A triple shot of movie reviews… Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, and The Super Mario Movie.
When I was in the Navy, one thing I did a lot while we were in our home port of Norfolk, VA was go to the movies. There were times when I had seen every movie playing in the theater… some of them 2 or 3 times. Over the last decade or so, that hasn’t been much of the case. I just haven’t had the time to spend in theaters as much. Plus, the cost has gone up significantly. Then, there was a little incident that occurred a few years ago which put a major halt in theatergoing.
The first movies to really drag me back into theaters was Ghostbusters Afterlife, followed by Top Gun Maverick. Both were great experiences and made the theater going experience worth it. But after Top Gun, my drive to go fell flat again. I had too much to do and little motivation from the selections that were coming out. Most movies since were worth waiting for their release on streaming platforms. And few of those were worth even paying outright to watch.
Over the last month, however, a slew of movies released piqued my interest. First was a superhero sequel movie that I was actually interested in seeing. Then another take on adapting the Dungeons & Dragons IP to screen. And finally, a little story about a short Italian guy who rises in power (by eating mushrooms) and saves a kingdom from a maniacal turtle. The trailers for all three grabbed me and encouraged me to take a break (or three) and go see these movies with the full movie crowd experience, complete with popcorn, sodas, and candy.
So. what did I think of them? Well… read on to find out.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods
When the first “Shazam!” hit theaters, I wasn’t really into superhero movies. I was burning out on the whole concept. Nonetheless, I wanted to see this one. I was a fan of the show Chuck and, by extension, Zachary Levi. I wanted to see that movie. However, for one reason or another (generally, life) I didn’t see it during its theatrical run.
It was months later before I finally saw it via streaming. Overall, I really enjoyed it. It was funny and a thrill. When it reached the climax where (spoiler alert for the first movie) the family all became superheroes, I was overjoyed. That became one of my favorite aspects of the movie.
With “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” I was more than excited. The trailers looked fun, and it would be great to see the family zapping into their superhero forms again.
Picking up some time after the first movie, Billy Batson and his foster siblings are trying to juggle their new lives as superheroes with their ordinary lives. Individually, they all have their individual goals and dreams while Billy is trying to keep them together. Meanwhile, three goddesses, who had their powers stolen by the “Wizard,” are looking for his staff so that they can take their revenge. It is up to Billy and his siblings to stop them from destroying their world in the process.
Actors / Actresses
For casting, I was overall satisfied. As I mentioned, I am a fan of Zachary Levi and I enjoyed his portrayal of the titular character. His counterpart, Asher Angel (who plays the younger Billy Batson) is fine, though he is less active in this movie as Billy goes through most of the movie in his superhero form. The three goddesses, portrayed by Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler all shine in their roles.
The rest of the cast all play their parts well with barely any letdowns. One of the standout cast members was Faithe Herman as the adorable Darla Dudley, the youngest of the Shazam family.
From seeing the trailer, it is clear that the main theme centers on ‘family.’ Specifically, it can be what happens when families begin to separate as a part of life. As different family members find their own way and drift apart, the concept of trying to hold together can be daunting and a little depressing. Perhaps one reason that this film resonates with me is because of that theme.
This is a fun comic book adaptation that brings with it a wide appeal. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet still has a bit of heart. It may not be good for young children due to some scary imagery. However, it should be fine for most kids about 8 years and up (give or take a year or two depending on the child) and is also appealing to adults.
Likes / Dislikes
I had a fun time with this movie. It was slightly less dark than the first movie and had a lot of good action sequences throughout. Some highlights are when the family team is all working together, whether in superhero form or as their original selves. I also enjoyed the cameo, which was teased early in the movie only to have you feeling that it was going to be left like the first one where the cameo is never fully shown. Fortunately, it paid off this time.
Really, I had little that I disliked about this movie. It was fun and as much as I expected going into it. I never really felt let down. That said, I suppose the biggest hit against the movie is the behind-the-scenes drama. In particular, the Black Adam connection (or lack thereof). I’ve never been a big comic book person, but I prefer when the source material is respected. To me, that whole mess detracts from what could be. Also, knowing that the DC Universe is essentially being reset and not knowing how that affects this movie really puts a damper on the enjoyment.
In the end, I would give this movie an 85/100 score. It was enjoyable and a good sequel. While there was nothing about the film itself that really detracted me, the uncertainty of the franchise’s future leaves a slight sour taste, which is unfortunate.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
I was aware of Dungeons & Dragons way back in my youth. Between the Saturday Morning Cartoon and the Electronic board game my brother had at the time, I was aware of the product, at least. Not enough to realize that it was what the kids were playing at the beginning of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Still, I was aware enough to be familiar with the name. It was after I joined the Navy when I was formally introduced to the proper tabletop game.
In 2000, when the first Dungeons & Dragons movie was being made, I was excited. I saw the movie, and at the time, enjoyed it. I must admit that I even defended the movie on online forums. As time moved on, I began to see the movie for what it was and distanced myself from the film. Perhaps the biggest problems I had were the scenes cut out of the theatrical release. One of those scenes had an introduction to the dwarf character. In the final cut, the dwarf is just dropped into the party without an explanation. It was at that point that it occurred to me that the studio just didn’t know what they were doing.
Fast forward to Honor Among Thieves and I was excited from the moment I saw the trailer. Maybe it was the heart-thumping Led Zeppelin tune, maybe it was the Forgotten Realms setting (the setting I was most familiar with thanks to various computer games… Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights… and R.A. Salvatore’s many novels in the setting). Regardless, I was looking forward to seeing this movie.
Set in The Forgotten Realms, the story centers on Edgin Darvis, a bard and former member of a society called The Harpers, a “semi-secret organization dedicated to preserving historical lore, maintaining the balance between nature and civilization and defending the innocent from the forces of evil across the Realms,” After running afoul with his group, and upsetting the wrong people, he takes on a life of banditry along with his friends, the barbarian Holga Kilgore, the clumsy sorcerer Simon Aumar, and the suave rogue Forge Fitzwilliam, along with his daughter Kira. After being betrayed by one of their own, Edgin and Holga set out to right their wrong and reconnect with Edgin’s daughter, now under the care of his former companion, Forge. (That is about as spoiler-free as I can make it.)
Actors / Actresses
The cast largely oozes with charm and wit throughout the film. Pivotal to this is Chris Pine as Edgin, who appears bumbling, yet capable. Michelle Rodriguez as Holga is at the top of her game. And Hugh Grant does a fantastic job at portraying a slimeball who is just lovable enough to not hate completely. Regé-Jean Page, as Xenk, is another charmer who joins the group for a time and wins you over despite his annoyingly adherence to righteousness and complete disregard of irony… the perfect Paladin.
Rounding out the cast is Justice Smith as Simon, a delightful take on a sorcerer who just can’t get it right and Sophia Lillis, the shapeshifting druid. Even if her character was a little over-powered, Sophia was a delight to watch as she changed into her various forms to complete the task. She held up well alongside her cast mates and is somebody to watch in the coming years. The final main character, Daisy Head portrayed the villainous Sofina, a Red Wizard of Thay bent on carrying out her factions’ evil plots and using the party to do so. She did a good job of making you hate her character and wanting to see her comeuppance.
The theme of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves I would say is atonement. That is what I got out of the film. Though that is a general word and for each character, it is slightly different. While it is most apt for Edgin’s character, Holga’s atonement would be more like regret, while Simon is all about a lack of self-confidence (or living up to expectations).
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves has something for just about everybody (who likes a good adventure movie). It has action, comedy (and wit), thrills, all sprinkled with heartfelt moments throughout. The violence is not too graphic for younger children and it is not gratuitous. As far as the property, speaking as a fan of D&D, it was a fun romp and I could easily see this story unfolding around a table. For non-players, it should entertain. The word I have received from people who have seen it with no previous knowledge of the game is that they enjoyed the movie.
Likes / Dislikes
I have to say that I loved this movie from beginning to end. From the escape from the prison to the many adventures along the way to the ending scenes, the movie hit all the beats that make a D&D campaign so enjoyable. I was perfectly fine with the filmmakers “breaking” some rules of the game to adapt this story to film, particularly the rules involving druids. Even some of the cliché parts were fun to watch, even if the outcomes were predictable at times.
The only actual issue I had involved a moment toward the end involving the fate of one of the main characters. Without giving too much away, something happens to a character that seemed to happen off screen and came out of nowhere. I may have to watch the scene again to see if they showed it happening, but the result was that it seemed forced for the plot because I didn’t see it happen. You will probably guess what I am talking about once you see it, but it is a big plot point and a major spoiler, so I can’t go any further into it. Nonetheless, it is a slight mark on an overall magnificent film.
My final verdict, I would give Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves a rating of 92/100. It was a fun time and had few complaints of any significance. I highly recommend this film to anybody who enjoys a good adventure story with a lot of wit and a bit of heart.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie
I remember when I was a kid back in the 80s and visiting my uncle (who, sadly, recently passed away… RIP Uncle Mel and Aunt Margie). He had a large TV and had an NES. He joyfully showed it off to me and let me play a few games. Of the games I remember playing were Metroid and Super Mario Bros. While I had played Donkey Kong before, this was my first time playing Super Mario Bros.
Since then, I have been a fan of the franchise. Perhaps my favorite was Super Mario Bros. 3 (though Super Mario World is a strong contender). Then came the 3D Mario games, which took the games to a whole new level. While other game franchises may have come along and moved above the Mario games on my list of games (for various reasons), none can match the charm and thrills (and satisfaction) of marching along and jumping on the heads of koopas and goombas.
Despite my love of the franchise, I never saw the 1993 movie. I don’t know why. I was a fan of movies. I still get enjoyment out of watching The Wizard… the “90-minute commercial for Super Mario Bros. 3” as many have joked. But the movie starring Bob Hoskins as the titular character just never really appealed to me as a must-see. When The Super Mario Bros. Movie was announced, I was interested if a little skeptical. After seeing the trailer, I became excited.
In short, The Super Mario Bros Movie revolves around Mario and his brother Luigi working as plumbers in Brooklyn. As they work to get their plumbing business off the ground, they stumble across a secret tunnel that takes them away to the Mushroom Kingdom (the Dark Lands in Luigi’s case… poor Luigi). There, Mario must team up with the Princess of the Mushroom Kingdom to rescue his brother from the monstrous Bowser.
Actors / Actresses
When the voice cast was announced for this movie, the casting of Chris Pratt shocked many people as Mario. To be honest, it didn’t bother me so much and, while I loved Charles Martinet’s in-game voice of Mario, I could understand how that voice could not carry a 90-minute movie. In the end, I was so lost in the movie that I believed Mario was Mario and Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day) was Luigi. They both did an excellent job. And the role that Charles Martinet played in the movie (minor spoiler) as Mario’s dad was fitting and kind of symbolic.
Anya Taylor-Joy was very fitting as Princess Peach. She brought to the character some personality that her game counterpart is often missing. Keegan-Michael Key was spot-on as Toad. And not enough praise can be thrown upon Jack Black for his portrayal of Bowser. If I was let down by any of the voice actors, it would have to be Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong. I just felt nothing special about him. Perhaps I am biased… Seth Rogen is my least favorite of the Hollywood Seths (and I don’t really know any Seths in person, so I guess my least favorite Seth period). But, I feel kind of vindicated, as others have expressed similar views.
The themes of The Super Mario Bros. Movie hit a little home for me. It was largely centered on Mario’s love for his brother, his unwillingness to give up, and seeking his father’s approval and appreciation. While others have said that the plot for the movie was simple, I found these themes put on a layer of complexity just enough to stand above being just a “simple” plot.
I have heard many say that this movie is strictly for children. I have to disagree. While children will certainly love this movie, it does not exclude adults in any way (unless they are so curmudgeon in nature). For me, it took me back to my childhood when I first played the Mario games and got lost stomping goombas and breaking bricks as I raced across the course to the flagpole. If this is aimed squarely at children, then that description should include the young-at-heart as well. It really helped to bring out the child inside.
Likes / Dislikes
I am just going to say it… I loved this movie. It hit all cylinders and left me wanting more. Other than Seth Rogen’s performance, I can’t really say that there was anything that I disliked about the movie. It was fun, nostalgic, and hit me with its heartfelt message.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie was easily a 95/100 movie for me. It was fun, filled with Easter eggs, and an overall enjoyable film. You know… scratch that. It was 100/100 for me. I loved every bit of it.
So, there you have it. Three incredible movies to delight in and carry us away. None of them weigh on the political atmosphere gripping the world these days and provide excellent escapism. If you are a fan of any of the properties that these are based on, I whole-heartedly recommend seeing them… in the theaters if possible (I know that, as of this writing, Shazam is now available to stream). They were all a good time in their own individual ways.