As good-natured as they come, Shazam! is a delightful and charming take on the Superhero genre that everyone can enjoy. Director David F. Sandberg and company embrace the goofy, lighthearted titular character without compromising on heart. It’s a distinctive coming-of-age superhero origin story, one that is allowed to be humorously self-aware because of the established world it exists in. The lighter tone of Shazam! further displays the variety of styles the DCEU can tap into to keep their movies refreshing. And while the story is simple, it’s well-told. The film ultimately succeeds in what it set out to do: provide wholesome entertainment.
With the DCEU’s dive into the world of magic, the ancient Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) seeks out a “Champion of Eternity” to take on his powers. However, the mistreated Thadeus Sivana (Mark Strong) is dubbed unworthy; and instead, is corrupted by the Seven Deadly Sins. When Billy Batson (Asher Angel) – a troubled orphan having difficulty accepting his new foster home with the Vasquez’ – gets selected by the Wizard, he is transformed into an adult with superpowers (Zachary Levi) by uttering the word “Shazam!”. While Sivana seeks to capture Shazam’s powers, Billy must navigate his new abilities and family, all with the help of his foster-brother – and superhero expert – Freddie (Jack Dylan Grazer).
Zachary Levi is born for this part, showcasing his effortless goofiness, charm, and comedic timing. Levi and Angel have a great rapport with Jack Dylan Glazer’s Freddie Freeman, who provides an amusing frenetic energy and enthusiasm. The fast-talking Glazer completely holds his own against Levi, with Billy and Freddie’s friendship easily being the heart of the film. Through their wide eyes, you really do feel the thrill of discovering superpowers, and the subsequent responsibilities. The film takes advantage of the fact that audiences are so used to following an experienced, adult hero, by shifting to a teenager’s perspective. The pair’s initial exploitation of Shazam’s powers is entertainingly reckless, yet understandably expected from kids. And yet, the movie doesn’t get lost in the fun and action; it still manages to tell a character story. While he doesn’t really deserve the Shazam moniker till the very end of the film, Billy’s evolving relationships with others is handled thoughtfully, making his arc towards accepting responsibility and his new family emotionally satisfying.
All the other members of the Vasquez’ foster family are endearing and amusing too. The whole cast has great chemistry, and the family’s interactions provide some of the film’s best moments, both comically and emotionally. The importance of family is weaved through the story in a sincere, heartfelt way, making viewers really invested in these kids. Even if some of the kids aren’t give as much to do, they each have clear, enjoyable personalities.
As far as villains go, Thaddeus Sivana isn’t anything special, but serves the story well enough. Mark Strong does a solid job with his material, providing the film with the needed seriousness. But, while I appreciate the brief look into his troubled past, the paralleled childhood neglect of Thadeus and Billy could have been fleshed out slightly further. Consequently, Sivana’s envious pursuit of Shazam’s power, to prove himself, is handled a bit simplistically. The emotional conflict he poses for Shazam wasn’t as developed as the physical one. Moreover, the Seven Deadly Sins as henchmen were scary and imposing to an extent, but lacked distinguishable features, despite their name.
Regardless, Sandberg does a wonderful job in the directors chair, as the movie has a clear sense of what it wants to be. Shazam! has a great balance of humour, action, and character moments, with a nice message about family. The allusions to the rest of the DCEU are natural and playful. Expositional mythology and characterizations are handled efficiently and engagingly. The montages, in particular, were fun explorations of Shazam’s powers, as well as Billy and Freddie’s friendship. There are also many wonderful set-ups and payoffs, with most characters getting their moment to shine (even with a slightly over the top finale). Although the movie does play it safe, the charming characters and assured execution more than make up for it.
Meanwhile, the comedy is definitely this film’s strong suit. The ample amounts of gags are both witty and fittingly goofy, without getting in the way of serious moments. Jokes arise organically from the young characters and wild situations. Shazam! unabashedly celebrates its crazy premise of a teen inside a adult superheroes’ body. The movie’s not afraid to be silly, and even when the humour is self-aware and tongue-and-cheek, it’s never mocking. Additionally, the numerous and clever pop-culture references are sure to leave audiences grinning.
On the action side of things, Shazam doesn’t do anything ground-breaking, but still manages to be wildly enjoyable. Despite powers like super-strength and flight being things we’ve seen before often, they still feel refreshing because of how the action is driven by a more jovial, reckless character like Shazam. Even when the film’s smaller budget becomes apparent with some iffy CGI, it doesn’t take away from the playful action. Meanwhile, Sandberg also gets to show-off his horror movie chops with several sequences that test the limits of a family film. These darker moments effectively add some tension and help boost Sivana’s formidability. Specifically, the opening scene is a wonderfully stylized supervillain origin telling.
Overall, Shazam! is an absolute delight, hitting all the right notes for an enjoyable family superhero film. It’s great how DC’s origin films are all so unique in story and style, yet each successful in their own ways. Shazam! is a welcome addition to the superhero film pantheon through its fresh perspective. It’s all at once hilarious, heartfelt and entertaining.
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Shazam! hits screens April 5.
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