MOVIE REVIEW – SHAZAM!
The DCU has been a whirlwind of trouble since it began earnestly with Man of Steel. Studio conflict and a disconnect with the fans have led to what is quite frankly a mess. From polarizing to pretty good, the DCU films aren’t as cohesive as their Marvel counterparts, unfortunately. Shazam, thankfully, leans towards more of the latter.
The plot goes a little like this. Billy Batson is a 14-year-old kid who’s bounced around the foster care system all his life. After getting in trouble while looking for his birth mother, he ends up in a home run by former foster care kids. His rebellious nature, as always gets him in trouble at school with two bullies. While on the run from them, he slips into a subway train which mysteriously transports him to a mystical cave. Here, an old wizard grants him the awesome magical powers that he can call upon whenever he utters the words – Shazam! As usual, with great power [and great sacriliege] comes great responsibilities. Batson, with his newfound abilities, must protect his new family and the world from threats far greater than his bullies at school.
Veering away from the usual dark and gritty affair, Shazam embraces what it means to be a child. Scenes aren’t muted or seemingly lit with 3 candles and a flashlight. There are actual vibrant colors. Focusing on the kids makes you forget about all the bad stuff in the world at least temporarily. This might just be the best thing about Shazam. It makes you remember what it was like to imagine what it would be like to actually fly. All through the unfiltered mind of a 14-year-old.
Fortifying this would be pretty hard without some serious acting chops. Front and center is Zachary Levi as the adult Shazam. This could very well be one of those perfect casting choices that will be echoed for ages. Bumbling around in a jacked body throwing baddies awkwardly and buying beer (then opting for candies and crisps) really embodies what I likely would have done too. The supporting cast doesn’t get a lot of screen time but it’s something that is always bound to happen in an origin story. Darla though melts your heart whenever she’s onscreen. Bless her heart.
A disappointment is the use of Mark Strong as Doctor Sivana. Though he does get a bit of backstory, and his motivations are justified, he still feels grossly underutilized. He ends up feeling one-sided and more of a foil to Shazam. Mark Strong is an accomplished actor and one of the great British villains of our time. It would really be a loss if this is the last time we see him as a character in this franchise. That said, whenever he appeared, he highlighted the darkness that still exists in Shazam and why David F. Sandberg was a good choice to direct.
Coming from a horror movie background, including a fantastic (and terrifying) short, Sandberg somehow managed to meld the horror elements into essentially a kids movie and scar viewers in the process. The aesthetic design of the even sins monsters is top notch. A particular scene where *spoiler alert* Sivana takes over a board meeting with his father and wreaks havoc is a particular highlight of the director’s skills.
Which brings us to the more realistic dark side of Shazam – the reality of foster kids. Billy’s relationship with his newfound family is not atypical. He’s standoffish with his newfound family believing his situation to be temporary – even though it isn’t. His sole goal is to find his mom at any cost. This eventually strains his relationship with his foster family and more so with his only friend Freddy, his disabled foster brother. Revealing more of this would amount to spoilers but the film does a good job of portraying how real life can be messy.
Even so, Shazam holds up pretty nicely. It is a lovely, heartfelt origin story that tugs at your heartstrings and flood with you with childhood nostalgia. A more intimidating villain and more fleshed out characters would have made it perfect but I’m not worried. The sequel, and possibly a stand-alone movie, will solve all of those problems at once – Black Adam.