Life is Good, but it Can Be Better

Wonder Woman 1984 is heartbreaking. I really wish the DC Extended Universe would get their act together, because I don’t know how many times I can be disappointed. Wonder Woman isn’t flawless, but it is the first DCEU movie I genuinely loved all the way through. The Amazing Amazon was finally given a film that both honored her history and made her a role model worth cheering for. Of course I was excited to see a sequel. Even after Warner Bros. continued mishandling their heroes in Justice League, Wonder Woman remained untarnished. Patty Jenkins returned to direct and Gal Gadot made the sequel her fourth portrayal of the iconic heroine. Setting the movie in 1984 made sense considering Diana’s immortality and the fact that 80’s nostalgia is still a thing.

Trailers made Wonder Woman 1984 look brighter and more optimistic. I was definitely excited to see the movie until the pandemic struck. Although it should’ve come out November or December 2019 like originally planned, Warner Bros. foolishly moved it to June 2020. It was frustrating to see all the theaters close and even more frustrating to slowly lose excitement for something I really wanted to see. Like most tentpole releases, WW84 was moved from August to October 2020. When Tenet failed to attract viewers, Warner Bros. sort of panicked and gave the movie a final release date of Christmas day 2020. Both in theaters and on HBO Max at no charge. Since I absolutely need to see a superhero movie on the big screen, I made seeing it a present for my family. I tried very hard to love Wonder Woman 1984, but I needed to stop lying to myself…

19. Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman runs through DC

Wonder Woman 1984 is yet another superhero sequel with an undeniable drop in quality. No matter how hard Rotten Tomatoes tried to convince you otherwise. I’ve never seen a movie go from 90% to 59% in a matter of weeks. It got so bad that Rotten Tomatoes had to change its critical consensus from glowing to lukewarm at best. I can’t say that I saw too many warning signs on the surface. Gal Gadot was still the ideal Princess of Themyscira after her performance won me over, but DC continued to cast the most unlikely actors to play their biggest characters. Well known comedian Kristen Wiig is the last person I’d expect to play Wonder Woman’s archenemy Cheetah. Wonder Woman has a colorful rogues gallery, but Cheetah is the villain I always wanted to see the Amazing Amazon go up against. I just never knew much about her comic book history or origin. Regardless, it was encouraging to know she’d be making her theatrical debut in the movie.

It was confusing, but I was just as happy to know Chris Pine would return as Steve Trevor despite dying at the end of Wonder Woman. WW84 is technically the first direct sequel in the DCEU. Batman v Superman doesn’t count as a Man of Steel sequel since the Dark Knight gets just as much attention. Birds of Prey doesn’t count as a Suicide Squad sequel since it’s more of a Harley Quinn spin-off. WW84 has no other DC superheroes or references to other films. I continued to believe in Patty Jenkins as a director, but now I think she’s part of the problem. Although she had a perfect understanding of Wonder Woman in her first movie, WW84 feels like she got way too much creative control with no one questioning her decisions. Starting with an agonizingly slow 2 hour & 31 minute runtime. There’s no reason why it had to be that long. I was happy to be in a movie theater again, but even I have my limits.

Wonder Woman 1984 begins promisingly enough with a flashback dedicated to part of Diana’s origin that was missing in the first movie. In the original Golden Age comics, Diana secretly performs in an Amazonian competition on Paradise Island to determine who brings Steve Trevor back to “Man’s World.” Diana wins the competition and her mother Queen Hippolyta reluctantly accepts her as champion. Since the competition would’ve slowed things down, WW84 makes it part of Diana’s childhood. I suppose Gadot’s cheesy narration should’ve been the first warning sign, but it was just nice to see the beautiful island of Themyscira again. It’s the only time we see Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright reprise their respective roles as Queen Hippolyta and General Antiope in the entire movie. Young Diana participates in the athletic event that includes a giant obstacle course, horseback riding, and javelin throwing.

She’s knocked off her horse and cheats by taking a shortcut. Her Aunt Antiope hammers in the film’s message about always telling the truth and her mother does the same with a not so subtle reference to another Amazon warrior. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with the flashback, but it is 11 minutes longer than it needs to be. The tone shifts considerably when we enter 1984. Thanks to movies and/or shows like Stranger Things, 80’s nostalgia is practically inescapable. If Wonder Woman is like Captain America: The First Avenger, then WW84 is like The Winter Soldier. But only for its American setting in Washington, DC. The 1984 opening scene is more like Superman III. It’s overly comical and sees the titular hero save several civilians at once. The entire sequence screams 1980’s with bright colors, questionable fashion, aerobics, and a mall as the first action set piece.

Every background performance either sounds off or is overexaggerated to the point of unbelievability. A gang of criminals trying to rob the mall is so over-the-top that it feels like a Joel Schumacher Batman movie. Most problems can be found in Wonder Woman’s first fight scene. Diana makes her grand entrance in the already perfect Wonder Woman costume. The red & blue colors are a bit brighter, but the only real difference is her 80’s hairdo. It was suddenly clear that Diana wasn’t going to use her sword or shield in any fight scene. I knew I was in trouble when Diana said “I hate guns” out of nowhere. Patty Jenkins was so certain that a hero who fights for love wouldn’t use harsh weapons or kill people. Some fights come to a screeching halt just so Diana can clarify no one will get hurt. Not that Zack Snyder ever got the memo. So Wonder Woman finally uses her tiara as a boomerang and only occasionally uses her indestructible bracelets.

It’s really her Lasso of Truth that she turns into an all purpose superweapon capable of swinging, catching bullets, deflecting objects, and even flying through the air. It’s almost never used as a straightforward lie detector, but it is shown to also reveal the truth to people. Wonder Woman knocking a criminal into an oversized drum, holding a criminal by the leg after flipping him, and throwing a child into a giant teddy bear while winking is the corniest thing I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie. I hope you liked it, because those 3 minutes are all we see of Wonder Woman for well over an hour! It’s almost like Patty Jenkins forgot this was a superhero movie and decided to make a romantic comedy in the meantime. I loved Gal Gadot as a wide-eyed optimist capable of great heroism, but the material she’s given really makes me question her performance.

Since World War I, Diana Prince became quite the wet blanket. She doesn’t go out with friends, date, or even own a TV. Her life can be seen in photos of her old war buddies, an elderly Etta Candy, and the watch Steve gave her. Steve Trevor is practically all Diana can think about half the time. She now works at the Smithsonian Museum where Diana encounters Barbara Ann Minerva. In the comics, Cheetah is three women and one man. Priscilla Rich is an ordinary human debutante with a split personality who grows jealous of Wonder Woman. Deborah Domaine is the equally human niece of Priscilla who befriends Wonder Woman, but ultimately takes on her aunt’s mantle. No one talks about Sebastian Ballesteros, so Barbara Ann Minerva became the definitive Cheetah. Unlike her predecessors, Dr. Minerva was an archeologist granted the appearance and powers of a superhuman cheetah by the god Urzkartaga.

Kristen Wiig is surprisingly fitting as a mixture of each Cheetah, but Barbara is literally every bespectacled nerd who feels invisible cliché. WW84 is almost exactly like Batman Returns with a less than confident woman gaining confidence by becoming a cat, and a shrewd businessman as the antagonists. Pedro Pascal comes full circle after his role in the failed 2011 Wonder Woman pilot. Maxwell Lord is a shrewd, but powerful businessman responsible for the formation of the Justice League in the 80’s. He’s had many appearances in animation, Smallville, and Supergirl. Jay Baruchel was meant to play Lord in Justice League: Mortal before the film was cancelled. So Max Lord made his cinematic debut in WW84 instead. I’m happy Pascal is getting a career boost, but there’s no reason to make him Latin or give him so much endless attention.

Maxwell Lord is an oil tycoon who does TV infomercials with the catchphrase, “Life is good, but it can be better.” He’s meant to represent Gordon Gekko, but modeling him after Donald Trump really makes me question critics who praised the film’s “escapist qualities.” I couldn’t care less about Lord’s crappy working environment, endless boring business discussions, or the fact that he has a son to make proud. It’s in the comics, but that doesn’t mean half the movie needs to be dedicated to it. Cheetah is practically sidelined in the process. A lot of time is spent on Diana befriending the nerdy Barbara who wants to be just like her. The movie also has a ton of catcalling that never feels natural. Diana saves Barbara from a creep without revealing her identity. At work, they both try to identify this movie’s McGuffin. A Dreamstone created by the Duke of Deception.

Wish fulfilment feels like a serious cop out when it can be used to explain Cheetah’s powers, Maxwell Lord’s telepathic percussion, or the sudden appearance of Steve Trevor. Barbara makes a wish to be just like Diana and ends up looking hotter in the process. She also gains the unintended side effects of Wonder Woman’s super strength that she uses in a random aerobics session. Lord steals the stone after seducing Barbara and wishes to become the Dreamstone itself. His comic accurate power of percussion ends up feeling more ridiculous with every wish he grants. Lord has to touch a person, but grows weaker after taking something in return. Before Lord became the stone, Diana wished to have Steve back. He does return at a gala, but it’s done in the most unnecessary way imaginable. Rather than have Steve Trevor appear out of thin air, Patty Jenkins thought it made sense to have Steve possess the body of a guy literally credited as “Handsome Man.”

Diana & Steve lovingly embrace, then proceed to use his body like a sex doll. No DCEU movie can ever seem to escape controversy of some kind. Chris Pine is still perfectly likeable as Trevor, but making him the new “fish out of water” goes on forever. Steve has an 80’s clothing montage, visits the Air and Space museum, sees airplanes, subways, and appreciates art. Didn’t this movie used to have a superhero in it? Things finally get back on track when Diana & Steve investigate the origin of the stone. Learning that every wish comes with a trick. Diana scolds Barbara for giving the stone to Lord and she grows resentful of having her wish taken away. Wiig is surprisingly convincing when she eventually turns evil. She beats up the creep who harassed her and fashions herself a cheetah print outfit.

Diana feels the effects of the stone when her powers diminish, but she still helps Steve fly to Egypt to confront Lord. Another ridiculously implausible scene is Steve & Diana using a plane that’s been sitting in a museum. Nevermind that it’s both full of gas and easy for a WWI pilot to fly. When Diana remembers radar tracking, she randomly gains the ability to turn things invisible like her father Zeus did for Themyscira. I can’t complain too much, because it finally gives Wonder Woman her iconic Invisible Jet. In the comics, the plane made up for Diana’s lack of flight capabilities. It’s a magical moment with Steve & Diana seeing fireworks on the Fourth of July, but it doesn’t feel earned after so many moments with the couple. Lord gains more oil from the ruler of Bialya. Even more time is dedicated to Arabian politics I couldn’t bother to understand.

Diana is drawn to his wish and finally suits up again at the 1 hour & 21 minute mark. If taking this long to see Wonder Woman again was supposed to be a recreation of the brilliant “No Man’s Land” scene, then they failed miserably. Not even with Han Zimmer’s infectious score. Still, it’s enough just to see Wonder Woman flip tanks even if her powers are slowing her down. The Israeli Gal Gadot saving Muslim children as Wonder Woman can’t be a coincidence. Lord gets away, but his power only gets worse until the whole world descends into chaos. I officially checked out when Lord meets the President resembling Ronald Reagan. Lord takes the President’s power in exchange for Cold War missiles that can destroy the world any second. More baffling is Lord interpreting the President’s global satellite broadcasting system as a metaphor for touching everyone on Earth. He plans to use the remaining wishes to make himself healthier.

Wonder Woman’s third fight scene at the White House is probably her best action set piece by default. Her Lasso comes in handy, but Steve being told not to kill doesn’t make things easy. Even though he could easily make a wish from Lord after handcuffing him. Barbara showing up in her Cheetah outfit is their best confrontation in the movie. Wonder Woman does her best, but she’s too weak to defeat her former friend. It’s clear that Diana has to renounce her wish after a tearful goodbye where she vows never to love again. Wonder Woman achieves flight by launching her Lasso into the air and floating on the clouds like Peter Pan. There’s no reason to question anything at this point. Diana returns home where she dons the golden armor worn by the bravest Amazon warrior in history.

In the comics, the gold armor was worn by Wonder Woman in the Kingdom Come storyline. I immediately recognized the golden eagle-like wingsuit, but that doesn’t mean it translates well to film. I think she only wears the costume to show less skin in the climax. Diana flies to the satellite base where she’s confronted by Cheetah after Barbara wishes to be an apex predator. The final Cheetah design leaves a lot to be desired. Rather than use makeup, Wiig’s fur is entirely awkward CGI that’s far too similar to Cats. Their fight is equally uninspired with Cheetah clawing Wonder Woman’s armor and their second confrontation ending after she’s electrocuted. It’s the last physical fight since Lord has to be taken down with words. SPOILER ALERT! Diana uses her Lasso on Lord to tell the world that all their wishes are inherently selfish and they should all be renounced.

Nevermind people who might wish for sick relatives to be healed or world peace. Lord’s past is also revealed at the last possible second with him becoming way too sympathetic after everything he’s done. Hugging his son is literally the last we see of him. The final scene set during Christmas is so sappy it feels like something on Hallmark. Diana finally experiences the world and talks to “Handsome Man” before soaring through the skies again. The mid-credits scene is just as cheesy, but at least it features a cameo that was a long time coming. The gold armor wearing Amazon Asteria is none other than former Wonder Woman Lynda Carter. WW84 nearly ruined my Christmas, but at least theaters were finally opening up again. I just hope the third installment learns from the sequel’s glaring mistakes. Wonder Woman 1984 is truthfully a disappointing step backwards for the Amazon.

20. Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman in gold armor

Preceded by: Wonder Woman

Gotham City Sirens

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is Birds of Prey in name only. Along with a ridiculous overlong subtitle that should’ve been a warning sign from the beginning. Part of me will always be annoyed with the direction of the DC Extended Universe, but I’ve always been on board with each movie that was announced. Birds of Prey sounded like a step backwards. Suicide Squad is arguably the worst film in the DCEU. One of its few redeeming qualities was casting Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Joker may have been a hit the previous year, but I never asked for an R rated Harley Quinn solo movie. Yet Robbie was so attached to the Batman villain, that she produced Birds of Prey herself. The first problem is the title.

In the comics, the Birds of Prey are an all-female team from Gotham City. The team has always been known for including Oracle, Black Canary, Huntress, and Lady Blackhawk as team members. Their 1996 debut led to a short-lived 2002-2003 TV series, but they haven’t made many appearances outside of an Arrow episode. Birds of Prey is clearly a Harley Quinn movie since she was never part of the team in the comics. A Gotham City Sirens movie would’ve made more sense. Cathy Yan was chosen to direct despite having only one movie under her belt. The production design didn’t inspire confidence, the R rating felt unnecessary, and Yan saying the movie would “smash the patriarchy” made me nervous. I’m glad Birds of Prey was released at the beginning of 2020, because the movie bombing at the box-office speaks for itself…

17. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was a financial failure for several reasons. There was no reason why the movie had to be R rated. If the target audience was supposed to be teenage girls or younger, then that part of their demographic wouldn’t have been able to see it. The PG-13 MCU isn’t gonna suddenly have an R rated movie that half their audience will miss out on. Birds of Prey is the only DCEU movie I didn’t see with my parents. As much as I enjoy Deadpool, I wish studios would stop thinking that’s enough to make a successful superhero movie. Christina Hodson’s script is so wannabe Deadpool without being clever. The violence is jarring and characters drop the F bomb every other sentence. To put things in perspective, Joker is a 2 hour & 2 minute movie with 25 F bombs. Birds of Prey is a 1 hour & 49 minute movie with 78 F bombs.

The surprisingly short runtime is one of the few highlights for me. The only thing missing is nudity. Which is weird considering Harley Quinn’s promiscuous nature. The rating is one thing, but I really have a problem with the costume design. Rather than wear her trademark red & black jester outfit or even her more provocative Suicide Squad costume that was at least red & blue, Harley wears a bizarre mishmash of colors. There’s her generic t-shirt and short shorts with pom-poms look and a diamond jumpsuit that’s pink & gold for some reason. It’s so inaccurate to the comics that it feels like a joke. Suicide Squad may have had overly edgy costumes, but at least they tried to look like the comics. Yan was given way too much creative control if Warner Bros. seriously thought fans wanted to see a 2020 superhero movie that looks nothing like the source material.

The movie is essentially Harley Quinn and maybe 30 minutes of Birds of Prey if you’re lucky. Ever since her Batman: The Animated Series debut, Harley Quinn was crazy fun to watch, with an infectious sense of humor, sexy jester outfit, and surprisingly mature abusive relationship with the Joker. I understand her becoming a fan favorite, but I’ll be the first to admit I don’t understand giving her so much attention. In the 28 years since her first appearance, Harley has appeared in almost every Batman related animated series, several animated movies, and a TV-MA animated streaming series based on her New 52 solo comics. She’s had many voice actresses throughout the years, but Arleen Sorkin has the definitive Brooklyn accent. Before Margot Robbie, Mia Sara and a stand-in voiced by Tara Strong were the only live-action portrayals of such a cartoony character.

Harley’s boost in popularity is mostly thanks to her joining the Suicide Squad in the New 52. Having Harley break up with the Joker is fine, but it doesn’t really work without Poison Ivy. Birds of Prey feels kind of pointless and lackadaisical, but I can’t say that it’s the worst thing in the DCEU. Not that I’ll ever understand how it got a 79% score on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s not a personal disappointment like Batman v Superman or a disjointed cringefest like Suicide Squad, but bored indifference isn’t something I want to feel for a superhero movie. I only watched it once in theaters and never bothered to rewatch it until very recently. Birds of Prey takes place 4 years after Suicide Squad, but it’s barely a sequel since the Joker doesn’t even appear. Jared Leto was such a bad Joker that I don’t blame them for avoiding a cameo. Still, it doesn’t make sense to have such a crucial part of the story happen entirely off-screen.

Animation is used to depict Harleen Quinzel’s mostly faithful origin story. How she was abandoned by her father, sent to a Catholic orphanage, became a psychiatrist, and fell madly in love with Mr. J. Even the animated Joker doesn’t look like Leto. When she breaks up with her puddin, Harley is thrown out on the streets of Gotham City. By my calculations, that’s approximately 14 times Gotham has been depicted on the big screen. With the exception of cutting her pigtails short, the only other comic accuracy is Harley joining a roller derby team, having a stuffed beaver, and getting a pet hyena named after Bruce Wayne. Apart from a Captain Boomerang wanted poster, Batman doesn’t make an appearance either. Harley makes a public statement about her emancipation from the Joker by blowing up the Ace Chemicals plant. Something that puts a target on her back. The plot is so thin that Harley is almost always seen in average situations like ordering a breakfast sandwich that’s given way more attention than it should.

She uses playful narration accompanied by Suicide Squad style visual stats to string together a random collection of women with practically nothing in common. Their only connection is the Batman villain Black Mask. A low level crime boss I never expected to see as the main antagonist in any movie. I never knew much about Black Mask apart from the black skull mask he wears at all times. In the comics, Roman Sionis forms the False Face Society, runs Janus Cosmetics, and is a much more intense villain who is fond of torture. The torture part works for the R rating, but cutting people’s faces off or forcing a woman to strip crosses the line. More attention is also given to him running a nightclub more like the Penguin. I’m happy Ewan McGregor is getting a career resurgence, but his Black Mask portrayal sucks. Roman Sionis is seriously over exaggerated, profane, ambiguously flamboyant, randomly sadistic, and never wears the black mask until the climax. He’s the poor man’s Joker.

Chris Messina plays his right-hand Victor Zsasz. Another Batman villain given way more attention than you’d expect. Cutting tally marks into his skin after every kill is also appropriate for an R rating, but it barely comes up in the movie. Since the DCEU can’t go one movie without a McGuffin, a diamond connects everyone as well. The Birds of Prey now includes Huntress, Black Canary, Renee Montoya, and Cassandra Cain. Barbara Gordon is nowhere to be seen as Batgirl or Oracle. Renee Montoya is similar to Harley Quinn for being a character created for Batman: The Animated Series. She’s just an ordinary hispanic Gotham City police officer revealed to be lesbian in the comics. Although she became the second Question in 2007, most of her history is as an officer. So I have no idea why Montoya is given so much attention in the movie. Rosie Perez feels like the odd woman out in a team like this.

Montoya builds a case against Sionas while investigating the recent Crossbow Killer. All the guys at GCPD push her to leave the force. Her sexuality is clumsily inserted in the movie with Harley’s narration saying a district attorney is her ex-girlfriend. Montoya crosses paths with Harley several times in an attempt to bring her in. Unlike the rest of the cast, Black Canary is seriously miscast. Her name is taken a little too literally with the African American Jurnee Smollett playing Dinah Lance. The co-star in a Harley Quinn movie is not how I wanted to see Black Canary make her cinematic debut. Black Canary has a complicated history, but a lengthy one that saw her as a member of the Justice Society and the primary love interest for Green Arrow. She’s always depicted in a sexy leather jacket & fishnet ensemble. The only confusing thing about her is there being two different Black Canary’s named Dinah Drake and Dinah Laurel Lance.

She appeared on Birds of Prey and Smallville, but her biggest claim to fame is Arrow. Katie Cassidy, Caity Lotz, and Juliana Harkavy never worked on their own, but together they created a convincing whole. Smollett’s Canary is barely recognizable as a lounge singer who wears mostly gold. Her trademark metahuman “Canary Cry” is vaguely mentioned by Montoya as a power belonging to her mother. Dinah crosses paths with Harley at the Sionas nightclub where her fight with sexual predators earns her a job as Sionas’ new chauffeur. Her job is to ensure the diamond gets to Roman. Until it’s stolen by Cassandra Cain. No character is more botched than their portrayal of a mute martial arts expert who can read body language. She’s still Asian, but Ella Jay Basco is an obnoxious kid with a cast who pickpockets people. I wish she was mute, because this Cassandra is a seriously annoying substitute for Russell from Deadpool 2.

She pickpockets the diamond from Zsasz and ends up swallowing it for the rest of the movie. Any attempt to get it out is just disgusting to think about. Dinah already knows Cassandra from her building and involves Montoya after she gets arrested. Harley becomes involved when she offers to get the diamond back after Sionas abducts her. But not before an extremely random recreation of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” with Harley as Marilyn Monroe. The only part of the movie that received consistent praise was the action. It’s fun to see Harley infiltrate the GCPD with beanbag cannons, using her baseball bat, dynamite, and roller skates in a car chase, but that doesn’t automatically make it John Wickian. A coke-fueled Harley apprehends Cassandra, only to grow soft during a brief mostly off-screen bonding session. Cassandra having no clue who the Joker is, is another minor annoyance. The only decent guy in the movie betrays Harley and she betrays Cassandra not long after they bonded.

The final bird of prey is Helena Bertinelli aka Huntress, known to the public as the Crossbow Killer. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is surprisingly inspired casting considering her long history in comic book related superhero movie roles. Bertinelli’s violent origin as the lone survivor of a mob family massacre remains intact, and so does her training to become an assassin at a young age. Unfortunately, the movie still finds a way to ruin her edge by turning her trauma and angry outbursts into a joke. Huntress hunts all the men responsible for her family’s death, but stops after killing Zsasz. All the women converge in a climax set at an amusement park. Harley convinces them to work together when Black Mask leads the False Face Society against them. Since the team comes together at the last possible second, none of them have any natural chemistry.

Harley uses her oversized hammer and the rest of them use her leftover gag weapons. They fight off the men and Black Canary uses her “Canary Cry” once in the entire movie. Huntress gives Harley a lift when Cassandra is taken. They face off at a foggy dock where Harley starts to believe in her own abilities. Sionas is killed in a graphic explosion and the women casually eat at a diner afterwards. Harley steals their car and rides off with Cassandra when the diamond comes out. It’s only briefly through narration that Huntress, Black Canary, and Montoya call themselves Birds of Prey while wearing vaguely comic accurate costumes. The title is even more pointless since Harley doesn’t even join the team. No wonder they changed the name to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey after it bombed. There’s no reason to stay after-credits since it’s just Harley saying something about Batman that gets cut off. In the end, nothing new is learned and the entire movie is practically meaningless. Birds of Prey should have never been made like all of DC’s other failed projects.

18. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Harley Quinn takes aim

Preceded by: Suicide Squad & Followed by: The Suicide Squad

Send in the Clowns

Joker put a spotlight on the Clown Prince of Crime. For better or worse, Joker exceeded expectations in the process. I don’t think I’m too far off in saying the Joker is the greatest supervillain of all time. The psychotic criminal clown is the perfect archenemy for the brooding Dark Knight. Although I always root for the hero, I can’t deny how entertaining the Joker is in every incarnation of his 8 decade history. He’s been the most famous evil clown in history, ever since his 1940 debut in Batman #1. He was supposed to be killed off, but the Joker’s popularity endured him as Batman’s greatest enemy. It’s ironic that Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson couldn’t agree on who created the Joker.

Since he’s never had a definitive origin. Its always been part of the intrigue to think someone could be so psychotic with virtually no explanation. Part of the reason why I was against a Joker origin story. Even if it was separate from the inconsistent DCEU, I wasn’t especially crazy about the supervillain solo movie trend that started with Venom. The first trailer wasn’t at all what I was expecting and the R rating made Joker seem more like a thriller than a simple comic book movie. I was still on the fence about a Batman movie without Batman, but I guess it worked for Gotham on TV. Despite an unnecessary amount of controversy and a laughably low 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, Joker rightfully became the first DC movie nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards…

15. Joker

Arthur Fleck becomes Joker

Joker is a character study that shouldn’t work as well as it does. Which is why comic books deserve way more credit for introducing such complex individuals. The Joker was always meant to be a crazy, but intelligent serial killer hidden under a permanent grin and clown motif. His most iconic look has always consisted of chalk white skin, green hair, a red smile, and a purple suit. Although he’s never had a definitive name or origin, the Red Hood falling into a vat of Ace chemicals tends to be the favorite. The Joker maintained his violent tendencies throughout the Golden Age, but the Silver Age turned him into a prankster with goofy gag weapons. Most kid friendly interpretations tend to lean on the clown’s silly side. It wasn’t until the Bronze Age that the Clown Prince of Crime got his edge back.

The Joker has had a profound impact on Batman’s life ever since. From killing Jason Todd (Robin) in “A Death in the Family” to paralyzing Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. Not to mention his disturbingly unhinged portrayal in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. I’m not a fan of the more sadistic Joker in recent comics, but it is fascinating to think about the many ways you can interpret one character. Joker actors have always brought something new to the man who laughs. Cesar Romero was a creative colorful comedian perfect for Adam West’s Batman. Jack Nicholson was already an Oscar winning actor who practically stole the show as his darkly comedic version from Tim Burton’s Batman. The 1989 movie made use of his chemical toxin origin, controversially made him the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and gave him the name Jack Napier.

Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill, is arguably the greatest Joker who debuted in Batman: The Animated Series on top of several animated movies and video games. Heath Ledger was on a whole other level as the most grounded Joker to date in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. He’s my personal favorite portrayal in a performance that more than earned an Oscar after his untimely death. Oscar winner Jared Leto sounded like a good idea for the DCEU’s Suicide Squad, but his overly edgy gangster Joker is laughable for all the wrong reasons. Turns out Joaquin Phoenix wanted to do a low-budget DC supervillain character study for years. His methodical acting style wouldn’t have worked for Marvel or any other franchise character. Ironically, Todd Phillips similarly wanted to direct a grounded comic book movie. Although horror directors were proving themselves in lighthearted DC movies like Aquaman or Shazam!, Phillips was a comedy director who proved himself with the darkest DC movie of all time.

