I did not take a ton of cosplay pictures today, but what I did get was of pretty impressive entertainment value. More on the show tomorrow; I’m beat.
Cosplay and broasted potatoes. More cons should feature food trucks with broasted potatoes. Also, the two panorama-style photos are from the cosplay contest, which … Jesus.
Cosplay! Getcha cosplay right here! Highlight of the day: selling not one but two books to Genderbent Freddy Krueger In Comfortable Ugg Boots. Second highlight is the mother-daughter Wonder Woman combination, because come on.
This is going to be a non-spoiler review (I’m only directly discussing stuff revealed in the trailers) because I did manage to see this early, even if it was only the night before general release. Honestly, the movie did catch me by surprise a couple of times and I feel like I want everyone going in to have the same chance at that that I had.
Also, continuing with the Facebook blustering: do not expect me to call the superhero “Shazam” at any point in this review. The movie is named Shazam! The wizard is named Shazam. The superhero is named Captain Marvel, and I don’t give a damn what DC or Warner Brothers’ legal departments have to say about that. If having two superheroes named Captain Marvel confuses you in a world where three superheroes are played by blond white men named Chris, I can’t help you.
I also have bad news for you about who the real “Captain Marvel” actually is.
So. Yeah. Go see it. Go see it go see it GO SEE IT GO SEE IT GO SEE IT RIGHT NOW. This is exactly– exactly— the movie that I wanted to see, and you should go see it right now.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, standard disclaimers; I get enthusiastic. But I’m having a really hard time right now imagining how a movie about this Captain Marvel could have been any better than this one was, and I’m starting to have some hope that at least some corners of the people involved in making movies for DC have a clue about what they’re doing. They’ve now produced two great movies (Wonder Woman and Shazam!) and one (Aquaman) that … well, wasn’t actually good really but was awfully enthusiastic and fun. Okay, the rest of them have all been some flavor of hot garbage, but … progress, right?
Here’s the thing: You can’t do grimdark Captain Marvel. You just can’t. It doesn’t work unless, like in Kingdom Come, the point is that absolutely everything has been corrupted and fucked up. Captain Marvel’s childlike innocence and faith are at the core of the character, and while they’ve wisely made Billy Batson a bit older than usual for this movie they still get what he’s supposed to be. Much like Wonder Woman, this movie actually understands the character they’re making a movie about(*), and it remembers the very fucking important fact that Captain Marvel is supposed to be a Goddamned superhero and superheroes are supposed to save people.
And they kept Zach Snyder and his cancerous-ass direction as far away from this movie as they could, and they did it a hundred percent right, and they very much should be rewarded for it. I want this movie to make a lot of money, and I want the people responsible for DC’s movies to learn from it, dammit. There is no trace of the Murderverse in this movie. It’s wonderful.
The acting in the film is across-the-board phenomenal, particularly the two leads and the kid who plays Freddy Freeman, and if the movie has a flaw it’s that Freddy almost seems like he’d make a better Captain Marvel than Billy Batson does. He’s the heart of the film, though, and while Captain Marvel is an inherently cheesy superhero (one of his nicknames is literally The Big Red Cheese, y’all) the movie dips into the cheesiness without ever being overwhelmed by it. The action is well-shot, the effects are phenomenal, and– rather unexpectedly– the bad guy and his minions are scary as hell, to the point where I’d caution against taking anyone under 10 to see this without previewing it first. It’s PG-13 for a reason. Is it weird that a movie about a kid superhero can’t be seen by kids? Maybe a little, but again: they aged Billy up a little bit and the movie is a bit more mature than one with an 11- or 12-year old Billy Batson might be. This movie isn’t PG-13 because they say “shit” a few times, even though they do. The movie is PG-13 because Dr. Sivana is too scary for a PG villain.
If you are the type to be irritated by Superhero Physics, where a bus can fall off a bridge and be caught by a man standing underneath the bridge and no one in the bus is harmed because the superhero caught the bus … well, remember that Captain Marvel’s powers are literally magical and maybe be prepared to have to roll with that. Because there is a lot of Superhero Physics in this movie. He’s magic. You’ll be OK.
