Review - 'Shazam!'
I guess we really are in an era where almost no superhero movie can fail. If you had told me ten years ago that there would be movies about Ant-man, Deadpool, Aquaman, Doctor Strange and now Shazam AND they would all be critically well-received AND box office success AND would all have sequels out or in-development, I might have spit whatever I was drinking at the time directly into your face. To my continued shock, I’m faced with Shazam!, another good superhero film.
Shazam! follows Billy Batson, a boy that lives in a foster home who has been searching endlessly for his mother. When he is swept away to a mystical sanctum and given the ability to turn into a man with extraordinary powers the moment he shouts the word “Shazam”, he has to learn how to deal with this newfound responsibility and become a true hero.
If you liked the Tom Hanks’ film Big, it’s pretty safe to say that you will also enjoy David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! as it’s basically the carbon copy of the former film but with a superhero re-skin. I’m fine with that because Shazam’s concept is a fun one that I don’t think gets used enough. Seeing what a boy would do with the powers of someone older and stronger, in this case a full-blown superhero, is a pretty reliable recipe for fun. The antics that Billy Batson/Shazam (Asher Angel/Zachary Levi) and his friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) get into in this film are a riot, and might just be the highlight.
Shazam! also has a surprising amount of heart, and as far as DC movies go, it even rivals Wonder Woman in terms of emotional payoffs. In the film, Billy Batson is a rebellious teenager who is determined to find his real mom when he is adopted against his will into a foster home and forced to get to know a group of strangers. I admire how Sandberg depicted foster home life and its such a noble idea to shine a light on that dynamic in a positive and heartfelt way. This also ties into one of the central messages of the film, that being that your family can be anyone you want them to be.
I would go as far as to say that this is the best film in the DC extended universe (is it still called that?), if not for a few flaws that irked me. Case in point: Bill Batson’s personality is completely different than that of his superhero counterpart, Shazam. Asher Angel does a decent job portraying Batson as a bad boy with an unpleasant attitude, but when he turns into Shazam, who is played by a fun-loving and bubbly Zachary Levi that enjoys being the center of attention, there’s a stark difference. The marriage isn’t quite successful and I could never quite see them as the same character. In addition, there are some tonal shifts that are pretty jarring. Sandberg has a background in horror, and there are times in Shazam! where he decides to shock with some darker themes and/or violence. Sometimes it worked and I enjoyed the surprise, other times it clashed with the generally fun-loving nature of the film.
I also don’t particularly love the look of the film. The world comes off as drab and grey and could really have benefited from a splash of color. It’s not ugly, but there’s nothing that stands out from a visual standpoint. In addition to this, the CGI is passable, though it just about breaks down when Sandberg introduces completely computer generated supernatural beings into the mix. In a lot of ways the look of this film reminded me of the first Deadpool, a movie whose world is mostly a grey city-scape that didn’t jive with the highly fantastical titular character that inhabited it.
Apart from some character and tone inconsistencies, Shazam! is a blast and another breath of fresh air from DC. It’s not revolutionary or epic, and that’s what makes Shazam! a reasonably refreshing romp and restores a sense of optimism about Warner Bros. foray into the deeper DC universe going forward.