Thanks to the success of Deadpool and Logan, Joker more than earns its R rating. Joker is meant to be a Martin Scorsese style thriller from the 70’s. Specifically Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. An 80’s Warner Bros. logo is used, while the DC label is nowhere to be seen. The soundtrack makes appropriate use of songs like “Send in the Clowns,” Smile,” and “That’s Life.” Although it was unlike any superhero movie I’ve ever seen, I knew I couldn’t miss it. No matter how controversial the movie became. People preemptively decided Joker would inspire real life crime, while critics seemed to attack the movie for its treatment of mental illness. Although some people think this is a sympathetic take on a remorseless supervillain, it’s way more complicated than that. Joker delivers a matter of fact interpretation of a mentally ill loner in a society that abandoned him and treats him like trash.

Though I was afraid this would be a definitive origin, the “unreliable narration” approach keeps things ambiguous. This version of the Joker is Arthur Fleck. Despite not existing in the comics, it’s still weird that they’d call him Arthur when Aquaman already has that name. Joaquin Phoenix has the long hair of Heath Ledger, but his portrayal is totally different. Phoenix became practically anorexic after losing a ton of weight for the role. He’s also a chainsmoker, but the biggest distinction is his trademark Joker laugh being a neurological condition. Arthur’s uncontrollable laughter is so distinct that it’s impossible not to play along. You can tell how much Arthur is suffering thanks to Phoenix’s stellar performance. Parallels to Taxi Driver can be seen in a 1981 Gotham City that’s rat infested with piles of garbage creating tension between its citizens. Swearing only occurs when necessary, but they don’t hold back on uncomfortable violence.

Arthur is a party clown with dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian. Forcing himself to smile is disturbing, but it’s hard not to understand how difficult his life is when kids beat him with his own sign. Arthur has a therapist who doesn’t listen, co-workers who don’t respect him, and a mother who tells him to put on a happy face. Although I wasn’t completely sure how much of the Batman story would be involved, this was the first movie to give Thomas Wayne significant attention. I’m just glad Brett Cullen played him instead of Alec Baldwin. Thomas Wayne is a more controversial figure running for Mayor of Gotham. Frances Conroy plays Arthur’s mother Penny Fleck as an equally mentally ill woman trying to reach out to Wayne. Arthur is like Travis Bickle for his descent into madness and surge of power when a fellow party clown gives him a gun.

When the gun gets him fired, Arthur uses it to murder three drunken Wayne Enterprises businessmen who harass him on a subway train. Another moment that’s difficult not to understand his side of. Arthur comes one step closer to becoming Joker while dancing to the music in his head. Zazie Beetz has her second comic book role after Deadpool 2 as single mother Sophie Dumond. Her cynical attitude gains Arthur’s attention and he somehow starts a relationship with her after the subway murders give him confidence. Parallels to The King of Comedy are unmistakable since Arthur is obsessed with a talk show host named Murray Franklin. Martin Scorsese may have dropped out as producer, but getting Robert De Niro to play the host is perfect full circle casting. Similar to Rupert Pupkin, Arthur has delusions of Murray embracing him like a son.

Arthur’s failed stand-up routine only stands out for his uncontrollable laughter. Nudity is only seen in his journal/joke book. His hopes are crushed when Murry makes fun of his stand-up routine on his show. Although he feels like a success, Arthur’s life takes a downward spiral when it’s implied Thomas Wayne might be his father. A disturbing scene of Arthur at Wayne Manor is when we see a young Bruce Wayne. Dante Pereira-Olson doesn’t have much to say, but Arthur trying to entertain his future archenemy is unforgettable. Douglas Hodge is a similarly flawed Alfred who tells Arthur that his mother was delusional. Things get worse when his mother suffers a stroke and the police show up with questions about the recent clown related murders.

A murder that sparks a movement of sympathizers who target the rich Thomas Wayne for his comments about the less fortunate. Arthur’s supporters dressed as clowns are disturbingly close to reality. Arthur confronts his potential father, but Thomas doubles down on Penny being delusional and punches him in the face for touching Bruce. He seeks answers at the future Arkham Asylum, but his answers are far worse than he thought. SPOILER ALERT! Arthur was actually adopted, abused by his mother at a young age, and developed a mental illness over time. Fleck is so far gone that the entire relationship he had with Sophie was all in his head. Her ultimate fate is best left ambiguous. His mother’s fate isn’t ambiguous when Arthur coldly realizes his life is a comedy while smothering her to death. Things start to turn around when Arthur is invited onto The Murray Franklin Show.

Apart from his traditional party clown attire, Arthur truly becomes Joker when his old clown buddies drop by. The guy who ratted him out is brutally murdered with a pair of scissors, but the little person who was nice to him is spared. It’s easily the most bloody act in the movie followed by pitch black comedy when he can’t reach the lock. Arthur Fleck Joker is different from any other version of the clown. He’s got the long green hair and white makeup, but he looks more clownlike with a red nose, smile, and blue diamond eyes. Some people might call his suit purple, but I think it’s more of a maroon color. His look is as instantly iconic as Joker’s improvised dance on stairs from the Bronx, New York. It was a far bigger takeaway than what people assumed would happen after the movie’s release. The police catch up to Joker and begin a pursuit in the midst of clown protests. Joker takes advantage of it by inciting a riot that gets the officers attacked.

Although far from a traditional climax, Joker on a talk show is a comic accurate reworking of a moment from The Dark Knight Returns. Arthur requests Murray refer to him as Joker before entering the show with another little dance. The building tension of the scene is masterful as Joker tries to win over the crowd and Murray continues to make fun of him. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen when he admits to killing people. Despite the warning signs, Murray doesn’t stop the show. He engages Joker in an intense discussion about society until he’s suddenly shot. The death of Murray Franklin happens live and incites an even worse riot. Batman begins with an R rated depiction of Thomas & Martha Wayne being murder in front of Bruce by Joe Chill in a clown mask. Joker is also born while wearing a bloody smile in front of an adoring crowd of anarchists.

The movie ends on another ambiguous note of Arthur in a mental hospital laughing to himself. Joker was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. I was fine with the nominations since it won the most deserving awards. Hildur Guðnadóttir won Best Original Score for her haunting cello music. Joaquin Phoenix finally won Best Actor after being nominated for Gladiator, Walk the Line, and The Master. Since Heath Ledger also won an Oscar for playing the Joker, that made them the second pair of actors to win for playing the same character. Ironically, after Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro each won for Vito Corleone. All the pushback was meaningless when Joker became the first R rated movie to gross a billion dollars. Joker is like a joke that only so many people will understand.

16. Joker

Joker dances on stairs

The World’s Mightiest Mortal

Shazam! is my favorite Captain Marvel movie. Aquaman was already an improvement in terms of a post-Justice League solo outing, but I honestly didn’t know how to feel about a Shazam! movie. Since it’s fully steeped in the DC Extended Universe without really being connected to anything. Which is ironic considering the character’s complicated history. Unlike his fellow costumed crime-fighters, Captain Marvel wasn’t originally created by DC comics. Bill Parker & C. C. Beck created Captain Marvel for the now defunct Fawcett comics. He debuted in the 1940 Wiz Comics #2, which featured the very familiar image of a superhero attacking a car. Unlike Superman, Billy Batson is a child who becomes the adult Captain Marvel by saying the magic word “Shazam!” I didn’t know too much about Captain Marvel growing up, but I always thought his powers were cool.

Captain Marvel’s adventures were so fun, colorful, and cartoony that he even started to outsell the Man of Steel himself. Since they saw the dark haired, cape wearing, super strong, flying superhero as competition, DC sued Fawcett for copyright infringement. Captain Marvel fell out of circulation until he was picked up by DC themselves in the 1973 Shazam! #1. The reason for the name change was all the comic companies trying to create their own Captain Marvel in the 60’s. There was Marvelman, M. F. Enterprises’ Captain Marvel, and of course Captain Mar-Vell. When the name ended up in Marvel’s hands, DC couldn’t use the name promotionally. It’s a messy situation, but Shazam somehow endured throughout the decades. Appearing in live-action and animation before a movie made by New Line Cinema was considered in the early 2000’s. Although Warner Bros. originally wanted a darker tone, Shazam! rightfully became the most enjoyably lighthearted film in the DCEU…

13. Shazam!

Freddy feels Shazam’s symbol

Shazam! works because it’s basically Big with superpowers. The thought of a kid becoming an adult superhero is pure wish fulfilment that’s perfect for comedy. Unlike most DC characters, Captain Marvel never strayed too far from his original tone. Although his age varies, Billy Batson is usually a homeless 12 year old radio correspondent given immense power by the elderly wizard Shazam. Saying the name “Shazam!,” gives Billy the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. Captain Marvel comics had cartoony visuals and emphasised the idea of a Marvel Family that shared his magical power. Shazam! comics may have lost some of their magic, but it’s enough just to see the World’s Mightiest Mortal standing alongside Superman.

Even though Captain Marvel is technically the first superhero adapted for a live-action film serial, his 70’s Shazam! TV series isn’t as well known. He made several cartoon appearances, but the closest thing to a starring role was in the 25 minute short Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam. Captain Marvel has always been in the Man of Steel’s shadow. So I was nervous to learn about a Shazam! movie when the DCEU couldn’t even get Superman right. Warner Bros. continued to cast unlikely actors when former MCU actor Zachary Levi was announced as Shazam. Being recast as Fandral made sense for Levi since he was already similar to Flynn Ryder, but Shazam literally has the same muscular physique as Superman. Regardless of physical appearance, Levi has a childlike sense of humor that works well for a literal child superhero. The movie didn’t seem real to me until an extended teaser trailer was released at Comic-Con alongside Aquaman.

Very unlikely horror director David F. Sandberg was hired since James Wan worked so well beforehand. Now there are 2 DC movies in a row with an out of nowhere Annabelle cameo. I think they fast-tracked Shazam! just so it would be released within a month of Captain Marvel. The latter may have the larger box-office numbers, but the former was way more critically acclaimed with a surprisingly high 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Shazam! is far from perfect, but it’s way more fun than Captain Marvel. I just wasn’t so sure in the first 36 minutes of the 2 hour & 12 minute movie. For some reason they spend 8 minutes setting up the villain before an additional 28 minutes spent exclusively on Billy Batson. I understand establishing characters, but Shazam! doesn’t really turn on until after Billy says the titular magic word. Similar to Batman Returns, Shazam! takes place during Christmas for unexplained reasons. It’s either the strong family values or the fact that the hero has a red & white costume.

Captain Marvel has an equally colorful rogues gallery dubbed the Monster Society of Evil, crucial for being the first supervillain team consisting of existing antagonists. Although everything was pointing to his archenemy Black Adam, DC made the bizarre decision to delay his debut appearance for a solo film. Despite already casting Dwayne Johnson like a million years ago. Shazam! instead makes his human archenemy Doctor Thaddeus Sivana the main villain. The very reliable comic book character actor Mark Strong made this his second famous DC antagonist after playing Sinestro in Green Lantern. Now the Superman similarities are unmistakable since Shazam is fighting a bald industrialist with daddy issues. It doesn’t help that former Lionel Luthor actor John Glover is playing Sivana’s abusive father. A child Sivana in 1974 is first seen with his father and equally abusive older brother driving on a snowy road set to “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

Another problem I have is with some of the dialogue and/or performances feeling overly exaggerated. Bully characters feel especially over-the-top. When his brother messes with his Magic 8 ball, Thaddeus is magically transported to the comic accurate Rock of Eternity. He sees a very important hungry caterpillar and monstrous statues of the Seven Deadly Sins. He’s greeted by the welcoming wizard Shazam. Unlike the comics, Shazam is black and wears red robes with a lightning bolt symbol on it. Apart from unnecessary use of the word “sh*thole,” it can’t be a coincidence that Djimon Hounsou appears in both Captain Marvel and Shazam! At least Shazam actually stands out when he tests whether or not the child is pure of heart. When the Sins tempt Thaddeus with the powerful Eye of Sin, Shazam inadvertently leads Sivana down a path of evil. Resulting in a slow car crash that cripples his father and gives him the lifelong mission to find the Rock again.

Even more time is spent on a grown up Sivana using his wealth to track other individuals that the wizard reaches out to. A scientist disintegrating when she touches a door covered in magic symbols is when Sandberg’s horror roots kick in. Apart from the demonic look of the Seven Deadly Sins, adult situations, and unusually frequent swearing, Shazam! could very easily pass for PG. Sivana confronts the weakened wizard while stealing the Eye for himself. The Sins join with him to make Sivana way more powerful than he ever was in the original comics. Although they’re a major threat, the Sins are no different than other generic CGI villains in the DCEU. Their voices are pretty standard and their mouths don’t even move. Doctor Sivana uses his power to murder his brother, father, and their business associates in a puff of smoke. Shazam nearly loses hope until the true champion appears before him in the form of 14 year old runaway Billy Batson.

Asher Angel won me over the moment he utters Billy’s old fashioned comic book catchphrase “Holy Moley.” Although he’s mostly seen in winter clothes, Billy retains a red hoodie. Unlike the comics, Shazam! takes place in Philadelphia instead of the fictional Fawcett City. Angel’s Billy is a lot closer to the New 52 version since they emphasis him being a foster kid. In some ways, Billy feels more mature than his adult counterpart, because Batson makes it his mission to find the mother he lost 10 years ago at a carnival. The 8 year old Billy wanting a tiger is one of many references to Mr. Tawky Tawny. An anthropomorphic tiger companion of Captain Marvel in the 40’s. The only thing Billy has left of his mom is a toy compass. When using a police scanner doesn’t work, a social worker sends Billy to a new foster home. The actress playing the social worker is apparently the same character who appears in Sandberg’s previous film Lights Out.

If you’re still comparing the DCEU to the MCU, then Shazam! has the most in common with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Both follow a youthful superhero in red, have an ethnically diverse cast, explore what it’s like living in a world full of superheroes, and lean more into comedy. Billy’s foster parents are the extremely friendly Victor & Rosa Vásquez. With the exception of Freddy or Mary, the ethnically diverse Darla, Eugene, and Pedro were all introduced in the New 52. They’re each a modernized version of the Lieutenant Marvels. Faithe Herman plays Darla Dudley, the youngest black foster child who’s very talkative, affectionate, and an adorable scene stealer. Ian Chen plays Eugene Choi, the second youngest Asian foster child who plays a lot of video games and is a hacker. Jovan Armand plays Pedro Peña, the second oldest Hispanic foster child who’s shy, overweight, and possibly gay.

None of them have nearly as much history as Captain Marvel Jr. or Mary Marvel. I was most excited about seeing them in the movie. Grace Fulton plays Mary Bromfield, the oldest teenage foster child who loves her family and is on her way to college. This is Fulton’s second Sandberg directed film since Annabelle: Creation. In the comics, Mary is the long lost sister of Billy who becomes Mary Marvel when she’s given part of his power. Mary is actually the first female version of an established superhero who predates Supergirl herself. But no one is more well known than Captain Marvel Jr. Elvis Presley himself modeled his whole look after the junior superhero’s haircut and cape. Jack Dylan Grazer plays Freddy Freeman, a disabled foster kid who’s the same age as Billy. Just like his role in It, Grazer is a motormouth scene stealer who’s easily the second best thing about the movie. His quips are hilarious and his obsession with superheroes keeps the DCEU relevant.

Freddy wears a Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman shirt throughout, has an authentic Batarang, and a bullet that was actually shot at Superman. Although Freddy tries to befriend his new foster brother with his superhero knowledge, Billy would rather not have a pretend family. All the kids attend Fawcett Central School where aggressive one-dimensional bullies pick on Freddy and the rest of his family. Billy proves he’s pure of heart by defending them. Just like the comics, Billy is transported to the Rock of Eternity on a subway train. Shazam tells the young Mr. Batson the importance of becoming Earth’s champion. Black Adam is only briefly mentioned as an ancient former champion corrupted by the power Billy reluctantly accepts by finally saying the word “Shazam!” As Billy is transformed from a single bolt of lightning, the humble wizard crumbles before him.

Although Zachary Levi has possibly padded muscles, his costume is absurdly accurate to the comics. It’s a very primary shade of red with solid gold trim, a short white cape, hood, and lightning bolt symbol. He’s a classic superhero for the modern world. Levi wears the Shazam costume throughout the entire movie since he has no other choice. Just like Big, Billy goes from confused to enthusiastic when Freddy realizes who he is. Together they try to figure out Shazam’s superpowers and take advantage of his adult form. The wisdom of Solomon isn’t used too often since Billy is pretty immature. He discovers the power of Zeus by summoning bolts of lightning. The speed of Mercury shows up when he tries to stop a mugger. Freddy & Billy become heroes for hire when a woman gives them money. While humorously trying to buy beer at a convenience store, the stamina of Atlas gives Shazam bullet immunity. Darla discovers Billy’s secret when they return home, but continually cut class in order to test out the rest of his powers.

Since they couldn’t use the Captain Marvel name, several superhero names are used as a running gag. Yet they never use the obvious Captain Thunder or even his replacement name Shazam. Not that the name change ever made much sense. It’s kind of refreshing seeing a superhero simply goof off and have fun. Especially when it’s set to “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. I could do without the flossing, but everything else Shazam does for Freddy’s YouTube channel is hilarious. He charges people’s phones, tries to leap tall buildings in a single bound, enters a strip club, and they even go house hunting for a secret lair. The only power he can’t seem to master is flight. None of it is entirely heroic, so Billy starts to push Freddy away by going off on his own. Even after Freddy promised Shazam would join him for lunch. Shazam shares a moment with Mary after saving her life. She unknowingly helps put his selfish view of having a foster family in perspective.

Freddy & Billy come to blows at the dinner table and when Shazam shows off to a group of paying fans. The strength of Hercules truly comes out when Billy accidentally strikes a bus with his lightning. He catches the vehicle and earns more admiration from the city despite causing the problem. Doctor Sivana seems to appear out of nowhere when he confronts Shazam’s champion in order to steal his power. Billy expectedly fights like a child at first, but he mostly tries to run away when Sivana retaliates. He drops the hero out of the sky, only for Shazam to finally believe he can fly. They end up in a mall where a particularly pathetic mall Santa reminds you this is a Christmas movie. Shazam throws Batman toys at Sivana and even gives a shout out to Big by running on a keyboard. He reverts back to Billy when backed against a corner, but Sivana discovers his identity anyway when Freddy goes looking for him.

Billy gives up the hero life at the same moment Mary, Eugene, and Pedro discover his secret identity. Eugene tracks down Billy’s birth mother Marilyn Batson, but she’s not exactly what he expected. SPOILER ALERT! She’s kind of a terrible person who abandoned Billy and doesn’t want him in her life. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but it’s enough for Billy to realize who his real family is. When Sivana threatens them, Billy shows the courage of Achilles in a heroic shot of him leaping off the roof while shouting “Shazam!” Sivana wants Shazam to take him to the Rock of Eternity where he can use the wizard’s staff to gain his power. His family helps by throwing the Batarang at his head. Billy gains a major advantage when he realizes Sivana is weakened when the Sins are let loose.

While attempting to leave the Rock, the kids encounter scary doors. Including one filled with comic accurate crocodile-men. Billy transports them out while thinking of the strip club and they run off to the carnival. It slowly became a common climax location, but the extended fight makes up for the film’s sporadic action. Billy embraces his role as Shazam when Sivana comes looking for him. His family divides the Sins, but they prove difficult to attack when Billy is nearly drowned. When he transforms back, Sivana makes one final attempt to gain his power. Until Shazam remembers what the wizard said about sharing his power with his brothers and sisters. I had a feeling, but I honestly wasn’t expecting the Marvel Family to appear so soon. They say “Shazam!” in unison and each transform into adult superheroes. Age varies depending on how old their younger self is.

Adam Brody fulfills his lifelong dream by playing the superhero Freddy capable of flight. Although I am bummed that he has the blue Captain Marvel Jr. costume, but not the red cape. Michelle Borth doesn’t get much attention as the superhero Mary, but her red Mary Marvel costume is flawless. Ross Butler mostly uses lightning blasts Mortal Kombat style as the grey costume wearing superhero Eugene. D. J. Cotrona puts his massive muscles to use as the green costume wearing superhero Pedro, but it’s Meagan Good as the purple costume wearing superhero Darla who gets the most attention. She remains youthful and zips by with her superspeed. Meanwhile, Shazam takes to the skies to fight Sivana in a less devastating way than Man of Steel. Although throwing in a jab at Batman v Superman sends a mixed message. Since his family is busy fighting Gluttony, Sloth, Greed, Pride, Lust, and Wraith, Shazam lures out Envy. Billy strikes the creature and apprehends the vulnerable Doctor Sivana.

All Sins are trapped in the Eye as the city hails the new team of superheroes. The Shazam Family establish their lair in the Rock of Eternity and Billy embraces his foster family. As a final loose end, Freddy’s family join him for lunch as Shazam keeps his promise. More unexpected is Superman making an appearance from the neck down (since Henry Cavill was apparently unavailable). Another Homecoming similarity is a fun sketchy credits sequence set to “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” by the Ramones. It’s the closest thing to having Shazam interact with the Justice League. The mid-credits scene ties into a potential sequel by having a crazy imprisoned Sivana meet Mister Mind. He’s the super-intelligent caterpillar villain of Captain Marvel that casual audiences will definitely be thrown off by. The post-credits scene is just Shazam joking about Aquaman’s ability to talk to fish. Shazam! is proof that an old fashioned hero can work if enough people care about the source material. “Shazam!”

14. Shazam!

Shazam and his family

Followed by: Black Adam & Shazam! Fury of the Gods

King of Atlantis

Aquaman brought the King of the Seven Seas to life. DC somehow managed to turn a swimming punchline into an absolute badass with an equally awesome film. I honestly never thought I’d be so entertained by an Aquaman movie. Let alone one that exists in the DC Extended Universe. After the lukewarm response to Justice League, it was a little over a year before the next DCEU flick came out. Warner Bros. once again couldn’t get their shared universe right. So Aquaman made his unceremonious debut in Dawn of Justice and Justice League before we really got to know who he is. Aquaman is the greatest underwater superhero of all time. At least until Marvel finally figures out how to make a Namor the Sub-Mariner movie. Fun fact: Aquaman is a rare DC rip-off character who made his comic debut 2 years after Namor.

Created by Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris, Aquaman’s first appearance was as a featured superhero in the 1941 More Fun Comics #73. I’ve always been intrigued by Aquaman, but I understand how fun it was to make fun of his fishy superpowers. Shows like Super Friends didn’t help his reputation. So DC always made an effort to give the King of Atlantis more dignity. The only media exposure he got was in animation, frequent appearances on Smallville, and an unaired WB pilot. Although he nearly appeared in Justice League: Mortal, an Aquaman movie surprisingly became a priority when the DCEU launched. More unexpected is horror director James Wan wanting to bring Atlantis to the big screen. It’s not perfect, but Aquaman is a spectacle unlike anything I’ve ever seen before…

11. Aquaman

Aquaman becomes worthy

Aquaman has more CGI than any other DC comics adaptation. Green Lantern notwithstanding. Which is why Aquaman always worked much better in animation. Although he hasn’t had the spotlight nearly as many times as you’d think. Aquaman wasn’t even a core member of the Justice League in the animated series. Despite being a founding member, the Protector of the Deep wasn’t always part of the team. The Golden Age placed Aquaman in the war effort, while the Silver Age gave him more lighthearted aquatic adventures with his kid sidekick Aqualad. I guess it was Aquaman’s ability to talk to fish, the sight of him swimming with dolphins, and the apparent uselessness of his powers on dry land that turned him into a joke. Which is why the 90’s gave Aquaman an edgy redesign. Ditching his silly orange & green costume for a shirtless look complete with long hair, a beard, and harpoon hand. This brooding version of the King of Atlantis was the primary inspiration for Jason Momoa.

As I said in my Justice League review, Momoa is no blonde adonis like the traditional Arthur Curry. Even the slightly more serious New 52 comics maintained his original design. In terms of live-action, Alan Ritchson had the right look for a young A.C. on Smallville. Even Justin Hartley looked the part in the failed Aquaman pilot before ironically playing Green Arrow later on. Santiago Cabrera was a less traditional choice for Justice League: Mortal, but not nearly as non-traditional as Momoa. Since I only viewed him as a burly bruiser, I remained skeptical until his first full appearance. Despite his less than accurate gold & green Atlantean armor, I was mostly on board with his portrayal. Aquaman really gave Jason Momoa time to shine in an appropriately colorful lighthearted globetrotting epic. He’s both charismatic and looks like he’s having a blast.

Momoa was practically born to play Aquaman. Although he isn’t fully white like the comics, he is part-Hawaiian. Water practically followed his entire career from Baywatch Hawaii to Stargate: Atlantis. Ironically, a younger Momoa with blonde hair would’ve been the perfect comic accurate Aquaman. His Morai tattoos, trademark facial scar, and muscles just gave him a tougher appearance. Along with his beard and long hair given blonde highlights. Women went crazy for his exotic look. That, along with seeing an underwater world on the big screen ensured Aquaman would become the unexpected highest grossing DC movie of all time. Apart from Wonder Woman, it was finally a DCEU film I fully enjoyed watching in theaters. Water is easy for animated films like The Little Mermaid or Finding Nemo, but it’s practically impossible for live-action. Not even James Cameron could make an Aquaman movie work until the special effects caught up with the project. It’s part of the reason why James Wan wanted to direct.

Completely different from Zack Snyder’s lackluster portrayal of Atlantis, Wan utilized a process called dry-for-wet. Where an actor or actress is dry, but visual effects create an underwater look. Blue screen rigs were used to simulate swimming. While hair, capes, and other free flowing objects are 100% CGI. Thankfully they ditch the stupid speech bubble thing in favor of actually having Atlanteans talk underwater. Even political discussions are instantly more entertaining when shot underwater. Sure it looks like a glossy cartoon at times, but how else would they have achieved it? My only problem with Aquaman is its 2 hour & 22 minute runtime. It’s as epic as Lord of the Rings, but it does feel like they crammed every aspect of Aquaman into one movie. Aquaman is similar to Man of Steel in terms of showing his origin through flashbacks. The movie literally begins before Arthur Curry is even born. Then we follow him as a baby, toddler, child, preteen, teenager, and adult. I have to admire Warner Bros. for somehow managing to find that many kids who look like Momoa.

Like most versions of the comics, Arthur’s father is a lighthouse keeper and his mother is the Queen of Atlantis. The first 9 minutes are dedicated to how Tom Curry & Queen Atlanna met and fell in love. Temuera Morrison is the perfect Maori father for Arthur since he’s already a fixture of pop culture and previously played Abin Sur in Green Lantern. There’s actually a lot of former superhero actors in the movie. Including Nicole Kidman who previously played Chase Meridian 23 years ago in Batman Forever. Ironically, Kidman was born in Hawaii just like her on-screen son. DC takes a page out of Marvel’s book by digitally de-aging both actors. Kidman was easy since she’s aged like fine wine, but Morrison ended up looking kind of rough. After having a son born from both worlds, Atlanna is tracked down by the Atlanteans. In the first of many action scenes started by a sudden explosion, Atlanna defends her new home with the five pronged quindent seen in Justice League. Tracking shots are at least one primary difference from Snyder’s style, but there’s still a lot of slow motion throughout.

Atlanna returns to the arranged marriage she was fleeing in order to protect her family. Years later, a child Arthur defends himself from bullies at an aquarium by telepathically communicating to all the fish in the tank. I know that superpower gets some flak, but it’s actually a lot cooler than it seems. It gives his golden eyes a bit more context. Arthur isn’t completely forgotten. Atlanna has her advisor Nuidis Vulko train the future king in his youth. Since Willem Dafoe was left out of the theatrical cut of Justice League, Aquaman is technically his first appearance. His digital de-aging doesn’t look good at all. Vulko answers questions I never even considered about Atlantis. More than simply breathing underwater, Atlanteans are dense enough to endure extreme pressure, survive cold temperatures, and see in the darkest depths of the ocean. Though Arthur grows resentful when he learns that his mother was killed for simply having him.

Which is why Arthur was a heavy drinker who wanted to be left alone in Justice League. Apart from a throwaway Steppenwolf reference, there’s barely any connection between movies. An obligatorily shirtless Aquaman displays his immense underwater strength by lifting a Russian submarine out of the water. The vessel is being hijacked by very important mercenary pirates. Aquaman has a mostly recognizable rogues gallery with at least 2 major standouts. His archenemy Black Manta and his personal foe Ocean Master. The lesser known Yahya Abdul-Mateen II brings a subtle menace to technologically proficient pirate David Kane. Though Black Manta debuted in 1967, he didn’t unmask until 1977. I was very excited to see Black Manta in a movie, since he’s one of the earliest African American supervillains.

Kane gains a small amount of sympathy thanks to his father played by Michael Beach, giving him a manta knife belonging to his frogman grandfather. Arthur makes short work of his pirates, but gains an archenemy when he refuses to save Kane’s father. Turns out Kane was hired by King Orm Marius to stage an attack. Patrick Wilson is ironically, just as much a frequent Zack Snyder collaborator as he is a James Wan collaborator. Wilson previously played Nite Owl II in Watchman, but also stars in the Conjuring and Insidious franchises. Although comic origins vary, Ocean Master has always been the power hungry half brother of Arthur with the traditional goal of wanting to wage war on surface dwellers for polluting the ocean. It’s a standard villainous motivation, but Wilson sells it. Aquaman is similar to Thor for focusing on a sibling rivalry. Orm gathers all the armies of the Seven Seas in order to obtain the title of Ocean Master.

Vulko is Atlantis’ vizier present when Orm forms an alliance with King Nereus of Xebel. It’s not exactly the return to the big screen I expected from Dolph Lundgren, but he did have a recurring role on Arrow. So Nite Owl II, Green Goblin, and the Punisher discuss Atlantean politics before Kane’s staged attack. When Nereus sides with Orm, he systematically unites the remaining Kingdoms under his command. Including the mermaid-like Fisherman Kingdom. King Ricou is voiced by a very busy Djimon Hounsou. Meanwhile on the surface, Arthur shares a drink with his loving father. Tom is proud of his son for becoming what social media has dubbed Aquaman. Although people love him, Arthur continues to swim away from his destiny. He’s greeted by a much more colorful Mera ripped straight out of the comics. In spite of her current reputation, Amber Heard looks good in Mera’s green cleavage-bearing swimsuit while sporting bright red hair. Her “accent” is completely missing, but I barely noticed the first time.

Since Mera is Aquaman’s true love who married him in the very first superhero wedding, it only made sense to make her the co-lead. She shows off her unique hydrokinesis powers when Orm unleashes a devastating tsunami on the surface. Although betrothed to Orm by her father King Nereus, Mera risks treason to ensure Arthur becomes the rightful king. Atlantis is a lot more like the New 52 in how it portrays the underwater Kingdom as a cross between science and magic. They take Mera’s minisub to an impenetrable Atlantis protected on all fronts by cannons. The movie does utilize an air pocket, but only when Arthur, Mera, and Vulko need a shipwrecked boat to privately talk in. Though Atlanteans look down on Arthur as a “half-breed,” he need only obtain the lost Trident of Atlan to become ruler. Vulko tells the legend of how Atlantis fell into the ocean and adapted to life underwater. It’s a complicated quest with a lot of convenience, but Arthur & Mera basically need to travel to the fallen Kingdom of the Deserters with a cylindrical message.

Another interesting Atlantean distinction are the high-born who can breath on dry land and lower Atlanteans who only breath water. Ludi Lin plays Orm’s lead footsoldier that requires high-tech armor to breath. They attack Arthur armed with his mother’s trident and imprison him in Orm’s palace. He challenges his brother to a duel in the Ring of Fire. I’m still somehow able to take everything seriously despite Orm wearing shiny gold armor, Mera wearing a jellyfish wedding dress, and the comic accurate octopus Topo playing the drums. Arthur & Orm don Atlantean armor in an intense underwater clash of the tridents. Aquaman is also similar to Black Panther for having a battle in a hidden Kingdom that determines the ruler. Mera intervenes when Arthur is nearly killed and fully commits treason by escaping in her minisub. Turns out Aquaman’s ability to talk to fish is a lot more rare than he realizes. Most Atlanteans view sea creatures as either food or dumb animals. Sharks and giant seahorses are ridden in battle.

Arthur & Mera hide in a whale à la Pinocchio and travel to the unlikely location of the Sahara desert. Atlanteans are so dense that they can jump from a plane without a parachute. Most of the humor comes from Arthur & Mera’s opposites attract dynamic. Arthur is occasionally made to look slow-witted, but he’s actually very knowledgeable about history. They manage to find the Deserters Kingdom under the sand where they unite their cylinder with the ancient forge. Mera waterbends the sweat from Arthur in order to activate a secret message from King Atlan himself. They follow a cryptic riddle to Sicily, Italy. Along the way, Arthur manages to fall in love with Mera. A bottle is meant to lead them to their next destination when placed in a king’s hand. When they find the way, David Kane returns seeking revenge as Black Manta. He’s able to build a surprisingly comic accurate battlesuit using Atlantean technology given to him by Orm’s men. He spray paints the armor black, equips it with rocket boosters, and constructs a giant bug-eyed helmet using the red plasma energy from a prototype Atlantean gun.

Arthur & Black Manta’s rematch is a lot more evenly matched with the former taking many hits. Mera is hunted as well, but she manages to kill the remaining Atlantean soldiers using wine. Black Manta is temporarily taken out when his optic blast backfires on him. Mera heals Arthur on a boat and they come to an understanding about their seperate worlds. James Wan’s horror roots literally resurface when they’re ambushed by the vicious creatures from the Trench. They’re a memorable obstacle to face, but please don’t make a spin-off about them. Arthur & Mera fend off the creatures when they discover they’re afraid of the light. They swim through a whole horde of Trench before ending up rescued on an uncharted island populated by dinosaurs. It’s at this point that I officially knew Aquaman was overstuffed. More unexpected is its many similarities to Ant-Man and the Wasp. SPOILER ALERT! Apart from Randall Park playing Atlantis obsessed scientist Dr. Stephen Shin, both movies feature a grey haired former Batman love interest, covered in warrior gear, playing a lost mother revealed to be alive all along. Queen Atlanna has a heartfelt reunion with her son and leads him to the lost Trident guarded by the mythical leviathan Karathen.

Although Aquaman has many superhero connections, its strangest connection ended up being with Mary Poppins. Rather than cameo in Mary Poppins Returns, Julie Andrews choose to voice a leviathan in a competing superhero movie. Your guess is as good as mine. Arthur proves himself worthy by telepathically communicating with the leviathan. He claims the powerful Trident and finally wears Aquaman’s comic accurate orange scaled shirt, green pants, and gloves. Something he somehow manages to pull off in an epic hero shot. Orm similarly pulls off his goofy comic accurate purple cape and silver mask when he claims the title of Ocean Master. His final Kingdom to conquer is the delicious battle-ready Brine. Their crab king is given more dignity with the voice of John Rhys-Davies. The climax is a large-scale underwater war between all Kingdoms. Aquaman makes a grand entrance on the leviathan, commanding the Seven Seas with his Trident. A whole legion of fish come to Arthur’s aid and draw out Orm’s armies. Mera suggests fighting Orm on the surface and they kiss for good measure.

Aquaman riding a seahorse is practically a nerdy dream come true. King Nereus accepts Arthur’s rule and the rest of the Atlanteans bare witness to the final conflict between brothers. Aquaman vs. Ocean Master is an epic slow motion fight where the hero perfects his Trident skills. Arthur shows his brother mercy, but Orm begs for death until their mother returns. Atlanna offers her misguided son a chance to better himself. He’s arrested, but there’s still possibility for redemption. In the end, Mera dubs her hero King Arthur of Atlantis. Tom & Atlanna have a heartfelt reunion of their own and Arthur embraces his destiny as Aquaman. “Everything I Need” by Skylar Grey closes the story in an underwater credits sequence. A mid-credits scene reveals Black Manta somehow alive after his battle with Aquaman. Dr. Shen takes him in while tinkering with his Atlantean armor. Kane swears revenge by teasing the sequel. I’m not sure why I never expected much from an Aquaman movie. I was thoroughly entertained by its grand scale, legendary approach, and watery world of wonder. Aquaman swims further than most DCEU movies.

12. Aquaman

Arthur Curry joins Mera

Preceded by: Justice League & Followed by: Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Journey to the Bermuda Triangle

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is less than Olympian. At least Percy Jackson managed to make it to two films, rather than become a one and done failed franchise. I enjoyed The Lightning Thief well enough, but it felt like it was in the shadow of a certain boy wizard. Unlike Harry Potter, I don’t think Fox had a plan in place. Rick Riordan’s first book was already altered, so they couldn’t ignore the changes that were made. There does seem to be some effort to capture the book, but the title is shortened by 4 letters and the runtime is only 1 hour & 47 minutes. Despite focusing on Greek Mythology, they hired Thor Freudenthal to direct. The cast returns with the exception of a majority of the gods. It feels sort of rushed and less than epic. The centaur Chiron is replaced by Giles himself Anthony Stewart Head and the bigger named Stanley Tucci plays Dionysus.

