Review – Avengers: Endgame will ruin you for any future comic book films

[***This review is ENTIRELY spoiler-free.***]

Reaching the climax of anything is always a bittersweet moment. The slow, steady build-up (in this case 11 years worth) constantly stroking the fire of your interest, keeping you on the edge of satisfaction. You’re perfectly happy with what is going on at the moment, all the while knowing that something bigger and more exciting is going to come soon. Once it finally comes, you’re able to release the immense (11 years worth of) tension that has been building in one big explosion. That’s exactly what Avengers: Endgame does to the committed fans who have stuck through all the phases Marvel’s cinematic universe has thrown to us, many with mixed results. After the euphoric ecstasy that the film brings, we are left with the sad thought: Will any Marvel film feel this good again?

It’s been a long journey from the first Iron Man to Avengers: Endgame, but it will easily prove worth every minute. First off, you have to applaud Marvel’s commitment to establishing a multifaceted universe before just slamming all the characters together for one major meet-up (*cough, cough* Justice League *cough, cough). Watching Endgame, I got the same chills that the first Avengers film gave me, but that Age of Ultron didn’t. Whether these Avengers films are an obvious cash-grab becomes a moot point when their quality is this high. Out of any of the previous Marvel films, Endgame is a love letter to the fans. Every cameo, every silly plot development, every note of sadness, and even every callback (many of which you’ve probably forgotten about) to previous films shows the attention to detail, not just for the MCU but also for the fans that have kept it running.

The Russo Brothers have shown us the full potential of the comic genre by subverting it ever since they first joined the MCU with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Up until that point, the Marvel films had a fairly predictable tone and narrative. The Winter Soldier proved that there are no limitations to a comic book film and that even they can be elevated. Since then, we’ve gotten gems like James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok. All three game changers, but each for a different reason. If Endgame suffers from any flaws, it is because of the variety of different tones from each of the films. The Russo Brothers try their best to appease the tonal origins of each superior hero, but the lighthearted and humorous nature of one ends up undermining the emotional development of the other.

There will be moments in the film where an overwhelming feeling of sadness will take over. You’ll probably end up watching the climax of the film through misty eyes and a runny nose, so the things that are meant to be the emotional high and low points aren’t that affected by the uneven tone. What is affected are all of the small, somber scenes leading up to those big emotional gut punches, that get ruined because the scenes aren’t given time to breathe before someone throws in a funny one-liner. Luckily, the tone doesn’t affect the pacing in the slightest. At 3 hours, this film goes by pretty briskly. Unless you made the mistake of not peeing beforehand or buying a soda and popcorn, you won’t notice the runtime at all. There is a lot packed into this film and they make every minute count.

Just like Infinity War, Endgame is made fun because all the character interactions we haven’t seen on-screen before. There is one scene in particular, when all the female heroes of the MCU are the focus of a battle, that rivals the power of the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman. During the climax of the film, you’ll run the full gamut of human emotions, going from one feeling to the next. Even though there are a few too many forced pop culture references in the film, seeing the evolution of all our favorite characters makes it more than worth it. Some of them we are reintroduced to, some we say goodbye to, and others we say see you later as the film teases what new adventures are in store for them in the future. Once you experience Avengers: Endgame, you’ll quickly realize that there will never be anything like it again (or at least not for another 11 years), and honestly, maybe there shouldn’t be.

Review: Hellboy never stood a chance in hell

When I finally went to college, I suddenly realized that I could pretty much do whatever I want since my parents weren’t around to tell me otherwise. This mostly translated into eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and as much as I wanted. Two semesters and four pants sizes later, I learned a valuable lesson: Just because I could doesn’t always mean that I should. Much like the end of my freshman year, the team behind Hellboy learned this lesson much too late.

Before I started writing this review, I tried to convince myself not to spend the whole time talking about how far superior Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy run was, but the more I think about it, the less I can keep that promise. The two previous Hellboy films were both PG-13, but even then they didn’t shy away from violence. You really can’t have Hellboy, AKA World Destroyer AKA Beast of the Apocalypse AKA the Right Hand of Doom, without there being some sort of fighting or destruction involved. Del Toro has never shied away from that, but in his films, he focuses on crafting a world full of whimsy and mayhem, and then has the brutality become a part of it. Where this new Hellboy goes wrong is that instead of having the violence and carnage being the result of the plot or story, the film treats it like it’s a character all its own.

Director Neil Marshall, who has brought us forgettable, over-stylized films like Doomsday and Centurion, give the Hellboy universe the same treatment. With it’s new, hard R rating, Marshall goes above and beyond to push the limits, but not in any constructive way. He mainly focuses on copious amounts of blood and more gore than you get from even the messiest slasher film. Where del Toro put an emphasis on the magical nature of the unseen world, Marshall tries to distinguish his film by focusing on the hellish aspect creating scenes of blood and dismemberment that would make even Spawn blush. This darker take would be a problem at all were it not for the seeming pointlessness of it all. For a few scenes, this corporal brutality works perfectly, but for most of them, it is literally overkill.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be such an eyesore if visuals didn’t look like something out of an early 2000’s film. The first Hellboy came out in 2004, and even it had visual effects that still hold up today. Everything from the CGI characters to the horrible animated blood and even the obvious green screen landscapes makes you appreciate the visual opulence of every single Fantastic Four film. Yes, even the unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four film was more appealing than this film. If it weren’t for the previous Hellboy films, we wouldn’t have a standard set for every subsequent film. Guillermo del Toro’s use of practical effects, magnificent creature design and use of make-up and prosthetics over CGI all make for an engaging cinematic experience whose attention to detail shows you just how much the filmmakers care about their film.

Really the only good character design in this new Hellboy is Hellboy himself, and much of that is because actor David Harbour does a good job in bringing him to life. His one-liners and nonchalant attitude embody the character well-enough to almost make up for the nonsense story that ultimately feels like it is filler meant to take you from one battle to the next. The performances are the most enjoyable part of the entire film, but aside from Harbour, the only other two people who breathe life into this film are Ian McShane and Sasha Lane, who play Professor Broom and Alice Monaghan, respectively. Even our main villain (aside from the filmmakers), Milla Jovovich who plays the Blood Queen, feels like she is just rehashing a mix of the other villains she has played in the past.

As a reboot for the Hellboy franchise, this film crashes and burns. With enough wanton gore and guts to drown a small island, it ends up getting lost in a sea of red. Great characters could have been enough to save the ill-conceived, lazy story, but even those were mostly hard to come by. Somewhere, Guillermo del Toro just finished watching this film and thought to himself, “They didn’t let me finish my trilogy for THIS?! To hell with them.” To hell with them, indeed.

Review: Shazam! sparks with youthful, infectious electricity

Let’s be honest, most of us geeks have had this fantasy before. As kids, we were fascinated by superheroes to the point that we would try to emulate them. Hopefully, it didn’t get to the point of trying to fly from the roof of your garage as I did. My arch nemesis was and still continues to be gravity. I’m talking about the much more rational wrapping a blanket from corner to corner around your neck as a makeshift cape. I can still remember that sense of wonder and excitement. Although the DC film universe still has a lot of developing to do, its latest entry, Shazam!, does mostly elicit those feelings of childhood joy that many of us have probably not felt from a comic book film in a long time.

Something you may not know about this film is that it’s a Christmas film. It came as a major surprise to me also with all the trees, lights, presents, and even the appearance of one of the three wise men, AKA The Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). Although it does inevitably tug at those Yuletide strings in springtime, the emphasis on the holiday doesn’t ever really get to the point of turning us into Scrooge’s. Just like the youthful essence of Shazam (Zachary Levi), we’re meant to get more of the feelings of love, peace, and family instead of having the holiday actually be part of the plot.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Shazam, it essentially boils down to a teenager getting superpowers. Aside from fanboy fantasy fulfillment, most of the appeal comes from the exploration of self and how we all have a hero inside of us waiting to come out. In this case, the hero inside is a tall, buff white man with electrical abilities that you transform into by yelling out, “Shazam!” Let’s face it, going into this film I was already a little worried. Following diverse films like Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Academy Award-winning Suicide Squad (yeah, I still can’t believe that’s a real thing either), and last month’s Captain Marvel, I thought we had moved past the white men phase of superheroes.

The hero and origin may be different, but this is a perspective that we have explored many times before on both the Marvel and DC side. Hell, I would have loved to have Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), Billy Batson’s (Asher Angel) disabled foster brother, to be the one to receive the powers. Even though he is still a white male, at least we would get a diverse perspective and a much more interesting internal struggle regarding staying in the hero form as opposed to being himself. This did keep me from enjoying the movie to a certain point because as the film went on, and we witness Billy do a myriad of highly illegal things, he gets away with them without a single consequence. As a person of color, it’s hard not to imagine the real-life consequences were Billy a boy of color. Without giving anything away, let’s just say I went into the film weighed down by my adult skepticism but left with my childhood faith restored and excited for the sequel. Those who are familiar with the comics will figure out what happens much faster than I did.

Shazam! may take place in today’s world, but every single fiber of the film screams 80’s adventure movie. There are hints of The Goonies, Neverending Story, Labyrinth, Christopher Reeve’s Superman, and more. There is even a callback to the movie Big, which is the film’s biggest cinematic influence. Henry Gayden, who also wrote interplanetary kid’s adventure film Earth to Echo, perfectly captures the childlike excitement of superheroes, and how that would look like in our modern society. There’s, of course, hilariously going through all the things you can now do as an adult, like drinking and smoking, only to realize they are disgusting. Then you have the ever-necessary montage where you test/figure out your new abilities.

This works well, not just because it was written from a great childhood perspective, but because it was perfectly cast, with Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer stealing every scene they’re in. All the superhero schlock aside, the most effective part of the story comes from its emotional core centered around the idea of family. In this case, it’s a supportive foster family where no one is blood-related and that doesn’t stop them from loving each other as a family any less. As I’ve come to learn from growing up gay, you sometimes have to make your own family, similar genetics need not always apply. This message in the film is what I enjoyed the most, aside from the twist that comes later.

Keeping in true DC fashion, even though the color palette is decidedly brighter than we’re used to, Shazam! still has a darkness to it. To balance out the film, the tone has dark elements in the form of plot developments and several demons/deadly sins as villains. Horror film director David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation, Lights Out) has experience juggling the complexity of family/sibling relationships and childhood friendships with evil forces. Although his past films have only ever had small notes of comedy throughout, Sandberg has flexed his action muscle and tickled our funny bones in a way we’ve never seen him do before. The same way James Wan played with the opposing natures of darkness and light in Aquaman, Sandberg delivers a fully fleshed out product with Shazam!. No matter how you go into this film, you’ll likely leave fully energized by the contagious electricity that infectiously comes off of it.