Shazam! Movie Review

Mixing the typical comic book movie issues with a little Big and even a touch of the recent Instant Family, the DC Comics adaptation of Shazam! is able to produce crowd pleasing results. As the DCU must turn to their less iconic characters for feature attention, I would say the title hero here is somewhat equivalent to the MCU’s Ant-Man. He’s sarcastic. He’s not as serious. In fact, if the knock on this overall universe is that it’s too dark (think Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Justice League), Shazam! is practically translucent.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a foster kid jumping between temporary dwellings after being separated from his mom as a toddler. The young teen seems to find a decent home with five other children and kindly caregivers. Yet he’s still searching from mom.

In a prologue circa 1974, we meet another youngster by way of Thaddeus Sivana. He experiences a mystical meetup with Shazam in the form of Djimon Hounsou in heavy old age makeup. Trying to find a human worthy of inheriting his considerable superpowers, he deems him not properly pure of heart. Sivana grows up to be Mark Strong with a myopic focus on battling the eventual Shazam.

That turns out to be Billy. When he is called for his own encounter with Hounsou, he gets the job. This means when he utters “Shazam!”, he turns into Zachary Levi (who could have been cast as Superman). He’s still a teen embodying a comic book strongman and that takes a lot of learning. One of his foster siblings (Jack Dylan Grazer) is in on the secret.

A lot of exposition must be established here and Shazam! probably doesn’t need to be over two hours long. The mommy and daddy issues explored are quite familiar to genre fans. The film does manage to find slightly different angles. Just as Instant Family showed the true heroism of foster parents, so does this. Levi is a hoot as our crime fighting man child. Strong is fine, but he doesn’t exactly alter the general rule that the villains in many of these pics aren’t as interesting as they should be.

Shazam! works best when it’s focused on Billy/Shazam while he works with his new family and not while grappling with Savani and his monstrous CGI creatures that represent The Seven Deadly Sins. Director David F. Sandberg has crafted an origin story with a lot of heart among the usual action and it fosters enough appreciation to make this rewarding.

*** (out of four)

Shazam! Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (04/04): On the eve of its premiere, my estimate has changed from $59.5 million to $52.5 million

The DC Extended Universe adds another cinematic hero to its stable with the release of Shazam! next weekend. The tale of a teenager who morphs into a superhero was first introduced in comic book pages nearly 80 years ago. David F. Sandberg directs with Zachary Levi as the title character and Asher Angel as his younger self. Costars include Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, and Grace Fulton.

Said to heartfelt and funny, Shazam! is already a winner with critics and sporting a 92% Rotten Tomatoes score. DC, while not quite up to MCU levels, has been hitting its stride lately with mega performers like Wonder Woman and Aquaman. There were previews of this that surprisingly managed to outdo what Jason Momoa’s creation did late last year. However, that was during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

The range expected is $40-$60 million. I have a hunch its good word of mouth will propel it to the upper reaches of those expectations. It’s feasible the range could be surpassed, but I’ll say high 50s.

Shazam! opening weekend prediction: $52.5 million

For my Pet Sematary prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/28/pet-sematary-box-office-prediction/

For my The Best of Enemies prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/30/the-best-of-enemies-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Shazam!

The DC Extended Universe branches out to lesser known source material on April 5 with the release of Shazam! The superhero tale puts a teenage boy in the body of an adult crime fighter with David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation) directing and Zachary Levi in the title role.

The character has been around since 1940 and this big screen treatment is receiving praise based on its early screenings. Critics are calling this sweet and funny and continuing in the more lighthearted vein that DC has employed lately with hits like Wonder Woman and Aquaman.

With a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, could Shazam! resonate with Oscar voters? It’s doubtful. If the aforementioned DC efforts couldn’t land a single nod, it’s tough to envision any for this.

Bottom line: Shazam! should be another box office success for the revitalized franchise, but don’t expect awards chatter to follow. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Annabelle: Creation Movie Review

The 2014 Conjuring spin-off Annabelle didn’t exactly leave me clamoring for an origin story of the motionless demonic doll, but here we are with Annabelle: Creation. Set 12 years before the events of its predecessor, this prequel manages to be a slight improvement. Unfortunately that isn’t saying much.

A prologue documents toy maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) tragically losing their young daughter. Dad’s profession reveals that he’s the creator of the doll that first appeared in 2013’s The Conjuring. We suspect his child’s demise will later tie into Annabelle’s evil ways.

We skip ahead to a dozen years later in the mid 1950s as six orphans and their nun caretaker (Stephanie Sigman) are looking for a home. They are taken in by the Mullins family on their sprawling country property. Janice (Talitha Bateman) is crippled by polio and quickly stricken by a feeling that something isn’t right with the creepy doll she finds at the house.

