Shazam (Asher Angel/Zachary Levi) and his foster siblings Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer/Adam Brody), Eugene (Ian Chen/Ross Butler), Darla (Faithe Herman/Meagan Good), Mary (Grace Caroline Curry) and Pedro (Jovan Armand/D.J. Cotrona) are a superhero team operating in Philadelphia. Billy is struggling to keep the team together, and despite their best efforts, the group is pejoratively named “the Philly Fiascos”.

Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Hespera (Helen Mirren), daughters of the titan Atlas, arrive on earth to reclaim the Wizard’s (Djimon Hounsou) magic staff. Having been locked away for millennia, they attempt to reclaim the power they once wielded. Freddy develops a crush on Ann (Rachel Zegler), a new classmate to whom there is more than it first appears. With the Shazam family in something of a transitional phase, Billy and his foster siblings must defeat the Daughters of Atlas as they unleash chaos in our realm.

The first Shazam! movie felt very much like an 80s live-action kids’ adventure movie but with an underlying dark streak, and this movie mostly maintains that. It is often exuberant and funny, but there are also moments that might be genuinely frightening for younger children, including the opening sequence introducing Kalypso and Hespera. Director David F. Sandberg mostly keeps a handle on the proceedings, which are much bigger in scale than in the first film, as sequels are wont to be. There are lot of visual effects-heavy sequences, but the computer-generated creatures and elements do not feel as synthetic as in many similar films. The climactic battle, involving Lucy Liu astride a dragon and creatures from Greek mythology running amok in Philadelphia, does have a bit of a Ray Harryhausen feel to it. This is generally a charming movie that benefits from not bending over backwards trying to be cool, a problem many DC movies in the past have faced.

There are times when Fury of the Gods feels a little bloated, as it struggles to give each character their moment to shine while also introducing new ones. At 131 minutes, the movie feels just a little too long, with a protracted multi-part ending battle that takes up about a quarter of the running time. The real-life passage of time becomes a problem as the conceit of children transforming into adults starts the wear thin as the gulf in age between the kid and grown-up versions of several of the Shazam family characters starts to narrow. One result of this is that Grace Caroline Curry portrays both her civilian and superhero form (replacing Michelle Borth from the first movie).

Most of the movie’s attempts at connecting to the larger DC Universe seem distracting, especially since the DCEU in its current form is not long for this world. Thankfully, this is mostly relegated to the mid-credits and post-credits scenes, which seem at least half-aware that they’re setting up things that may or may not happen, pending how the rebooted DC Universe goes.

Lucy Liu and Helen Mirren hamming it up as supervillains is a big reason to see this movie. Both actresses are having fun and their different screen presences complement each other. Mirren is both imposing, as she can do effortlessly, and also unexpectedly funny, yet in a way that doesn’t undercut the threat her character poses.

There’s a sorta-kinda twist of Rachel Zegler’s Ann turning out to be Anthea, a third daughter of Atlas. It’s treated as a twist in the movie, but the reveal happens early and Zegler is in full Anthea regalia on the poster and in the trailers. The breakout star of 2021’s West Side Story, Zegler is a highlight of this movie and has an innate, undeniable charisma.

Summary: Shazam! Fury of the Gods is one of the final entries in this current iteration of the DC Extended Universe. There are some connections to the other movies, but this mostly serves as a direct sequel to the earlier Shazam movie, carrying over that film’s earnestness, sense of adventure and sprinkling of dark moments. The spectacle now comes with a serving of high fantasy inspired by Greek mythology, and it feels like an 80s adventure movie. There’s too much going on, but it’s not afraid to be silly but is also refreshingly devoid of cynicism. Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu chew the right amount of scenery as the villains, while Rachel Zegler continues to establish herself as an up-and-coming star to watch.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Scream VI review

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Cast : Melissa Barrera, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Jack Champion, Henry Czerny, Mason Gooding, Liana Liberato, Dermot Mulroney, Devyn Nekoda, Jenna Ortega, Hayden Panettiere, Courteney Cox, Josh Segarra
Genre: Horror
Run Time : 122 min
Opens : 9 March 2023
Rating : M18

Scream 2 took our heroes out of the Woodsboro suburb and to college, with the Ghostface killer (voiced by Roger L. Jackson) following them, and in Scream 3, Ghostface went Hollywood. This time, it’s over to the east coast as the main characters introduced in 2022’s Scream make their way to New York for college.

