Shazam! Fury of the Gods

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 5/23/23;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $57.64 million;
$24.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray, $39.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of action and violence, and language.
Stars Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Rachel Zegler, Grace Caroline Currey, Ross Butler, Ian Chen, D.J. Cotrona, Jovan Armand, Meagan Good, Faithe Herman, Lucy Liu, Djimon Hounsou, Helen Mirren, Marta Millans, Cooper Andrews.

If ever there were a poster child for a studio undercutting its own IP, it’s Shazam! Fury of the Gods.

It’s not that it’s a bad film — it’s fun and highly entertaining. But in the leadup to its theatrical release, the newly constituted Warner Bros. Discovery announced plans to reboot the entirety of the DC Comics film franchise — of which the sequel to 2019’s well-regarded Shazam! was a part. On top of that, the character’s historic comic book arch-nemesis, Black Adam, got his own solo movie just a few months earlier, amid widespread rumors that its star, Dwayne Johnson, was so adamant about downplaying any connection to Shazam that he nixed any potential crossover cameos.

Such PR negativity so dampened enthusiasm for any remaining DC sequels still tied to the old continuity that the studio’s marketers decided to spoil one of the film’s major cameos in a TV spot in a desperate attempt to reignite fan interest. It didn’t work, with Fury of the Gods generating about one-third the box office of its predecessor four years earlier.

The pandemic probably didn’t help matters either; taking two years off the timeline of when a potential sequel could come out doesn’t do any favors to maintaining audiences’ familiarity with a relatively niche character in the DC Comics canon.

The shame of it is, this is a decent, if imperfect, sequel to one of the more irreverent superhero properties to hit the big screen in a while.

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Picking up a couple years after where the previous film left off, Shazam (Zachary Levi), the adult superhero form of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), is joined by his family of foster brothers and sisters in a full-fledged superhero team of kids who turn into adults imbued with the powers of the mythological gods when they say the word “Shazam.” And they are apparently horrible at it, being lambasted in the media for causing more harm than they try to prevent. On top of that, Billy’s best friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is having too much fun in his superhero form (Adam Brody), often going on solo adventures to the chagrin of Billy.

In the midst of the Shazam Family trying to find its balance, a trio of sisters visits Earth from the Realm of the Gods in order to reclaim the Shazam powers, which they say were stolen from them by the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who gave Billy his powers in the first film. The Daughters of Atlas (Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, Rachel Zegler) also seek the means to restore life to their own realm through a golden apple hidden somewhere in the Rock of Eternity, which happens to be the Shazam Family’s headquarters.

To force Shazam’s cooperation, the Daughters kidnap Freddy and remove his powers, having retrieved the magical staff that empowered the team in the first film. But they imprison Freddy in the same cell as the Wizard, and the interplay between Grazer and Hounsou as the pair plot their escape is among the film’s best material.

The sisters also encase Shazam’s home city, Philadelphia, in an impenetrable magic dome, which at least explains why other DC heroes aren’t getting involved in the fight. One downside to storytelling in a shared universe is that if the villain’s plot registers on a global scale, it raises the question of why the other established heroes of the franchise aren’t all showing up to try to stop it as well (a prime example of this is Marvel’s Eternals, in which the potential destruction of the Earth apparently drew the curiosity of zero Avengers).

To save Freddy, free the city and prevent the Daughters’ from unleashing monsters upon the Earth, Billy must figure out how to retrieve the staff and return the sisters to their realm.

Levi continues to have all the fun as a teenager inhabiting a middle-aged adult’s body, though he seems to be even more immature as Shazam than the teenage Billy, who is nearing 18 and demonstrates more self-awareness than his adult self. The film at least has other characters call out how Shazam’s shtick is getting old, pointing out that the “S” in his name is supposed to represent Solomon’s wisdom — a trait he has been lacking thus far.

Also a bit weird is that the film has retained all the adult/kid cast from the first film, with the exception that Grace Caroline Currey is now playing the adult hero version of Mary in addition to her younger form. The filmmakers cite the character now being over 18 as the reason for the change, as Michelle Borth played the older form of Mary in the previous film. It’s a bit weird visually just compared with all the other characters changing actors in their superhero forms (especially considering they reshot a flashback to the first film, but used Currey instead of Borth, and this film’s updated costume designs). As the film establishes that both Billy and Freddy are about to turn 18, this logic would have Angel and Grazer playing their own Shazam versions in any future installments instead of Levi and Brody, which doesn’t seem a likely direction for the filmmakers to go in (not that any more sequels are likely forthcoming given this film’s dire box office pronouncements).

However, the film’s best running gag, at least for anyone with an appreciation for comic book history, involves the Shazam Family trying to figure out superhero names, since they can’t just introduce themselves as “Shazam” without turning their powers on and off. That’s because their superhero names in the comics were variations of Billy’s original alter ego — Captain Marvel, a moniker now controlled by DC’s rival, Marvel Comics, thanks to a complicated legal history.

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The film looks great in 4K and on Blu-ray, filled with some dazzling visual effects and an amazing array of mythological creatures with designs that draw inspiration from Ray Harryhausen.