Those familiar with the franchise know the technicians involved in the film’s making pretty much take it from there. Creation wishes to generate its suspense through sounds and lighting reveals. David F. Sandberg, who last directed Lights Out, is behind the camera.

The original Annabelle felt like what it was – a quick cash grab to build on the success of The Conjuring. It also looked a little cheap. This doesn’t. It’s just not very scary. If you add up all the time throughout several pictures where the camera lingers on its title character, you might have enough screen time for a fifth entry in the series.

The makers of Creation succeed occasionally at putting together a fast scare, but it’s nearly two-hour runtime seems drawn out and routine. All the camera tricks and sound works cannot ultimately make Annabelle seem more than a mostly dull ploy to keep the franchise rolling.

** (out of four)

Annabelle: Creation Box Office Prediction

The demented doll made famous four summers ago is back in Annabelle: Creation, a prequel to 2014’s original, which itself was a spin-off of 2013’s breakout horror smash The Conjuring. This follow-up is from director David F. Sandberg, who made last summer’s well-received Lights Out. Stars include Stephanie Sigman, Talitha Bateman, Anthony LaPaglia, and Miranda Otto.

There is one major difference between the 2014 spin-off and its sequel. While Annabelle only obtained a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this one is surprisingly at 100% and is obviously said to be a marked improvement.

How will that translate to box office dollars? Annabelle opened to a better than anticipated $37.1 million and was front loaded in its business with an eventual $84 million domestic gross. The Conjuring 2 from last summer couldn’t quite match its original’s debut (though it was awfully close at $41 million vs. $40 million).

Competition is relatively light, but even with the solid reviews, I don’t expect Creation to quite match the premiere of its predecessor. However, it may leg out better. I’ll say a high 20s to low 30s debut is most probable.

Annabelle: Creation opening weekend prediction: $31.4 million

For my The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/08/02/the-nut-job-2-nutty-by-nature-box-office-prediction/

For my The Glass Castle prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/08/03/the-glass-castle-box-office-prediction/

Lights Out Movie Review

The low-budget horror pic Lights Out comes from producer James Wan, who’s mastered the art of using sound effects to max effect in his Conjuring franchise. Here, director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Eric Heisserer leave it to their production crew as well to generate the vast majority of scares. In something named Lights Out, you could correctly surmise that the lighting technicians are of key value here. Their work is often impressive.

If only there were a compelling story to match the occasionally nifty crew contributions. The pic opens with an effective intro where a textile warehouse owner meets his demise due to a shadowy female figure who appears only in the darkness. Flash forward to the man’s widow (Maria Bello) living with her grade school age son Martin (Gabriel Bateman) and trying to cope with his death. Her grieving patterns are a bit off kilter as she seems to be conversing with that same otherworldly creature who took her husband away. This overall creepiness leads Martin to seek out his half sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer). She left years ago due to her own father’s abandonment and Mom’s strange behavior. Together, the siblings uncover a lot of backstory to explain what is happening. Tagging along is Rebecca’s boyfriend (Alexander DiPersia), who gets a gold star for sticking around when the going gets rough.

I give Lights Out some credit for attempting to fashion a narrative that goes out of its way to justify its character’s behavior, particularly with Bello. She veers between pharmaceutically chill and understandably freaked out. It helps that the performances are uniformly solid. A problem here is that once the existence of Diana (she’s the spirit wreaking all this havoc) is addressed, Lights sort of lumbers on with the same scare tactics repeatedly. There’s only so many times the flick of a lighting switch and the boo moment that follows doesn’t become redundant. It’s an issue that plagued the Conjuring sequel with its familiar sound effects jump moments from the original. In the plus column is that director Sandberg keeps it brisk at just 81 minutes. For a horror flick freaky Friday night, you could do a lot worse than this. Still, there’s plenty else that illuminates the genre in superior ways.

**1/2 (out of four)

Lights Out Box Office Prediction

With its tiny budget of just a reported $5 million, horror pic Lights Out looks to make a tidy profit for Warner Bros when it debuts next Friday. It may star Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Billy Burke and Maria Bello, but the biggest name involved is James Wan. He serves as a producer and is the man behind the Conjuring and Insidious franchises.

The film premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival last month to positive notices and it currently stands at an illuminating 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Critical praise does not equal potent box office returns in this genre, but Lights Out should still manage double digits for its start and that’s enough for its studio to see a decent return.

Lights Out opening weekend prediction: $10.2 million

For my Star Trek Beyond prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/07/13/star-trek-beyond-box-office-prediction/

For my Ice Age: Collision Course prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/07/14/ice-age-collision-course-box-office-prediction/