‘Shazam!’ Review

In the world of the DC extended universe exist ancient wizards who protect our world. Although their days as protectors have ended, they seek a champion who will carry on their duties. That champion, 14-year old Billy Batson (Angel Asher) summons an alter ego with god-like powers to use for the greater good. The story of Shazam follows the teenager as he discovers the full potential of his gifts, what it means to be a hero and the true meaning of family. Some time has passed since my early screening of Shazam, and the more I give it some thought the more I find myself enjoying it. Shazam is truly a fun ride, highlighted by a strong chemistry amongst its cast that rewards its viewers with good humor and feel good emotions regarding the importance of heroism and family.

This film marks the second consecutive blockbuster for DC, where a director of horror background tries and succeeds with the superhero genre. David F. Sandberg delivers on the promise of a fun, light-hearted superhero movie. It is very character-driven, as it explores Billy’s ongoing struggle with acceptance. In a lot of ways, his curse of being handed the powers of Shazam becomes a blessing. It forces Billy to finally open up to his foster brother Freddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) as he seeks his help. Their journey and relationship provide many of the best film’s laughs, even if a few were spoiled in the marketing.

Zachary Levi dons the red and gold superhero tights as the alter-ego Shazam (or Captain Sparkle Fingers). It’s a perfect casting by Sandberg and company, who were presented with the challenge of finding two actors of significantly different ages to play the same character. Levi performs near flawlessly, delivering on the key moments that call for immaturity and later on heroism.

Clearly the other notable standout performances to mention are Mark Strong as Dr. Sivana and previously mentioned Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddie. The former of the two actors is no stranger to playing comic book villains (Strong previously starred in Green Lantern and Kick Ass). He’s just as good in this film, even if the writing only slightly underserved his character. It’s through Dr. Sivana and the seven deadly sins creatures where Sandberg is able to inject some horror. His direction combined with Strong’s performance made the character feel menacing at times.

Case in point is the boardroom scene where Dr. Sivana confronts his family. Thanks to a well done opening scene on Sivana’s background as a child, I almost found myself rooting for him to get his revenge (aside from the throwing Dad out of a window 50 stories high). That’s when bad becomes evil. As for Jack Dylan Grazer, I thought he was root of the film’s humor. His reactions to Billy stumbling as he learns his powers heighten the laughs. There are times where his character is a bit much, but that’s more on the filmmakers who should’ve drawn back on the forced, over the top humor. 

Which brings me to the end fight scene, where… not one, not two, not three, not four, but five Shazam-like characters suddnely appear. I can appreciate the comic book accuracy if only I knew the stories prior. But like many casual audiences I do not. Therefore i found it to be a bit too much, especially for a solo-character origin. Sure, it’s different in regards to predictability (hero defeats the bad guy all by himself), but not at the cost of taking away from the main character. That’s not to say the fight scene cannot be enjoyable, especially when Adam Brody makes a surprise experience, but the introduction of the Shazam family is over doing it a bit.

In the end though, I found myself really enjoying the movie. It was always going to one of the more lighter toned films in the DCEU. However, it’s a feel good story with plenty of heart. The onscreen chemistry amongst the cast is a lot of fun to watch, with Levi and Grazer providing a bulk of the laughs. A few DC references and callbacks to classic films are the cherry on top. I highly recommend Shazam! for all audiences who crave something new in the superhero genre.

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