Movie Review: ‘Shazam!’
Director: David F. Sandberg
Cast: Zachery Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan, Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton
Plot: Orphaned teen Billy Baston find his life turned around when an ancient wizard bestow upon him the ability to transform into an adult superhero. Before long he has to live up to his newfound responsibility when Dr. Sivana seeks to steal his powers for himself.
Review: Well, he’s another superhero film. And this one is for the kids! He even does the Fortnite dance in the trailer and acts all whacky! Can’t wait!
You know what? It’s kinda awesome.
Whilst many of the recent DC films fell flat in trying to reduce the character’s unique selling points and qualities into “darker”, more marketable archetypes that become completely unmemorable, Shazam! takes a smarter route. They lean into the unique features of the comic line, being unafraid to incorporate some of the cheesier and stranger parts of its publication history. They also brought in some likeable actors for the lead roles and bringing in a new, indie director who shows promise and…HEY! THEY MADE A MARVEL MOVIE!! THAT’S CHEATING!
Maybe it’s because Shazam! isn’t one of the established household names in the DC stable, but this time around the creative talents have been handed the reigns and left to their own devices. Although this character…who noticeably does not go by the name Captain Marvel in the film, for obvious reasons…isn’t on the level fo Superman and Batman in this day and age, there was a time when he was the reining champion of superhero comics. During the Golden Age of superheroes Captain Marvel was the best selling book around, shifting millions of copies. Once it hit its first slump, however, it never managed to recover.
Now Captain Marvel is coming to the big screens under the alternative title of Shazam! (there’s a long, complicated history of copyright lawsuits over the title going back decades) and it could be a come-back for the hero.
We begin with a child named Thaddeus Sivana travelling with his family when he finds himself transported to a magical realm and met by the wizard Shazam. The wizard seeks a champion to carry on his quest to hold back manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins, appearing as some real gnarly looking demons. Sivana gives is lured into seeking power by the Sins and Shazam dismisses him, sending Sivana on a lifelong quest to return to the realm and reclaim the power he witnessed. In the present day Billy Baston (Angel) is moved from foster home to foster home due to his habit of running away to seek out his birth mother. He also gets summoned by Shazam and accepts his quest.
Baston now has the power to tranform into Shazam’s champion (Levi), a super powered man with powers similar to Superman along with the ability to shoot lightning bolts from his hands. Sharing the secret with his foster brother Freddy Feeman (Grazer), the two begin experimenting with the powers and enjoy their newfound celebrity, get revenge on bullies and get up to mischief. Eventually Sivana (Strong) returns, having taken on the powers of the Sins, and threatens Billy’s new family in order to steal the power of Shazam.
Shazam! certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel with it’s story, and it definitely goes through all the ‘kid in an adult body’ jokes you’ll be expecting. Some are as predictable as casting Mark Strong in a villain role. What is unexpected is how heartfelt the character arc. Again, not re-inventing the wheel, but it’s such a well made wheel that provides a smooth ride that you’ll end up cheering Shazam on by the end. When it comes to the final confrontation and they heavily lean into a major component of the comic line that I was genuinely not expecting I ended up with a big, stupid grin on my face.
Zachary Levi was absolutely the right choice for the role. His comedy doesn’t often work for me, but in this case he was so good at playing the young teen trapped in a superhero body that it was hard not to enjoy it. The young Angel and Grazer are both capable enough to carry their emotional scenes. I imagine Angel, Grazer and Levi spend a lot of time working together to maintain a consistent performance through the movie. It’s really fun.
For fans of the comics, there’s a couple of Easter Eggs and nods to spot, including a few Tawky Tawny references and one of the greatest villains of all time making a cameo.
I wasn’t expecting much. An average movie with a very ‘Fellow Kids’ marketing angle. But damn if it didn’t win me over.
Rating: EIGHT out of TEN