The disc and digital editions of the film offer a number of good bonus materials. In the 4K combo pack, all the extras are on the regular Blu-ray, not the 4K disc.

Both the Blu-ray and 4K disc do offer an informative commentary track with director David F. Sandberg, who discusses how the production sidestepped a number of challenges in the visual effects and editing of the film.

Sandberg refers to a lot of material cut out of the film, many of which are included among the deleted, alternate and extended scenes, 29 of them totaling 31 minutes.

The Blu-ray also includes more than an hour of making-of featurettes.

The primary behind-the-scenes video is the 25-minute “Shazam! Let’s Make a Sequel,” which offers a nice overview of the production in general. The four-minute “The Zac Effect” focuses on the film’s star and his impact on the film, while the five-minute “Shazamily Reunion” shines a light on the other members of Team Shazam, and the eight-minute “Sisterhood of Villains” details the creation and portrayal of the Daughters of Atlas. “The Rock of Eternity: Decked Out” is a nearly six-minute featurette about how the Shazam Family have decorated their lair. The five-minute “Mythology of Shazam! Fury of the Gods” chronicles the real Greek myths that inspired much of the film’s premise.

Rounding out the extras is “Shazam! Scene Deconstruction,” a 10-minute video about the making of five action sequences.

 

American Underdog

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 2/22/22;
Lionsgate;
Drama;
Box Office $26.31 million;
$29.96 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG’ for some language and thematic elements.
Stars Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin, Ser’Darius Blain, Dennis Quaid, Chance Kelly, Cindy Hogan, Adam Baldwin, Bruce McGill, Hayden Zaller.

This biopic about NFL hall of famer Kurt Warner makes a fortuitous arrival on Blu-ray and DVD, landing on shelves with a prominent cover image of Warner in his bright blue and yellow Rams uniform just as the current version of the Rams are celebrating winning the Super Bowl.

The film tells the story of how one man’s relentless belief in himself paid off. After not being drafted by any NFL team, Warner takes a job stocking shelves at the supermarket, though he continues to keep his dream of playing in the NFL alive. make ends meet, he takes a job stocking shelves at the supermarket.

In the meantime, the film also explores how Kurt (Zachary Levi) met his future wife Brenda (Anna Paquin). Falling instantly in love with her after seeing her dancing at a cowboy bar, he learns she’s a former marine and single mom whose divorce left her raising two small kids with the help of her parents. One of the kids, Zack (Hayden Zaller) is blind and developmentally disabled after the being accidentally dropped on his head as a baby.

The story is so schmaltzy, complete with the precocious little kid, that if it hadn’t actually happened it would seem like a string of sports movie tropes.

But because it’s based on a true story, American Underdog is an effective, heart-driven look at how Kurt Warner emerged from seemingly nowhere to become the NFL MVP and lead the Rams to a Super Bowl title. After playing in the Arena League, Warner attracts the attention of the Rams and gets a boost from their head coach, Dick Vermeil (Dennis Quaid). The rest is history

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The American Underdog Blu-ray is absolutely stacked with bonus materials, offering an hour and a half of behind-the-scenes featurettes, 11 deleted scenes totaling nearly 18 minutes of excised footage, and an informative commentary track from directors Andrew and Jon Erwin with producer Kevin Downes.

Some of the real people depicted in the film, such as Kurt, Brenda and Vermeil, are heavily involved in the featurettes. Kurt, who executive produced the movie alongside Brenda, gets interviewed about the film in the 15-minute “Meet the Champion” featurette that also includes discussions with Vermeil and the filmmakers.

Other featurettes focus on the film’s faith-based message, the discovery of child actor Zaller, and things like the editing of the film and re-creating some of Warner’s football game, at times inter-splicing between new footage and archive tape from the games.

The most intriguing extra is a half-hour sit-down discussion with Vermeil, who is interviewed by “Saturday Night Live” actress Heidi Gardner, who explains she’s a huge Chiefs fan and is appreciative of Vermeil’s time coaching the Kansas City NFL club.

The deleted scenes provide a lot of great character moments that give more insight to what everyone in the film is going through in their lives.

‘American Underdog’ Available on Digital Feb. 4, Disc Feb. 22 From Lionsgate

The sports biopic American Underdog arrives on digital Feb. 4 and on 4K Ultra HD combo pack (plus Blu-ray and digital), Blu-ray combo pack (plus DVD and digital), DVD and on demand Feb. 22 from Lionsgate.

Based on the true story of two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl MVP and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, the film comes from the Erwin Brothers (I Still Believe, I Can Only Imagine) and screenwriters Jon Erwin (I Still Believe, I Can Only Imagine), David Aaron Cohen (Friday Night Lights) and Jon Gunn (I Still Believe).

It stars Zachary Levi (Shazam!, Thor: The Dark World, Tangled), Academy Award winner Anna Paquin (Best Supporting Actress, The Piano, 1993; “X-Men” franchise; The Irishman), Ser’Darius Blain (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Jumanji: The Next Level, “Charmed”), and Dennis Quaid (The Day After Tomorrow, Far From Heaven, In Good Company).

Based on the book All Things Possible by Warner and Michael Silver, American Underdog tells the true story of a football player who went from a stockboy at a grocery store to a two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion and Hall of Fame quarterback. The film centers on Warner’s unique story and years of challenges and setbacks that could have derailed his aspirations to become an NFL player. With the support of his wife Brenda (Anna Paquin) and the encouragement of his family, coaches, and teammates, Warner perseveres.

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Special features include audio commentary with directors Andrew and Jon Erwin and producer Kevin Downes; the “Inspired” featurette; the “Making the Cut” featurette; the “A Coach’s Faith” featurette (on 4K and Blu-ray only); a “New to the Scene: Hayden Zaller” featurette; a “Meet the Champion” featurette; a “Behind the Game” featurette; an “American Underdog: Behind the Story” featurette; deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by Andrew Erwin; and the theatrical trailer (on 4K and Blu-ray only).

 

‘Shazam!’ Flying to Home Video in July From Warner

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the DC Comics superhero movie Shazam! digitally July 2, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray July 16.

The film tells the story of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a teenager in foster care who is empowered by a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) to become the superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi) to defend the realms of magic from the evil Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong).

The cast also includes Jack Dylan Grazer, Faithe Herman, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews.

The film earned $138.2 million at the domestic box office.

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The character first appeared in comic books published by Fawcett in 1940 under the name Captain Marvel, and was later acquired by DC.

To avoid confusion with the Marvel Comics character of Captain Marvel (whose own movie will be available for digital download May 28 and on disc June 11), DC eventually changed the character’s name to Shazam, the word Billy says to transform into the adult superhero (also the name of the Wizard who gives Billy his powers).

Shazam is an acronym derived from the names of the six mythological heroes from which the character draws his power: the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles and speed of Mercury.

The Shazam! Blu-ray and special-edition DVD will include an exclusive Shazam motion comic, deleted scenes, a gag reel, a breakdown of the carnival scene, and the featurettes “The Magical World of Shazam,” “Super Fun Zac,” “Shazamily Values” and “Who is Shazam?”

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc of Shazam! will feature Dolby Vision HDR and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

A 3D Blu-ray is listed for preorder at WBshop.com as well.

The Star

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 2/20/18;
Sony Pictures;
Animated;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for some thematic elements.
Voices of Steven Yeun, Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Clarkson, Patricia Heaton, Kristin Chenoweth, Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Aidy Bryant, Anthony Anderson, Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Plummer, Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias, Mariah Carey, Phil Morris, Roger Craig Smith.

This fluffy faith-based animated adventure frames the tale of the Nativity from the point of view of a group of animals whose lives intersect with the coming of the Messiah.

The Star follows a little donkey (Steven Yeun of “The Walking Dead”) with big dreams who befriends the pregnant Mary (Gina Rodriguez of “Jane the Virgin,” playing another woman pregnant by unusual means here) before she leaves for Bethlehem, then sets off with his animal friends to protect her after learning King Herod (Christopher Plummer) has sent hunters after her in his attempt to prevent the birth of the King of the Jews. The camels (Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey) of the Three Wise Men also seek out the impending birth of Jesus to protect him.

Lest anyone worry about the film straying too far from scripture with its talking animals, one of its best running gags involves the fact that the animals can communicate freely with each other, but just sound like animals to the humans around them.

It’s a testament to the earnestness of The Star, and a sign of how it expects its audience to approach the film, that an early scene involves Mary returning home to her husband, Joseph, after being away for an extended period of time. Visibly pregnant, she explains it’s the Son of God and that it’s his duty to help her bring the child into the world, and he embraces the calling. Were this not a faith-based movie aimed at children, I suspect most men being told that story by their wife might have a different reaction.

The film’s screenplay was originally intended for a live-action production of the Jim Henson Company, which reportedly would have employed a style similar to Babe, using visual effects to make the animals appear to talk. When that didn’t pan out, the project was revived at Sony Pictures Animation by DeVon Franklin, a prominent Christian preacher and motivational speaker who has produced a number of notable faith-based films, such as Heaven Is for Real.

The end result is a cute adventure that, despite some broad Looney Tunes-type humor, remains grounded in its piety. While not a musical, the film relies heavily on a soundtrack consisting of modern renderings of some classic Christmas songs.

The songs are the subject of a good portion of the Blu-ray’s bonus materials, which include several “lyric videos,” two sing-alongs and a dance-along video.

The Blu-ray also offers some typical behind-the-scenes featurettes, such as the 13-minute “An All Star Cast” and the two-minute “Creating the World of 9 Months B.C.” There’s also a commentary with executive producer Franklin and director Tim Reckart.

But the Blu-ray also has ambitions to serve as a faith-based teaching tool, and to that end it includes the 10-minute “Faith All Year Round With DeVon Franklin,” in which the producer discusses the film’s message with a group of children. For those who prefer something more interactive, there are three arts-and-crafts videos.

Finally, the Blu-ray offers a bit of background art for special occasions in the form of an animated Nativity scene that runs on a 21-hour loop.