April is the new May at the movie theater, and we have busy movie screens to show for it. Everything old is new again, as Hellboy gets the reboot from fan-favorite director Neil Marshall (The Descent); “Stranger Things” police chief David Harbour takes over the Right Hand of Doom from Ron Perlman. Laika follows up on the stop-motion success of Kubo and the Two Strings with the promising sasquatch adventure Missing Link. Based on the bestseller by Anna Todd, the teen romantic drama After looks an awful lot like Endless Love. Hopefully, it will have a hit song to boot! Peeples’ Tina Gordon Chism returns with Little, which, as the title suggests, is sort of like the opposite of Big.
Around town, a new horror anthology, The Field Guide to Evil, joins Us and Pet Sematary at Ciné on Apr. 11. This follow-up to The ABCs of Death will be introduced by local horror guru Andrew Shearer. From Apr. 12–14, Movies at Tate gives everyone who missed the excellent Searching a second chance to right that cinematic wrong. One of my picks for 2018’s 10 best films, Searching stars John Cho as a distraught father whose teen daughter has disappeared. First-time feature director Aneesh Chaganty makes excellent use of modern technology to reveal some actually surprising secrets via text, social media, Facetime, etc. Searching is paired with the busily entertaining sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet. On Apr. 14, the Academy Award-nominated Hulu documentary Minding the Gap, which is about way more than skateboarding, comes to the ACC Library as part of the Southern Circuit Film Festival.
Now, on to last week’s new releases:
SHAZAM! (PG-13) DC finally nails the whole extended-universe thing with this adventurous, comic take on the original Captain Marvel. Quick history lesson: Fawcett Comics’ Captain Marvel, now synonymous with Shazam, first appeared in 1939 before disappearing in 1953 due to a lawsuit brought by DC. Marvel debuted its Captain Marvel in 1967, forcing DC to rebrand the original Captain Marvel for his return in the early 1970s.
An extended universe can simply mean one in which Batman and Superman coexist in their own municipal jurisdictions. Batman rules Gotham, Superman hails from Metropolis, and the Big Red Cheese, as Shazam is amusingly known, protects Philadelphia? (Granted, Fawcett City is not as iconic as Gotham or Metropolis, but the small change is an unnecessary frustration for fans.) Orphan Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who changes into Shazam (Zachary Levi) by simply saying his name, may not have met the card-carrying members of the Justice League, but his foster brother, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), is an expert on superheroes. Acknowledging the existence of other heroes justifies how quickly everyone accepts the magical abilities acquired from the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). If Superman can do it, why not the World’s Mightiest Mortal?
Besides sensibly expanding an already existing universe, Shazam! is far and away the most fun a DC superhero has had on the big screen, and audiences appreciate a hero who enjoys saving the world—or even Philly. Levi perfectly embodies the exuberance of a 14-year-old in Superman’s body. Shazam!’s only weakness may be its lack of Black Adam. Mark Strong is smartly cast as one of DC’s preeminent mad scientists, but if you are going to make Dr. Sivana more brawn than brain, why not go ahead and unleash Black Adam? Shazam’s powers may be more Superman, but his teenage ’tude is more amusingly akin to the current teenage version of Spider-Man.
PET SEMATARY (R) Thanks to some iconic moments and casting, the 1989 Pet Sematary is a memorable addition to the vast subgenre of Stephen King adaptations. The new version brought to the screen by Starry Eyes duo Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer looks better, but is bound to rot quicker. The Creed family—Louis (Jason Clarke), Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their two children, Ellie and Gage—have just moved to Ludlow, ME, a sleepy little town where kids don spooky animal masks for pet funeral processions. The Creeds’ initially creepy neighbor, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), shows Louis a stony promontory in the middle of a swamp that holds a strange power over the dead. Eventually, Louis brings the wrong family member back after a tragic accident, and everybody pays the price.
Much of Pet Sematary chillingly adapts one of King’s scarier stories better than he did. Then, the actions of Louis and acting of Clarke suck out any remaining sympathy for the movie’s adult victims. Screenwriter Jeff Buhler doubles down on the sour final act, going way off book for an unsatisfying conclusion. Sometimes, dead may be better for so-so horror movies that were not awful enough to necessitate a remake.