Percy Jackson’s only real problem is not being the center of attention. It doesn’t help that Poseidon doesn’t even talk to him anymore. Logan Lerman has matured a bit otherwise. His Camp Half-Blood rival is Clarisse, daughter of Ares played by Hunger Games alumi Leven Rambin. Alexandra Daddario is softened a bit and now has blonde hair to match Annabeth from the book better. Hard to believe she played the character the same year she did Texas Chainsaw 3D. Brandon T. Jackson is the same satyr he was before, but Grover disappears when the quest gets going. He’s replaced by Percy’s out of nowhere Cyclops half-brother Tyson played by Douglas Smith. Their quest is to save the Camp when a tree, that was once the daughter of Zeus, is poisoned. If The Lightning Thief was similar to Clash of the Titans, then Sea of Monsters is more like Jason and the Argonauts meets Homer’s Odyssey.

They search for the all-healing Golden Fleece at the Bermuda Triangle. Along the way encountering an Oracle with a less than important prophecy, screwball grey witches driving a magic taxi, and a mail delivering Hermes now played by Nathan Fillion. His demigod son Luke is still the villain who now plans to unleash Kronos on the world. When they get to the Sea of Monsters on a Hippocampus, they get swallowed by Charybdis. Tyson helps when they discover the Golden Fleece in the hands of the original Cyclops Polyphemus. They find him in an amusement park meant to represent Circe’s Island. In the end, the Kronos climax feels like an afterthought for a Titan of his magnitude. As does a last minute cliffhanger that’ll never be followed up on. Since The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian were all cancelled. Unlike The Chronicles of Narnia, I wasn’t invested enough to feel devastated. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters failed to support its ambition.

Percy Jackson Sea of Monsters

Percy Jackson & the Olympians with the Golden Fleece

Preceded by: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Children of Olympus

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is a fantasy franchise starter that gets things sort of right. Author Rick Riordan wrote the book series for his son with ADHD and dyslexia. When he started learning about Greek Mythology in school, Riordan created a hero steeped in the world. Although it sounds like something I would’ve enjoyed, I never knew about Percy Jackson until the movie came out. Even then I still didn’t embrace the series. Percy Jackson seemed a lot like a Greek Mythology version of Harry Potter right down to 20th Century Fox choosing Chris Columbus as the director. Only after the fact did I realize it was never supposed to be about teenagers or that most fans hate the changes. Percy Jackson & the Olympians follows the children of the gods in the modern world. The Lightning Thief refers to Zeus’ lightning bolt that all the gods think was stolen by the son of Poseidon. Like Riordan’s son, Percy Jackson has ADHD and dyslexia. Something he turns into a strength by having ADHD give him better reflexes and dyslexia allowing him to read Ancient Greek. Logan Lerman has the right young adult look, but I wasn’t too sure about his performance at first.

Percy spends a lot of time in water, but he’s never met his father since it’s forbidden. Instead he lives with his mortal mother and wicked stepfather played by Catherine Keener and Joe Pantoliano respectively. When a Fury attacks him on a field trip, Percy is suddenly thrust into the mythological world. He’s joined by his best friend Grover Underwood who turns out to be his satyr protector. Brandon T. Jackson has his moments, but he’s mostly just the comedic black friend. Similar to Hogwarts, Percy trains at a summer camp for demigods called Camp Half-Blood. Pierce Brosnan plays his teacher Chiron who turns out to be a centaur. Pretty much every mythical creature plays a part, including a minotaur who takes Percy’s mom to the Underworld. In order to get his mom back, Percy sets out on an adventure with Grover and the battle ready daughter of Athena, Annabeth Chase. Played by the lovely Alexandra Daddario. I think I only liked the movie in concept before the adventure started. The introduction to the camp and trio felt a little rushed, but the modern interpretation of every creature they face really grew on me.

Percy has everything he needs when Chiron gifts him a magical pen sword and Luke Castellan, son of Hermes (played by a charismatic Jake Abel) gifts him a magical shield. Along with his father’s flying wing shoes. Luke also gives the trio a quest that was never in the book. They travel cross country to find pearls that will allow them to leave the Underworld when they get there. Uma Thurman is unique as a modern shades wearing Medusa. Her head comes off even in a PG film. They also encounter a Hydra at the Parthenon, Lotus-Eaters at Vegas, and passage to the Underworld in Hollywood. Rosario Dawson is a seductive Persephone and Steve Coogan is a laid back Hades. Working just as well is an immortal Sean Bean as Zeus and Kevin McKidd as a caring Poseidon. Mt. Olympus is a grand location and all the gods are fittingly gigantic. When Percy encounters the true lightning thief at the top of the Empire State Building, they engage in a fight of mythical proportions. One that allows Percy to master water itself. When everything is wrapped up, Percy starts a new life at Camp Half-Blood. Although Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief feels like a Harry Potter clone, Greek Mythology gives it its own distinct voice that’s just as fun.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson creates a trident made of water

Followed by: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Whatcha Gonna Do When they Come for You?

Bad Boys for Life is the unceremonious highest grossing American film of 2020. They got incredibly lucky that the third film’s constant delays eventually ended up before movie theaters imploded. Although Michael Bay always talked about a Bad Boys 3, it took 17 years for anything to come of it. By that point, unknown Belgian directors Adil & Bilall ended up directing. Although I thought that was a bad sign, turns out the franchise can be a lot better without the usual Bayisms. Since Bad Boys for Life is easily the best in the series. Despite the distance between sequels, Will Smith maintained a steady film presence and barely aged a decade.

Martin Lawrence stuck to less than well-received comedies and is definitely bigger than he was before. Smith finally has top-billing, but this is still a buddy cop movie that feels like no time has past. Police Detectives Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey are just as funny as they were before. It’s not so distant from its over-the-top roots, but it’s way more sincere and surprisingly heartfelt. Mike’s violent past catches up with him when a Mexican former lover and her battle-ready son targets him for the arrest of her deceased husband. Meanwhile, Marcus finds religion after Mike faces a near-death experience.

Unlike the previous movies, the villains have much more importance. Older cast members like Joe Pantoliano or the actors who played Burnett’s family all return. Even Michael Bay makes a small cameo. Similar to Expendables 3, the aging Bad Boys are joined by a much younger division that includes Cato from The Hunger Games, Gabriella from High School Musical, and Reggie from Riverdale. Unlike the former, the new blood actually works. Lowrey even gets a tough new love interest to work with. Action is just as good with the right amount of guns, explosions, and car chases. Bad Boys for Life came out at just the right time.

Bad Boys for Life

Detective Sergeants Marcus Burnett (right) and Mike Lowrey (left) on the job

Preceded by: Bad Boys II

We Die Together

Bad Boys II is arguably the first bad Michael Bay movie. The Rock is a surprisingly solid action film for him, but he really goes over-the-top for the first time in this 2003 sequel. Making the original Bad Boys almost tame by comparison. In the 8 years between movies, Will Smith was an A-list action star with Oscar attention and Martin Lawrence was Big Momma. Yet Lawrence is still somehow credited above Smith. Police Detectives Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey are even more hilarious when their partnership becomes strained.

Their race didn’t come up much in the original, but now they’re infiltrating a Klan rally in a seriously over-the-top opening. Joe Pantoliano returns as their Captain to have them stop the illegal flow of ecstasy into Miami. They suspect the Russians, but Cubans and Haitians get involved as well. The action only gets crazier when dead bodies, trains, and Guantanamo Bay get involved. Mike & Marcus’ personal lives are given just as much attention. Though the scene involving Burnett’s daughter’s date is a little mean spirited.

While Marcus deals with an embarrassing personal problem, Mike is dating his sister Syd. Now Gabrielle Union is the hot woman, but she’s much more capable and even got her own TV series. Like most, if not all Bay movies that followed, Bad Boys II has wall to wall explosions, several sexy women throughout, crazy camera work, increasingly immature jokes, stereotypes, product placement, an excessively long 2 hour & 27 minute runtime, and the infamous line “Sh*t just got real.” Bad Boys II is just as entertaining regardless. Bad Boys, Bad Boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

Bad Boys II

Detective Sergeants Marcus Burnett (left) and Mike Lowrey (right) on the job

Preceded by: Bad Boys & Followed by: Bad Boys for Life

We Ride Together

Bad Boys is more influential than I realized. It’s the directorial debut of Michael Bay and the film that made Martin Lawrence & Will Smith major movie stars. You know it’s dated when Lawrence gets top billing over Smith. Both actors were popular in the 90’s for their respective TV shows Martin and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Lawrence showed off his comedy skills, while Smith proved himself as an action star. Along with Michael Bay making his signature style obvious from the beginning. It’s a stylized action movie with immature jokes, sexy women, and just the right amount of explosions. 

Bad Boys follows Miami cops Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey. Burnett is the married family man who does things by the book and Lowrey is the single womanizer with a death wish. Only Joe Pantoliano can make things more 90’s as their police Captain. The action kicks in when their narcotics division is in trouble of getting shut down unless they recover $100 million worth of mafia heroine. Téa Leoni ends up being the prototypical hot woman when she witnesses a crime. Julie is a little insufferable, but it does lead to the hilarious, if pointless decision to have Mike & Marcus switch places.

Bad Boys is almost a carbon copy of Lethal Weapon or other buddy cop movies, but Lawrence & Smith make it a guilty pleasure. Since most of their dialogue was improvised. My personal favorite being the “Tropical Fruit Bubblicious” line. It can get overly R rated at times, but it’s more subtle than later Bay films. In the end, Bad Boys is exactly the kind of dumb action blockbuster Michael Bay would excel at. Bad Boys, Bad Boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

Bad Boys

Detective Sergeants Marcus Burnett (left) and Mike Lowrey (right) on the job

Followed by: Bad Boys II