Shazam! is a Movie

by Simon Williams on April 5, 2019

in Print Reviews,Reviews

Before we begin, an Open Letter to all the people who hate that my DC reviews never really contain a true classical review :

  1. Please keep leaving angry comments, anything to keep these things climbing everyone’s Google Searches. 2) I kinda get it. I don’t mean I’m going to stop, God no, have you seen the traffic I get on these things? But also the use of a film review site like this is to help decide whether or not a film is worth your money, and it’s hard to tell what the verdict should be with me over here giggling at my crayon-scrawled sitcom spec scripts. It can read as somebody not taking the job seriously. Some have also accused me of not paying the vast, wildly talented teams behind all these films (yes even Suicide Squad) and I get that too.

And to that I say…

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up]


To be honest I’m not entirely sure where to begin with this one. By a mile the most popular writing of mine for this site are my reviews for Warner Brothers’ DC Cinematic Universe. Each and every time I get 2000+ words of run-on sentences and my tiny, unimportant corner of the Internet titters with glee. Not gonna lie, it gets to my head. And here we are, with Shazam! (following my new greatest guilty pleasure Aquaman), DIRECTED by David F. Sandberg, the mind behind another guilty pleasure mine I’ve written about for the site (the taught, fun James Wan-produced horror flick Lights Out), and I’m kind of at a loss.

You see every DC film until this point has had a hook. BvS was a giant, genre-destroying behemoth. Justice League was a cynical, mediocre and pained bit of studio meddling. Suicide Squad and Aquaman were complete messes of terribly conceived ideas, one being a horrible slog and the other being transcendentally goofy. Wonder Woman was the good one. And here we are, at Shazam!, and it’s… okay? I guess?

Okay so since Shazam! doesn’t seem like it’s going to do anywhere near the numbers of the other recent movies by DC, I’ll give a quick synopsis. The film follows Billy Batson (Asher Angel) as he dons the mantle of Shazam! after an ancient Wizard grants him his powers, looking for someone pure pf heart to defeat and capture the Seven Deadly Sins. These powers turn him into a caped superhero, played by the adult Zachary Levi, and he becomes a minor Philadelphia celebrity before he begins battle with Mark Strong’s Thaddeus Sivana who is a much better performance than the script is really worth. That said, the real conflict is that within Batson, as he reluctantly joins a new foster family, still hoping to find his long-lost birth mother.

It’s cute for sure. The movie has a bare-faced, uncynical glow about it that I will admit is rather infectious. There were gags that made me genuinely laugh out loud (with an end-of-movie stinger at the end being a particular gut-buster), and the full cast is game for what is at the end of the day a very goofy script. Levi as the titular Shazam! is of course a highlight, bringing his familiar clever-for-fourteen charm to the role, but honestly it’s the child performers who shine the brightest here. Asher Angel as the young Billy Batson brings a very real weight and exhaustion to his young character full of grief, and Jack Dylan Glazer as his foster brother Freddy has a twitchy smarminess that honestly kind of steals the movie.

Much has been made about Shazam!’s move to comedy but that was already felt with Suicide Squad (albeit in a sophomoric and toxic way) and Justice League. I would describe Shazam! less as a move to comedy and rather as a move toward actual, kid-centric filmmaking. It’s taking a lot from the Spider-Man: Homecoming playbook, tapping that film’s 80s-homage aesthetic and lighter, slighter tone and stakes. Homecoming had bite to it though, with a gritty and relatable antagonist and a message of hard-won victories where you really can’t get everything you want. Shazam! is much more of a wish-fulfillment fantasy there, with the characters getting everything their without much sacrifice and the baddie getting shilled into prison without any empathy offered his way.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you. The film makes it clear it is actively attempting to give the impression of a kid playing with their action figures made the story up as he went along, and ultimately that is rather charming. That said, I don’t see anyone really talking about this one years down the road, or even when it hits Netflix in a few months.

The script is super clunky, with characters teleporting all over the place for dramatic tension and plot threads being dropped here and there just to disappear just as quickly. Several characters, especially the villain and eldest foster sister, also feel wildly underdeveloped, and the film’s big emotional beats are telegraphed to Hell. The action, too, leaves a lot to be desired. That’s a real shame, the best moments in Sandberg’s Lights Outwere extremely clever uses of the environment and smart characters to create exceptionally well executed action beats. Here that knack for visual storytelling feels missing.

At the end of the day, Shazam! really does not top Wonder Woman as the actual best DC film, nor does it top Aquaman as the most fun. It also is a far shot from Spider-Man: Homecoming as the best superhero film using an 80s-kids-film aesthetic nor does it even compare to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as the best one made explicitly for kids who feel left out of this whole era of pop filmmaking.

Shazam! is just okay, and that’s okay.

THAT SAID THOUGH.

If the movie does one thing right, it’s that it naaaaails it’s big emotional crit. The real crux of the movie is Batson’s growing acceptance of his new family as a real family and good God does the film handle this plot line with grace. It honestly feels like someone in the production had something really serious they needed to tell their kid, and this movie is packed with an urgency that is honestly kind of inspiring. The message of “foster family is real family” is hammered crazy hard and it’s corny and goofy and succeeds simply and beautifully and I can’t help but see some foster kid somewhere get the same teary-eyed feeling of total acceptance here that Spanish-speaking kids got in Into the Spider-Verse. It’s that well done. It helps that the family, and the kids feel super genuine and you really do get a real sense of total, complete love and commitment that could bring a tear to the eye.

I don’t know. I want to have a longer, deeper discussion on this film and its role in the current DC Universe Meta but I just can’t. The movie feels too slight, and it says miles of where the studio is right now, but I do have warm feelings about it. Wonder Woman is still the true highlight, Aquaman is still the firecracker watch-a-million-times bomb, and it still doesn’t hold a candle to Marvel’s equivalent highlights, but this thing is still worth seeing.

Maybe just wait for Netflix, or to watch with your kids.

Simon Williams

Simon Williams is a media critic and filmmaker originally from Columbus Ohio. He makes short films about sad people who don’t speak their minds because he himself is a sad person who does not have that issue.

Vimeo 

Leave a Comment

 

Previous post:

Next post: