Published on April 4th, 2019 | by Curtis Mayfield
Shazam! – Film Review
Reviewed by Curtis Mayfield M-H on the 4th of March 2019
Roadshow presents a film by David F. Sandberg
Written by Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke
Produced by Peter Safran
Starring: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Djimon Hounsou and Jack Dylan Grazer
Music by Benjamin Wallfisch
Cinematography: Maxime Alexandre
Edited by Michel Aller
Running Time: 132 minutes
Release Date: the 4th of April 2019
While imperfect, Shazam! is proof that DC’s losing streak is over. Since Warner Bros. dropped the concept of a clunky cinematic universe, ala Marvel Studios, and began focusing on quality over quantity, the quality of their DC comic book movies has risen. Gone are the days of half-baked ideas and over-produced cluster-busts, including the 2016 duds Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Instead, Wonder Woman (2017) and Aquaman (2018) both cleaned up at the box office and earned favourable critic reviews ranging from above average (the guy who talks to fish) to classic status (the symbol for female empowerment).
Their success is attributable to dispensing with DC’s usually dark, brooding tones and instead paving the way for a slate of fun, upbeat films. Shazam! is another giant leap forward. Its charming lead actor allows it to become a solid take on the superhero genre. The movie is bright, colourful, funny, and extremely Gen Y-friendly. It is hard to understand why it took so long for DC to realise this winning formula. With the uber dark Joker movie coming out later this year, we could use a bit of light and joy in the meantime. A movie about a kid who can turn himself into an adult superhero is just what the doctor ordered.
Asher Angel plays Billy Batson, a mischievous but extremely bright, orphaned teen who has been living in the foster care system since he was separated from his mother. Billy is a good-natured troublemaker who cannot stay put long enough for a foster family to tame him. You can predict the upcoming lessons about how ‘home is where the heart is’ and ‘family is whoever loves you the most’. Shazam! retains a very 1990s Disney feel to it with its Mighty Ducks-like lessons of friendship and family.
After Billy pulls off a brazen and illegal attempt at finding his birth mother, he is placed under the supervision of a kind couple, Marta (Rosa Vasquez) and Victor (Cooper Andrews). They care for a rag-tag team of adorable foster kids who all have their own skills and charms (again Mighty Ducks vibes). Future star Jack Dylan Grazer, who shined as hypochondriac chased by a killer clown in It (2017), glows as Freddy. He is the charismatic and hilarious silver-tongued roommate of Billy who also has a disability that requires him to walk with crutches. While Billy struggles to accept his new living situation and resents the kindness of his new family, dark energy continues to unfold.
The wizard Shazam (yes that’s the character’s name) is on the quest to find a good‑hearted person to transfer his powers to before he passes away and can no longer restrain a group of evil demons named ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’. Djimon Hounsou plays the wizard with as much no-nonsense weight as the story requires. Hounsou seems to be hedging his bets too as he features in both the Marvel and DC cinematic universes. Now enter our baddie, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (the always villainous Mark Strong), who has a bone or two to pick with the world.
As a boy, Thaddeus was overlooked during the search for the new Shazam. He has now grown up to be a calculated monotone evil genius that strives for the wizard’s power. If this sounds by the numbers, it’s because it is. Can someone please give Mark Strong a role worthy of his abilities? I’ll skip a few key moments to avoid spoilers but fast forward to Billy being bestowed the powers and abilities of Superman with a few extras and the real fun begins. When Billy says the word ‘shazam’ he is transformed into an adult with the ability to fly and shoot lightening from his fingers.
This is where Zachary Levi takes over the character (another MCU transfer) and man does this guy thrive in the role of a teenager figuring out the world as a bulletproof adult. Imagine the film Big (1988) but with capes and cartoon-sized muscles instead of the big city. Director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation) takes a break from his usual horror wheelhouse and gives the characters room to breathe and run around. One of the best and most meta moments is when superhero‑obsessed Freddy bonds with Billy. They attempt to discern what Shazam’s powers are capable of while also using Billy’s new adult appearance to buy beer and see what happens inside strip clubs.
A not-as-violent Deadpool (2016) meets Big is a worthy comparison. DC also deserves credit for continuing to be inclusive by showcasing orphaned and disabled characters in a big budget film that will no doubt be seen by millions. However, there are plenty of downfalls in this two-hour-plus roller coaster. Nitpicking the movie does lead to questioning the ‘good intentions’ of the main character and the motives behind Thaddeus’ plans. Similarly, the movie deserved a villain as interesting as its hero, and, sadly, that does not happen. Though at least we’re spared the ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ shtick that has plagued superhero movies for nearly twenty years.
One aspect that superhero movies, including Shazam!, have not retooled is including a disposable CGI army of monsters. Now we’re only given seven of them, but a few human actors would have fleshed out the roles. On the bright side the subversive and colourful humour keeps this train chugging along smoothly. Levi does wonders in the lead role and will undoubtedly become a regular face on the big screen. He charms his way through this film, which in the end proves to be enough.
Summary: A movie about a kid who can turn himself into an adult superhero is just what the doctor ordered. Shazam! is proof that DC’s losing streak is over.