The survivors of the most recent Ghostface killings, Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega) Carpenter and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding) Meeks-Martin, are in college together. In the year since the killings, conspiracy theories suggesting that Sam was the real Ghostface killer have popped up online. Sam and Tara’s relationship is contentious, with Tara feeling that Sam is being overprotective of her. When Ghostface strikes again, the survivors find themselves targets again. Mindy’s girlfriend Annika (Devyn Nekoda) and roommates Ethan (Jack Champion) and Quinn (Liberato), are all caught in the fray too. Kirby Reed, a survivor of the Ghostface killings of 2011, is now an FBI agent and is on the case alongside NYPD detective Bailey (Dermot Mulroney), who happens to be Quinn’s father. Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), journalist and author and survivor of the original Ghostface killings, investigates the new killings while facing hostility from Sam and Tara, after writing a book about their ordeal despite promising that she wouldn’t. The past comes back to haunt our heroes in a big way as they must survive and get to the bottom of the mystery.

2022’s Scream, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, was largely hailed as a successful revival of the franchise. That creative team returns, wasting no time to build on the momentum with a sequel that is very much a direct follow-up to the previous film. Its observations about the state of horror filmmaking and of franchise filmmaking as a whole are not quite as sharp as the previous movie’s commentary on the “re-quel” trend, but it still makes sense in the grand scheme of things. The elaborate shrine to Ghostfaces past in an abandoned theatre is a striking image. There are several good set-pieces here, including a tense escape from one apartment into an adjacent one, across a rickety ladder. The movie’s opening sequence, featuring an alum from a previous movie by this pair of directors, is a fantastic way to kick things off, immediately turning formula on its head in a wickedly playful way.

Unfortunately, things after that feel a little repetitive, especially since this movie is coming out so soon after the last one (mirroring the one-year gap between 1996’s Scream and 1997’s Scream 2). There’s only so much one can subvert and retool, and the big reveal closely echoes that of one of the earlier movies. There is a lot of emphasis on the movie’s New York setting. It was shot in Montreal, and movies set in New York but shot elsewhere are nothing new, but sometimes that crucial inimitable New York-ness struggles to come through.

We see the continued effect of the incidents on the main characters, and the movie does a great job of making us care for them, especially Sam and Tara. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Jenna Ortega’s stardom has significantly increased after her starring role in the series Wednesday between the last Scream and this one. The movie makes great use of her innate charisma and is further evidence of why she fully deserves scream queen status.

Melissa Barrera has some interesting notes to play. In the previous movie, she was haunted by visions of her father Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), one of the two killers from the original Scream. Here, she finds herself facing the question of if she really is destined to be a killer, with the online conspiracy theories getting under her skin. It is a logical place to take the character.

The new characters are not especially memorable, and it’s clear that the movie has chosen to focus on the returning characters from the previous film. Both Jasmin Savoy-Brown and Mason Gooding continue to be likable presences onscreen, with Mindy getting another expository monologue explaining the meta themes. Jack Champion, recently seen in Avatar: The Way of Water, doesn’t get a lot to do.

Fans will cheer the return of Kirby Reed, the heroine of Scream 4. Hayden Panettiere comes out of semi-retirement from acting to put in a confident turn, but isn’t fully convincing as an FBI agent, probably in part because audiences will still be thinking of her as a college-aged character. It is well-publicised that Neve Campbell turned down a role in this movie, citing too low an offer. Campbell’s Sidney is missed, but Gale popping up does compensate for her absence. Unfortunately, both Gale and Kirby’s appearances feel somewhat perfunctory.

