Blue Beetle

Posted on August 17, 2023 at 11:17 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, language, and some suggestive references
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic-book-style action peril and violence, guns, knives, fire, explosions, torture, characters injured and killed, two very sad deaths of parents
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: August 18, 2023

Copyright 2023 Warner Brothers
Yes, a cool, bulletproof super-suit that can fly you to space and manifest any weapon you can think of is great, but “Blue Beetle” makes it clear that the real super-powers here are a devoted family and a culture of resilience and make-do. Jaime Reyes, played by the very charismatic Xolo Maridueña (“Cobra Kai”) is the fourth version of this character, originally from Charleton Comics, later DC. And he is the first to be a character of color, in this version, from a financially struggling but devoted and optimistic Mexican-American family. They include his mother, Roicio (Elpidia Carrillo), his father Alberto (Damián Alcázar of “Narcos”), his sister Milagro (Belissa Escobedo), his grandmother Nana (Adriana Barraza), and his uncle Rudy (George Lopez).

That whole family is at the airport to meet Jaime when he returns home, the first member of his family to be a college graduate. He is very happy to see them, but dismayed to learn what they have been keeping from him. Alberto is recovering from a heart attack. And the family is about to lose their home because they cannot pay the rent. Jaime is determined to do whatever he can to take care of them. He is fired from his first job as a pool boy because he stood up for Jenny Kord (Bruna Marquezine) when she was being bullied by her aunt, the formidable Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon), the head of the huge conglomerate, Kord Industries. Jenny was objecting to her aunt’s plan to create an army of cyborg super-soldiers. She did not want to be in the weapons business.

Jenny thanks Jaime and says she will find him a job at Kord Industries. His whole family drives him to the headquarters to cheer him on. But when Jaime sees Jenny, she is again in distress. She hands him a fast food box and tells him to help her hide it, and not to look inside. He brings it home, the box gets opened, and the blue scarab inside attaches itself to Jaime and then enters his body, turning him into a cyborg superhero. The super-suit is fully integrated into his system, but it also operates kind of like Tony Stark’s Iron Man contraption. It has its own consciousness. It talks to him.

So, off to some superhero stuff, including that classic, the villain’s secluded island with the secret lab. But along the way there are some funny and warm-hearted family moments that make this as much about them as it is about the gadgets and stunts. Unlike other comic book heroes like Batman, Superman, Shazam, the X-Men, and Spider-Man, Jaime’s background and motives are not rooted in tragedy, grief, and trauma. This gives the story a buoyancy and humor, even when there is a terrible loss. His uncle Rudy is goofy, but he also demonstrates the ingenuity and persistence that poor and marginalized people need to survive. “We’re invisible to ,” a character says. “It’s our superpower.” Jaime’s family is strong and loving, and have some unexpected skills. They respond to devastating loss by compartmentalizing, as we can see they have done before: do what needs to be done, then grieve, then start to rebuild.

Even by comic book standards, some of the violence is too much. Jaime begins by insisting he will not kill anyone. The shift to cheering when people — even a bad guy’s henchmen — are blown away is abrupt, even at one moment played for comedy. The film’s weakest link is its villain. Susan Sarandon does her best to show Victoria’s ability to switch from cooing manipulation to single-minded, dictatorial EVIL BAD GUY stuff “in a Cruella Kardashian kind of way,” like racist mis-naming a lab worker. Unfortunately, her dialogue (“harness the power of legions!!!” “Finally the power of the scarab will be ours!”) falls more into over-the-top but pronouncements that still manage to be dull.

But that makes the non-Victoria parts of the film even more engaging by contrast, and they more than make up for the thin characterization of the villain with the heartwarming portrayal of the family, initially comic but ultimately exemplars of courage and loyalty that give the film its heart.

Parents should know that this is a superhero movie with extended peril and violence including knives, guns, fire, and explosions. Characters are injured and killed and there are two very sad deaths of parents. Some characters begin the film as anti-weapon and anti-killing but switch into pro-weapon and at least not as anti-killing very quickly. Characters use some schoolyard language (s-word, a-word), there is non-sexual, non-explicit nudity, and there are references to private parts and how they operate.

Family discussion: How did Jaime’s family and culture affect his decisions? Which member of his family was your favorite and why?

If you like this, try: “The Flash” and the Christopher Reeves “Superman” movies and some of the other work from these actors including “Cobra Kai”

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The Flash

Posted on June 15, 2023 at 5:16 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some strong language and partial nudity
Profanity: Some strong language, several s-words, one f-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic-book action peril and violence, injuries and sad deaths
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 15, 2023

Copyright 2023 Warner Brothers
“The Flash” is centered in the sweet spot between action, comedy, and heart because is is grounded in a deep affection for the source material but is not afraid to play with some of its absurdities. I’m going to tread very carefully to avoid spoilers (and alert you to what I hope will be just two of the jokes in this review), but if you want to go into the film knowing nothing, including what is in the trailer, come back and read this after you’ve seen it.

Ezra Miller shows no signs of the instability that has led to troubling behavior and disturbing headlines in his excellent performance as not one but two Barry Allens. The storyline allows for something of an origin story without the too-often superhero film mistake of making it all about the adjustment to the use and purpose of superpowers and attendant vulnerabilities. We first see Barry Allen (Flash’s secret identity) trying to get a high-protein sandwich at a cafe counter. He is, unsurprisingly, in a hurry because first, he is running late, and two, as a result of the energy he burns in his super-fastness requires a lot of food for fuel. It’s not quite like Popeye and spinach, but it’s not not like it, either.

Barry is awkward and shy. He works as a forensic scientist, looking at evidence from crime scenes. And he is hoping to exonerate his father, Henry (Ron Livingston), who is in prison for murdering his wife, Barry’s mother, when Barry was a child. Barry knows his father is innocent, and is hoping that his friend Bruce (Batman) Wayne (Ben Affleck) can help him with a crucial piece of evidence, security camera footage from a grocery store that would substantiate Henry’s alibi. But the enhanced clarity of the tape, shot from above, does not show Henry’s face, only his baseball cap. Barry, devastated, goes for such an intensive run that he passes the speed of light and goes back in time. If he can do that, he reasons, maybe he can go back further and prevent his mother’s murder. Bruce Wayne warns him it is a big mistake. Butterfly effect, etc. He, of course, knows very well what it is like to have your entire live defined by a devastating childhood loss.

Barry cannot resist. And that is when things start to scramble. First, one very small choice somehow had a lot of major repercussions, some strangely random. Somehow, instead of Michael J. Fox coming in to replace him, the original star of “Back to the Future,” Eric Stoltz, stayed in the role. The people he knows from his timeline are either not there or very different. And second, Barry misjudged and instead of returning to the present, he finds himself 10 years ago, which means, yes, that his teen-age self is there, too. The interaction between the two Barrys (both played by Miller), one formed by the murder of his mother and wrongful conviction of his father and one who grew up in a home with intact, loving parents, is at the heart of the film. In fact, the villain (Michael Shannon as Kryptonian bad guy General Zod) is almost an afterthought in this film, relying on our remembering him and his whole deal from previous encounters.

Instead, the movie is more about Barry, both Barrys, their interaction and their growing understanding of their situation and, if it can be put this way, each other. From a small, witty hiccup in the presentation of the movie’s title to the throwaway lines about other anomalies in the pile of spaghetti that is what happens when you splinter linear time, to some funny cameos (Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth provides one of the film’s best moments), the film is more interested in concept and character than mayhem.

That’s a good thing as the mayhem is more serviceable than memorable. This is a movie that is more about the people than the powers, and that is a superpower worth having.

Parents should know that this film includes brief non-sexual male nudity (bare tush), some strong language (s-words and one f-word), and extended comic book-style peril and action violence, with injuries and some sad deaths.

Family discussion: What one small decision have you made that had a surprisingly big impact on your life? If you could go back in time ten years, what advice would you give yourself?

If you like this, try; Other time-warp movies like “Back to the Future” with Michael J. Fox and “Frequency” as well as other DC Comics movies

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Black Adam

Posted on October 20, 2022 at 5:04 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, intense action and some language
Profanity: A few strong words
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book/supehero peril and violence, many characters injured and killed including family members and a child held and gunpoint and another one murdered,
Date Released to Theaters: October 21, 2022
Date Released to DVD: January 3, 2023

Copyright 2022 Warner Brothers
In the mid-credit scene in “The League of Super-Pets,” Dwayne Johnson (as Black Adam) explains to Krypto the super-dog (also Johnson) what it means to be an anti-hero. “It’s basically the same thing as being a hero but way cooler. You make your own rules and then you break them. Also you can ignore most moral and ethical conventions because no one can stop you.”

That was a cheeky nod to Johnson’s next role, the anti-hero of “Black Adam,” a DC Comics superhero/anti-hero, which has a lot of old-school superhero requirements — origin story, walking away from a huge fire without looking back, heroes in slo-mo, and someone looking up into the sky and moan/yelling “Noooooo!” Make that two “Noooooos!” It also has a bit of meta-humor about catchphrases and more recent addition to the expected elements: some Gen-Z superheroes, one for comic relief, and, much more welcome, a lot more diversity.

That mid-credit sequence in an animated movie for kids had a better understanding of what it means to be an anti-hero than this movie does. More seriously, it also had a much better idea of how to make the best of one of Hollywood’s most appealing actors. “Black Adam” (known as Teth Adam for most of the film) does not have a clear idea of where its title character should fall on the spectrum from anti-hero to hero. And he is tamped down emotionally for most of it, which means we get only glimpses of Johnson’s limitless charm.

We do get plenty of what we go to superhero movies for, though, big superhero fights with an assortment of well-crafted characters using their different powers. There’s a solid theme about an (imaginary but believable) resource-rich place that has been occupied by oppressive invaders for millennia.

It begins thousands of years ago, before the great civilizations of Egypt and Rome, in the Middle Eastern area known as Kahndaq. After many years of peace and plenty, a ruler arises who wants absolute power. He enslaves the population and makes them mine the country’s version of Wakanda’s vibranium and Pandora’s unnobtanium, oh and also the rings of power. This is called etermium, and a crown made out of it will give the wearer all the superpowers necessary to control pretty much everything. Just as a note, these folks are not the greatest with names. The thugs who are running Kohndaq have the most boring name possible for a bunch of menacing tough guys. They are called Intergang. Seriously. That’s like one of those incomplete programming jokes from “Free Guy.”

A young boy tries to inspire the enslaved people to challenge the king. Wizards pick someone to be a hero and bestow magical powers on him.

We will not find out the whole story of the hero’s defeat of that ruler until later in the film, but after the opening sequence, we are in present day, and Adriana (Sarah Shahi) is trying to retrieve the crown from the cave where it has been hidden for thousands of years, because she knows people are trying to steal it. Things don’t go well and the ancient hero is brought back to life as Teth Adam, who can not just fly but levitate and shoot lightning from his body. Even mercenaries with etermium-powered technology are no match for that.

Teth Adam’s literal scorched-earth approach attracts the attention of the Justice Society, and there is one of those tense but understated calls between Hackman (Aldis Hodge) and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). I hope Hawkman gets his own movie, by the way. Hodge is wonderfully magnetic and his character’s wings are very well designed. He brings in his old friend (old in both senses of the word), Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan, all silky elegance and world-weariness), who has all kinds of tricks, including the ability to see the future. They are accompanied by two newcomers, Maxine (Quintessa Swindell), described as “a tornado with a 167 IQ), and the affable if a bit clueless Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), who has just inherited the super-suit from his uncle (Henry Winkler!) and hasn’t got all the kinks out.

Teth Adam is presented as opposite to Hawkman because he does not worry about whether it is fair to kill the bad guys when not in a specific situation of peril. But the more interesting question that is raised is from Adriana, who points out that Teth Adam is from their community, while the so-called Justice Society are just another set of interlopers, Justics-splaining to people who cannot help wondering why justice did not seem so important during their centuries of occupation and abuse.

