Shazam! is directed by David F. Sanberg and stars Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Djimon Hounsou. It is the first live-action film o the Shazam/Captain Marvel character since the 1941 serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel.
DC learned the hard way that brooding, humorless superhero movies were not the way to go with their extended cinematic universe. Man of Steel didn't exactly blow everyone away, Batman v Superman was nowhere near the box office success that DC envisioned it would be, and Suicide Squad and Justice League were....well, problematic. As Aquaman showed us, DC had finally wised up and shifted gears, abandoning gloomy superheroes and replacing them with fun and energetic ones. This new attitude of fun and ebullience is on full display in Shazam!: a lightning storm of entertaining superhero action that never loses sight of its human-based heart.
My biggest gripe with many of the MCU films has been their over-reliance on humor: jokes get dragged out as far as they can go, and at times, the movie seems to stop altogether just so that a character can try to generate a few laughs. Unless I was missing something altogether with some of the earlier MCU films, I have found myself complaining less and less about this humor issue of mine, and the reason I bring it up is because I had just the slightest worry that Shazam! would suffer from a similar problem. Now, why in the world would I worry about how much humor was going be in Shazam!? The trailers made it pretty clear that this movie would have a light tone and be filled to the brim with jokes, one-liners, etc., so of course I should expect this movie to be extremely goofy and not-at-all self serious. I don't know; I think it's just that I didn't want a problem I felt was mostly done away with to come back and rear its ugly-looking head. That former MCU issue did not (thankfully) show up and diminish my experience of seeing Shazam!, and if you thought Aquaman was pure goofball fun, brother, you ain't seen nothing yet.
So Shazam! tells the story of 14-year-old orphan Billy Batson (Angel), who, after getting into some trouble with local Philadelphia police, is set up to move in with Vazquez foster family. The family consists of five other foster children, one of which is the disabled superhero fanboy Freddy Freeman (Glazer). Billy and Freddy quickly become friends, and Billy goes out of his way to save Freddy from the wrath of two school bullies. The bullies chase Billy into a subway station, and while riding the subway car, Billy is transported to a different realm known as The Rock of Eternity. Billy meets the ancient wizard known as Shazam, who explains to Billy that he has spent years searching for a champion that is pure of heart and capable of taking on the wizard's powers. The wizard transforms Billy into an adult superhero (Levi), with godlike powers such as flight, super strength, and the ability to shoot lightning from his fingers. Billy can transform into the adult superhero and back by saying the word Shazam.
After revealing his newly acquired adult form to Freddy, the two work together to uncover all of Billy's powers. It turns out though, that Billy is not the only one with superhero-like powers. The evil inventor, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Strong), uncovers the secret to accessing The Rock of Eternity, and he allies himself with a team of supernatural beings known as The Seven Deadly Sins. Sivana had met the Shazam wizard at a young age, but was not chosen as champion when he was tempted by the imprisoned Seven Deadly Sins. Now Sivana seeks to take Shazam's powers for himself, and when the adult Billy gets a taste of Sivana's power, Billy must learn that with this great power comes great responsibility.
- Zachary Levi was the perfect casting choice for the Shazam superhero, bringing a magnificent blend of lovable man-child antics and convincing action chops. Levi treats his performance as if the Shazam superhero was an adult who grew up from being a spoiled child and never learned how to act accountable. He gets angry and yells whenever Freddy calls him out for his obnoxious behavior, and he acts like a total coward when real world trouble (Sivana) comes chasing after him. The great thing is watching Billy/Shazam learn how to match an adult mentality with his adult body: a lot like the ideas of growing up that can be found in Big. What helps Shazam! not seem like a carbon copy of Big is that Billy doesn't ever long to return to the superhero-free life he once had; Billy comes to see his newfound abilities as a gift he can use to stop running and hiding and to start living and doing good. Whenever Shazam needs to act like a child, and whenever Shazam needs to act like an adult, Zachary Levi makes the best of both worlds.
- I suppose the better high point would be the casting, because Mark Strong looks as much the part of Thaddeus Sivana as any actor I've seen playing a recent supervillain. Strong looks scary with his glowing eye, he sounds scary, and it's actually pretty damn cool to watch him fly around and show off powers that are similar to that of Shazam's. Whoever showed Strong (and/or his stunt double) how to throw a punch did a fantastic job, because nearly every one of Sivana's hits on Shazam look like they really hurt. The movie also spends a decent amount of time on Sivana's backstory, fleshing out his obsession for wanting to find The Rock of Eternity and his motivation for aligning with The Seven Deadly Sins and trying to acquire Shazam's powers. There's nothing about Sivana that's like Jesse Eisenberg's cartoony Lex Luthor from Batman v Superman nor like the somewhat over-the-top Ares in Wonder Woman. Sivana is as intimidating and intriguing as they come for a PG-13 superhero movie villain, and Mark Strong deserves high praise for the way his looks and his acting are able to elevate the character.
- I can't pick out one specific thing about Shazam! that I can say I found to be weak or underwhelming, but I will say that the movie does suffer from one minor annoyance that likse to creep up and strike at the most inopportune of times. It turns out the ghost of Zack Snyder is still haunting the DCEU: several of Shazam!'s fight scenes insist on doing the whole slow-mo, speed up trick that should have remained dead and buried with 300. It gets old pretty damn quick and at times borders on unnecessary. Other than that, I'm hard-pressed to think up anything else about Shazam! that really irked me in any way.
After the lukewarm Man of Steel, the disappointing box office returns of Batman v Superman, and the less-than-satisfactory Suicide Squad, it wasn't looking too good for the DCEU. That's when Wonder Woman and Aquaman came to the rescue with critical and commercial success, bringing us hope that the future was looking bright for the DCEU. Now with the playful and wonderfully entertaining Shazam!, DC is looking like they're stirring up a lightning storm of endless possibilities: one of which includes challenging the MCU for the title of best extended superhero universe. Gone are the days of brooding and depressing superheroes with uninspired stories. The DCEU is finally allowing its heroes to be fun and energetic, and if Aquaman wasn't zany enough, then Shazam! will come at you with an extra truck load of wacky, superhero entertainment. Bolstered by Zachary Levi and Mark Strong's performances, Shazam! is what it's all about when it comes to superheroes that just want to be fun and have a good time. I'll be glad to see the day if and when Shazam meets Batman and Superman. Maybe some of that fun-loving charm of his can rub off on them.
Recommend? Yes. The movie is a blast and should be a great time if you see it in theaters.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: