This weekend at the movies, we’ve got a silly superhero (Shazam!, starring Zachary Levi and Mark Strong), a cursed graveyard (Pet Sematary, starring Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz), and an unlikely partnership (The Best of Enemies, starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell). What are the critics saying?
If the critical and commercial success of Wonder Woman and Aquaman wasn’t quite enough to convince some moviegoers that Warner Bros. and DC were headed in the right direction, maybe their latest big-screen effort will seal the deal. Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Mark Strong star in this part-superhero origin story, part-coming-of-age comedy about a teen named Billy Batson, who is recruited by a wizard who bequeaths him the power to transform into an adult with superpowers. As Billy learns to control his newfound abilities, he draws the attention of an evil man who wants Shazam’s powers for himself. Critics say Shazam!, directed by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation — weird choice, we know, but it worked!), is a blast, full of childlike wonder, genuine laughs, and an abundance of heart that grounds it. This is about as pure as fantasy wish fulfillment can get, and it’s a rock-solid piece of blockbuster entertainment.
It only took six years from the time Stephen King published Pet Sematary to see it adapted for the big screen, but it took another 30 — and a misguided 1992 sequel — before anyone decided to give it another go. Taking the reins this time are directing duo Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, who previously helmed the well-received indie thriller Starry Eyes, and who make a few changes to the original story. In the updated version, a Boston doctor (Jason Clarke) relocates with his wife (Amy Seimetz) and two children to Maine, where he learns about a mysterious burial site behind their new home that’s rumored to bring the dead back to life. When tragedy hits the family, he decides to test those rumors, and things begin to spiral out of control. With regard to the critics, not everyone is on board with the new interpretation, and those who aren’t feel that the narrative fails to do enough to justify remaking the original. That said, the overall reaction has been positive, with reviews touting the performances for selling their grief with authenticity and the directors for effectively harnessing the more disturbing elements of the source material.
By now, most of us have seen our fair share of films that essentially serve as odes to racial reconciliation, heartfelt dramas and dramedies that pit a pair of unlikely partners against each other and gradually bring them into agreement. One of those movies just won Best Picture at the Oscars. This week, we get a new entry in the genre, and critics say it’s earnest but all too familiar. Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell anchor Best of Enemies as civil rights activist Ann Atwater and Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis, respectively, who were both called up on to lead their North Carolina community in a decision over school segregation in 1971. In the process of co-chairing the summit, the two of them came to terms with each other and learned something about mutual respect. If that sounds like a template you’ve heard before, it’s because you have, and critics are largely split on whether the rest of the film — the acting, the period-accurate trappings — is enough to make up for that. Critics say Best of Enemies is a noble effort buoyed by strong performances, but its by-the-numbers narrative is a little tired, the film fails to portray its characters with much nuance.
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