Of course, that’s just a very small part of the film. The rest is comic-book action, and all of that is well staged except for the key element that we are not given enough information about the powers and especially the vulnerabilities of all of the many superheroes. That makes even the most energetic and expertly staged conflicts less exciting than they could be. And Teth Adam does not meet the description of Johnson’s meta-description in the animated film. He’s not someone who has deliberately chosen to violate ethical principles. He’s more like the Terminator in the first film, just a shark-like machine who pursues goals regardless of collateral damage. His interaction with a skater boi teenager (Bodhi Sabongui as Amon) recalls “Terminator 2,” even to the kid’s insistence on providing Teth Adam with a catchphrase.

As Teth becomes more human by reckoning with the losses of his past, we begin to see a little more life in the character. But by then of course we are in the middle of yet another superhero battle, this time more emotionally charged because we have begun to care about the characters. The pilot light is still too low but it’s getting warmer.

NOTE: Stay for a mid-credit scene indicating which legendary character will be joining the cast in the sequel.

Parents should know that this movie has extended superhero/comic book peril and violence with many minor characters and a few major characters injured and killed, including a child held at gunpoint and another who is killed. There are some disturbing and graphic images including a character sliced in half, several burned to death, and a couple impaled. Characters use brief strong language.

Family discussion: What is the biggest difference of opinion between Hawkman and Teth Adam? What would you like to have as your catchphrase?

If you like this, try: “Man of Steel,” “Shazam,” and “Justice League”

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Aquaman

Posted on December 20, 2018 at 5:37 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
Profanity: A few bad words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Scene in a bar, some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book/fantasy peril and violence, chases, explosions, monster, sacrifice/suicide of parent, characters injured and killed, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 21, 2018
Date Released to DVD: March 26, 2019

Copyright Warner Brothers 2018
On “Entourage” they made fun of the idea of an Aquaman movie as third-tier cheesiness. Even the San Diego Comic-Con fanboys on “The Big Bang Theory” have no respect for Aquaman. He had a very small, unmemorable role in the Justice League movie. So, can a big-budget comic-book movie about a superhero whose powers are — talking to fish? Breathing under water? be any good? Well, throw in some riders on sea-horses, a drum-playing octopus, a majestic, wildly imaginative candy-colored underwater city and a superhero with the grooming aesthetics of a Son of Anarchy, throw out all of the laws of physics and many of the laws of logic, and the answer is oh, sure, why not?

Aquaman is a hoot. In this version of the story, Aquaman is the mixed-race son of a human lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and an undersea princess (Nicole Kidman) who met when the princess, running away from an arranged marriage, got injured and washed up on the shore. Fortunately, she speaks English, which turns out to be the universal language of all of the undersea kingdoms, who can speak under water as easily and be heard as clearly as though they were on land. See above re laws of physics. Anyway, the human and the underwater princess fall in love and have a much-loved baby named Arthur until her people track her down and she has to go back to protect her husband and child. We will later discover that she returned to the forced marriage, had a son who became heir to the throne, and was killed for having committed the sin of having a “mongrel” child.

Arthur (yes, as in Camelot) grows up with some connection to his undersea heritage, including a Merlin-like guide (Willem Dafoe). He serves as guardian to humans at sea, and early on we see him take on some pirates. One is killed, in part because Arthur refuses to save him, and his son (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) vows revenge.

Meanwhile, another underwater princess (Amber Heard as Mera) is trying to persuade Arthur to claim the throne. Arthur’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is working to unite all of the underwater kingdoms so he can declare war on humans. He has a point — they are upset about all of the poison and junk we keep dumping in the oceans. But we won’t dwell on that because Orm is pretty evil. We know that because he looks like Draco Malfoy and has no sense of humor. And besides, what’s more important is that there is SO MUCH to look at. Each underwater city and population is wildly imaginative and spectacularly gorgeous. If the storyline gets overstuffed, more labors of Hercules than the usual superhero saga (thank you for skipping the origin backstory, by the way), it is a lot of fun, an expert mix of action, adventure, humor, family, and a little romance.

NOTE: Stay for a post-credit scene.

Parents should know that this film includes extended comic-book/fantasy peril and violence with weapons, explosions, spears, knives, suicide sacrifice, monster, characters injured and killed and some disturbing images, along with a few bad words.

Family discussion: What did Arthur understand because of his dual heritage? What made him change his mind about what he thought he wanted?

If you like this, try: the comic books and “The Guardians of the Galaxy”

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