So, yeah: we’re seeing a great trend recently, with Into the Spider-Verse and now Shazam!, where studios that aren’t Marvel are finally starting to figure out how to make superhero movies that aren’t crap. This is what we’ve been telling them we want, guys. Reward good behavior, and go see this one.
(*) Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry is not remotely the Arthur Curry from the comic books, but frankly Aquaman himself has always been treated as such a flat character that it barely even registers. I’ve been reading comics since I was nine and I couldn’t tell you how Aquaman might react to a situation differently from any random human selected from the side of the road other than a vague commitment to environmentalism. I can’t tell you how a movie that “gets” Aquaman might look different from one that doesn’t. I can for damn sure do that for most of the rest of DC’s heroes, and they’ve fallen down repeatedly on this front.
The usual set of disclaimers before I review any Michael J. Martinez book: I’ve reviewed nearly everything he’s written on this blog somewhere, and not only did he thank me by name in the afterword of one of his earlier books, my review of MJ-12: Shadows is actually excerpted inside MJ-12: Endgame. On top of that, he was nice enough to provide a book blurb for Tales: The Benevolence Archives, Vol. 3, which I have featured right on the front cover. I’ve never met the guy but if I ever do he’s gonna get a hug and there’s nothing he can do about it.
(Well, okay, there probably is. But I’m hoping the police don’t get involved.)
Now, that said: I bought this book all by myself with my own money on purpose and there is no universe where I’m gonna write a fake positive review just to curry favor. If I hadn’t liked it, I’d just never mention reading it on the site.
We good? Okay.
One way or another it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I really liked this book. MJ-12: ENDGAME is the third and final book in the MJ-12 trilogy, an alternative history book about CIA spies with superhuman powers (called Variants in this series) during the Cold War. As usual, the premise all by itself earns the book a read for me, and this particular novel begins with the death of Stalin in 1952 and basically covers the CIA’s machinations to make sure that the head of Stalin’s secret police, Lavrentiy Beria (go ahead, click the link, I’d only barely heard of him too,) doesn’t end up in charge of the USSR.
Only, minor twist: Beria is a Variant, and can sorta shoot flames out of his hands, and he’s also in control of the Soviet Union’s still-very-much-a-secret Variant program. MJ-12: Shadows sent me to Wikipedia to check up on stuff after I read it. Endgame had me doing research damn near immediately, because I wanted to make sure the minimal stuff I remember from the couple of books about Stalin I’ve read was mostly accurate.
So you can read Endgame on a bunch of levels. If you’re a history buff, you’ll enjoy it because the Cold War is interesting enough on its own and the Soviet Union immediately post-Stalin was, uh, a bit more volatile than most of the time. If you like spy novels, you’ll get a great old-school spycraft novel, only with people with superhuman abilities instead of James Bond-style fancy gadgets. And if you like superheroes, well, you won’t exactly get superheroes per se– these folks are spies, with all the moral gray areas that implies, and some of them make some, uh, rather cold decisions over the course of the book– but the range of powers Martinez’ characters have and the various drawbacks and limitations of those powers are fascinating. There’s a great balancing act going on in this book– there are a lot of characters, and while the book does a decent act of standing on its own I’d strongly recommend reading the first two first, because there are so many moving pieces, such as an entire subplot going on involving the Korean War. The end result is an elegantly-written, complex novel that still manages to clock in at just barely over 300 pages. There’s not a wasted page anywhere in this book, guys; it’s that well-done.
My only complaint? I want more, and while Martinez doesn’t exactly tie the universe up with a bow on it the ending makes it clear that while there is definitely space for future books in this universe they will take place in an entirely different status quo. That said, this series is radically different in tone and genre from the Daedalus series, Mike’s previous trilogy, and I genuinely can’t wait to see what he’s got coming next.
All available stars; would read again; you should go read now.