Summary: Scream VI serves as a direct sequel to the previous film, continuing the arcs of its main characters. The focus is on the characters who were introduced in and survived the events of Scream (2022), and the movie does make us care for them. Jenna Ortega, who has become a huge star in between the release of the previous film and this one thanks to Wednesday, is in full scream queen mode here. While the movie is often engaging, it can’t help but feel like a bit of a re-tread of last year’s Scream, which benefitted from being the first Scream movie in over ten years. Still, there’s plenty here for long-time fans of the series to appreciate.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars                   

Jedd Jong

65 review

Directors: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods
Cast : Adam Driver, Ariana Greenblatt, Chloe Coleman, Nika King
Genre: Action/Sci-fi
Run Time : 93 min
Opens : 9 March 2023
Rating : PG13

In Batman and Robin, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr Freeze proclaimed, “What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!” This is, of course, wrong.

Adam Driver killed the dinosaurs.

It is 65 million years ago. Driver plays Mills, a pilot hailing from a distant, advanced human-like alien civilisation. His ship, carrying passengers in cryostasis, is struck by asteroids and crashes onto planet earth, currently populated by dinosaurs. Mills finds one survivor, a young girl named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt), who doesn’t speak his language. Mills and Koa attempt to make their way to the escape shuttle atop a mountain, while fending off ferocious creatures of various kinds, as disaster looms.

65 is a mid-budget sci-fi B-movie. Not a lot of those get made, and even fewer get released into theatres. This reviewer is always happy to see one exist. This reviewer also likes dinosaurs, and strongly believes more movies should contain dinosaurs. There are a few exciting set-pieces, and directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, best known for writing A Quiet Place, are going for a sense of groundedness despite the sci-fi premise, emphasising physical locations and sets over a green screen-heavy approach. Location filming in the forests of Oregon and Louisiana, with additional material filmed in Ireland, does give the movie a sense of atmosphere.

65 is 93 minutes long but feels much longer than that. There’s just not enough here to fill the runtime. It’s a very spare story and the movie is trying to make us feel invested in its two main characters, with both actors doing their best with the material, but it’s repetitive and lacks urgency despite there being a ticking clock. Whenever a dinosaur or other prehistoric creature shows up in 65, it’s not that they look particularly bad, but they’re just never really convincing. It’s a cliché at this point to complain about how practical effects would have improved things, but that is something that can be felt very strongly in 65. The overall tone is a serious one and the movie’s reluctance to really go for it when there is the potential for something truly fun often hurts it.

Also, the trailer seemed to indicate that the characters were from the far future and had gotten stranded on earth via time travel shenanigans, but instead, the characters are aliens who just happen to be very human-like and have a lot of futuristic-looking gear. It’s not a new thing in sci-fi to depict advanced ancient alien civilisations, but one that seems so much like a futuristic human society is more than a little distracting.

Driver is a big part of why the movie works. He’s taking it seriously, but also brings a degree of charm to the proceedings. He is convincing as a competent survivor, and while we’ve seen the “hero must protect child” dynamic a lot lately (the hero usually being played by Pedro Pascal), the interplay between Driver and Ariana Greenblatt is moderately affecting.

Summary: 65 has Adam Driver in great leading man form, and it is a B-movie with dinosaurs at a time when those are practically non-existent, especially on the big screen. Unfortunately, the story is spare and even at a relatively short 93 minutes, there’s not quite enough to fill the time. The overall serious and reserved tone prevents it from being the movie one imagines upon hearing the phrase “Adam Driver shooting dinosaurs”. The visual effects generally look good, but the dinosaurs still stop some distance short of being truly convincing. It would be great to see more movies in the vein of 65 get made, but this just doesn’t quite deliver all the B-movie thrills it promises.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong