Film Review: Shazam!
A wizard bestows his power upon a teenager, who is transformed into an adult superhero. It sounds like a terrible premise for a movie, as well as something completely out of place in the DC Extended Universe, and yet the creative team has made something truly magical that has a lot of heart.
Much like Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
(the "original" Captain Marvel
) has gone and completely upended modern comic-book movies by presenting something that counters the formulaic presentation around which most contemporary Marvel and DC films are, by design, built.
In this case it's a family friendly movie (bar for very small children who might be traumatised by some of the more macabre moments), set in the particularly dark DC Extended Universe, that doesn't take itself seriously at all while presenting a really fun adventure, coming-of-age story, and hero's journey all rolled into one, with heart and humour that doesn't stoop to the lowest common denominator but rather lifts the audience to a level of quality rarely seen in recent comedies.
I didn't think it was possible to do this - I went into the press screening very skeptical - and I ended up really enjoying the film. It was fun, it was smart, and it was warm. The movie's message is the familiar one of "family" but unlike other recent movies
that have tried to hammer home this message to death it just lets it lie there for the audience to acknowledge without feeling force fed. In this case it's an extra special message about there being a place for everyone - you just have to know where to look - because the "family" comprises a diverse foster family of kids with amazing parents who end up bringing out the best in each other.
That's not to say that this movie is perfect - far from it. The story features a formulaic villain, Doctor Sivana (Mark Strong), with daddy issues (really) who gains control of the seven deadly sins (or, rather, they gain control of him) who are corporally embodied as demons, which is very unoriginal and doesn't really make sense, although the movie even comments on this when Shazam notes the unattractive appearance of Lust.
The universe needs a champion and through a serious of unfortunate events a 14-year-old runaway and serial foster kid in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) receives the power of Shazam, the last of a line of wizards played, terribly, by Djimoun Hounsou (this movie's other
link to the other Captain Marvel). When Billy utters the word "Shazam" (an acronym formed from the names of six "immortal elders": Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury) he is transformed into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) but retains the mental acuity and sensibilities of a teenager. If he utters the word again he returns to being a boy.
This is an origin story so there's much entertaining examination of Shazam's potential - What superpowers does he have? What are his weaknesses? - conducted primarily by Billy's foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) in true teenage style: run weird tests, film it, post the results on YouTube, rinse, repeat. At the same time the kids are grappling with the usual teenage issues of dealing with bullies and trying to find one's place and purpose in the world.
Since many of the movie's parent-age patrons grew up in the Eighties it offers a number of nods to that era. This includes the kind of storytelling that's largely absent from contemporary cinema in the form of an accessible, empowering adventure tale centred around young people - think of The Goonies
, and even Karate Kid
- in which they take centre stage, have to deal with adult villains and situations, and have to solve their own problems in an adult manner rather than with "zany" antics. (There's even a sequence that acknowledges the most famous scene in Big
, which, in 1988, starred Tom Hanks as the adult embodiment of a boy who becomes a man overnight after making a wish.)
The casting of the support roles, especially those of the foster family - parents Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews) and their other kids, Mary Bromfield (Grace Fulton), Eugene Choi (Ian Chen), Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand), and Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman) - was well executed as they are the soul of the movie and the choice of actors is perfect. Faithe Herman, who you may recognise from This Is Us
, is the breakout star as a sweet, but not annoyingly precocious, young girl with the biggest heart of all.
is a superb palate cleanser after so many serious, depressing adult comic book movies from both DC and Marvel, which are culminating later this month with Avengers: Endgame
, the conclusion to the Infinity Saga, Marvel Cinematic Universe's first grand story arc. Instead Zachary Levi is having a blast as a teenager trapped in a man's body and the character's joy is infectious even as he has to handle adult responsibilities and protect the world from evil. It may explore dark themes but Shazam
is all light.
Shazam! was written by Henry Gayden (screenplay and story) and Darren Lemke (story), was directed by David F Sandberg, and stars Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Djimon Hounsou, Faithe Herman, Meagan Good, Grace Fulton, Michelle Borth, Ian Chen, Ross Butler, Jovan Armand, DJ Cotrona, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, Ethan Pugiotto, John Glover, and Landon Doak.
The press screening was courtesy of Empire Entertainment.
, Speculative Fiction
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