I’ll be perfectly honest. I have not been a fan of the DC films Warner Bros. has produced since The Dark Knight trilogy concluded several years ago. I had very strong feelings about what they did (and didn’t do) with the Justice League and looked at the latest lineup of DC adaptations with dread. However, a project stood out that caught my attention – SHAZAM! Not entirely familiar with DC’s Captain Marvel, I had no idea what to expect prior to viewing the film. Based off of the tone of the trailers, it seemed that perhaps this was going to mark a change in WB’s approach with the DCCU (DC Cinematic Universe). Needless to say, as the end credits started rolling, I found myself pleasantly surprised by what I had just watched. SHAZAM! was refreshingly good, but it was not without its faults.
If you’re not super familiar with what SHAZAM! entails, the synopsis is as follows:
“We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s case, by shouting out one word—SHAZAM!—this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult Super Hero Shazam, courtesy of an ancient wizard. Still a kid at heart—inside a ripped, godlike body—Shazamrevels in this adult version of himself by doing what any teen would do with superpowers: have fun with them! With the help of superhero enthusiast friend Freddy, Shazam sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of the child he is inside. But he’ll need to master them quickly to fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, who’s got his eye on Shazam’s powers and wants them for himself.”
The general premise is simple and, arguably, predictable enough. You have a fourteen-year-old kid that gets trapped within the body of an adult. The jokes that you expect to be made are definitely made, but not to the point where you feel you are having it beaten over your head. And, in one of the more standout scenes, you get to watch as Billy Batson in adult form (played with stupendous believability by Zachary Levi) starts to run multiple tests to see what kind of superpowers he actually possesses. These tests are run by his new foster brother Freddy, who is so superhero obsessed that he honestly makes the best sidekick just with all of his knowledge and know how. These scenes, which again could have been played with a lot less charm, were carried off beautifully between Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer. The comedic timing was executed well and Grazer played comedic double duty between Levi’s grown up Billy and Asher Angel’s regular Billy.
What I wish could have been different was the handling of the villains. More specifically, I felt the big baddies could have been rendered in a way that wasn’t so stereotypically generic and was maybe a bit more threatening. Billy has to protect the world against the seven deadly sins. These sins could have been conveyed in any other way and, with further research after the movie, I discovered that they have in fact looked way different than their movie counterparts. Instead, the movie versions of the Sins look like run of the mill CGI demons, with subtle differences between all of them to let the audience know which sin is what. I can only speak for myself, but it was incredibly hard to believe that these generic looking creatures were a serious enough threat throughout the course of the film. Even more so, because they were supposed to be the major harbingers of doom for humanity.
I also wanted more in terms of Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. Don’t get me wrong. Mark Strong did his best given the material that he was given in the script, but this particular villain didn’t feel super developed. We understood why he was so possessed with this envious desire to become the Chosen One, but it felt like all the performance was missing was a sinister cape and a mustache to twirl whilst running around doing evil shenanigans. In an era where comic book villains are genuinely far more three-dimensional, the character of Dr. Sivana just fell flat for me.
SHAZAM! is very much an origin story and although it may feel like we’ve been bombarded for the past decade or so with comic book hero origin stories, this one feels necessary. Not many people know who DC’s Captain Marvel is and, for both comic book veterans and newbies alike, this film marks a considerable tonal shift in comic book films with its much-needed brevity and light. Yes, there are very important and somewhat dark themes. The importance of family and how family’s influence our life choices is a big thematic focus in this film. But the focus on the choices that are made despite how a person has been raised or what life experiences they’ve had is a major standout.
You do need to sit through the first round of end credits. There is some set up for potential sequels and, in the first end credit sequences, you get to see a very well done comic book display as the cast members are celebrated in glorious fashion.
SHAZAM! punches its way into theaters on April 5, 2019.
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