Directed By: David Sandberg
Release Date: April 5, 2019
Starring: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer
What a time we live in. Mere weeks after Marvel Studios introduced the world at large to Captain Marvel, Warner Bros. is unleashing Shazam! As you may know, the character of Shazam was originally named Captain Marvel when he made his comic book debut eighty years ago. When DC Comics decided to revive the character in the '70s after a long absence, he was rebranded as Shazam due to the trademarks in place surrounding Marvel Comics' own Captain Marvel, and has held that title ever since. That both the recent MCU film and this film have arrived so soon together is fascinating considering their history with one another, and it's a sign of just how far comic book movies have come that – despite their fundamental differences – both films turned out highly entertaining.
Even better, Shazam! – as the seventh film in the DC Extended Universe that began with 2013's Man of Steel – proves that Warner Bros. and DC are continuing to move in the right direction with their troubled franchise. I've covered the topic enough before, most recently in my review of this film's predecessor, Aquaman, earlier this year, and while I won't dive back into the subject all over again, I have to make clear right off the bat that Shazam! is a real win for a franchise that's been staggeringly hit or miss to date.
As usual, before we go further, let's tee up the film itself: In Philadelphia, a young orphan named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has spent years bouncing from foster home to foster home, constantly in search of a mother he was separated from as a child to the point of refusing to get close to any of his new families, adamant that he and his mother will be reunited and life will go back to normal. After a failed attempt to find her, Billy is relocated to the home of Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa Vasquez (Marta Milans), a lovable duo who welcome him with open arms into their family, which also consists of five other foster kids, among them the disabled, superhero-obsessed Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer).
After defending Freddy from bullies at school, Billy winds up finding himself in the presence of Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), an ancient wizard who gifts all his power to Billy, allowing Billy to become a costumed superhero (Zachary Levi) at will simply by saying his name. As Billy embraces his new abilities, the wicked Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) comes calling, fueled with vengeance over having been denied the same power by Shazam when he himself was a boy, forcing Billy to sort out whether he can let go of the past he so desperately clings to as destiny lays out his future.
Directed By: Jordan Peele
Release Date: March 22, 2019
Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright, Evan Alex
The year is 1986. It's young Adelaide's birthday, and she's spending it at the Santa Cruz boardwalk with her parents. When her mother goes to the bathroom and with her father distracted playing a carnival game, she wanders off on her own, eventually finding herself in a house of mirrors, where she comes face to face with a young girl that looks exactly like her. Though the particulars of what happened during their encounter aren’t immediately revealed, the event is traumatic enough for Adelaide to seemingly retreat into herself, unable to speak or socialize with others.
Years later, an adult Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) returns to Santa Cruz with her husband, Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter, Zora (Shahadi Wright), and son, Jason (Evan Alex), staying in their family vacation home. Still haunted by meeting her mysterious doppelganger as a child and tormented by the very idea of being back in Santa Cruz, she finally shares her experience with Gabe, confiding that she has worried her whole life that the other her is out there somewhere, biding time until she coming for her.
As it turns out, she's right, as her doppelganger, along with doppelgangers of the entire family, turns up outside her home, setting off a night of terror that will force Adelaide to confront her past and that fateful night in ways that will change more than she could’ve ever expected.
That is, without spoiling too much, the basic setup for what goes down in Jordan Peele's Us, his highly-anticipated follow-up to 2017's Get Out, a film which took the world by storm and demonstrated that Peele could very well be a force to be reckoned with in the world of horror filmmaking. With Us, Peele cements that fact, delivering a stellar sophomore outing that's an absolute blast to watch, strong for how sure-handed and confident the director and his entire team, particularly the incredibly game cast he populates the film with, are in telling this story.
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