Published on June 15th, 2021 | by Richard Gary0
Some of the execution might veer between cliched and questionable, but there is just enough fun action in Lazarus to make it worth a go.
Comic book movies are not always based on the standard comic characters. It is a tone, a stylistic choice by the production, that make it a modern comic book film. Don’t get me wrong, there actually is a comic by the Lazarus name, but it is totally not connected to this release.
For this film, the aptly named titular Ray Lazarus (Sean Riggs) is an African-American man who is killed, then comes back to life thanks to a mysterious being called Hellfire (Shane Brolly, who was Kraven in the Underworld franchise), whose powers include strength, the ability to absorb the life force and knowledge of those he whomps, and he cannot be killed; he wears a costume to weed the city of criminals. Wait a minute, didn’t I see that in the comic and film Spawn?
The events take place in the sarcastically named Paradise City. The main villain is violent drug kingpin Testament (Adamo Palladino), who had Lazarus killed in the first place. He is yet another one of a legion of Biblically referenced names such as Chapel and, as the Ying to Hellborn’s Yang, there is Epiphany (Lyndsey Lantz), who is busy working on an equally powerful evil version of Lazarus, because opposites attack. Hey, every superhero film needs an equal match-up for its final act, right? Just think Thanos or Hela (Ragnarok).
Somehow, Super-Lazarus manages to get a small army to take on mid-level distributor Poet (Damien T. Raven) and his superior, Testament. Meanwhile, a police detective, Benjamin Poge (Costas Mandylor, who played Mark Hoffman in a few Saw films), who drives a car no real city police officer, even of a higher rank, could ever afford, is inquiring into the high body count. Then there is an assassin sent by Testament, the amusingly named Endless (Kevin Lukata).
There are essentially five women in minor roles here: first is Nina (Nicki Micheaux) as a drug distributor who is instantly the obvious possible love interest for Lazarus, depending on her questionable loyalties, Testament’s cancer-ridden sister, Priscilla (Christina Wren, that played Carrie Farris in the DC Universe), who is on her deathbed, a tarot card reader who works for Testament, Flora (a cameo by pop singer Mya), the sister of one of Lazarus’s friends, Pogo (Linc Hand) named Winter (Kayla Vosburg), and the aforementioned Epiphany. Most of the other women are tertiary characters, especially numerous mob groupies who lay around snorting powder in lingerie, lolling on couches. This was definitely (a) written by a man, and (b) written for a male teenage audience.
The dialogue is stunningly cliché and clumsy in a comic book tone that over enunciates and spaces out words, and is often bland in a pseudo-philosophical way, even with a Noah’s Flood of F-bombs. One piece of monologue states, “We are what we are. My path is set. Fate already chosen. You knew this was going to happen. Now they are going to die, and there is nothing to stop it.”
There are also numerous plot holes that made me kind of antsy; for example, one person is done away with by the mob, yet they the assassins left all of the mob’s information there on the wall for the police to find. And why so many short “P” names, such as Poet, Pogo, and Poge? Also, why would the mob crews in warehouses where drugs are being manufactured not have guns?
Good thing is that this can definitely be classified as an action film. Despite the occasional gun play, most of the fighting is hand-to-hand, be it boxing style or mixed martial arts. It is well choreographed and fun to watch as a multitude of necks are snapped.
I actually like alternative universe comic stories (i.e., other than MCU or DCU), and while this obviously has a decent budget, it is not a multi-million-dollar extravaganza, and that is good. Despite its issues, and it definitely has some, it holds up. It is also nice to see such a large Black cast, which even the Spawn film did not employ. Furthermore, having the whole “balance” theme is a nice touch.
For the visuals, the film is well-shot and edited, with cool “swipes” between scenes in an appropriately comic book “turning pages” sort of look. However, as is an issue in too many films, especially independents, Lazarus expresses ambiance through a dark, blue lens. Okay, this is a nice way to make it moody, but it also makes it harder to see what the hell is going on. This is a pet peeve of mine.
The film definitely sets up for a sequel, as promises that are made are indicated at the end (I will not divulge). Personally, I was thinking of a couple of really good, unexpected Yangs to Lazarus’s Ying, but despite that they chose the obvious route, and I am okay with that. I am looking forward to the next installment, whenever that will be, and I hope they give the female characters a bit more to chew on, story-wise.