DC step up to the plate just weeks before the next Avengers movie to try to remind the world they exist with Shazam!. He is a character i have a cursory knowledge of, but I don’t know his back story too well aside from the “Say Shazam! turn into a superhero” part of it. This films real attraction for me is Shazam himself, Zachary Levi. My all time favourite TV show is Chuck, the show he starred in as the title character. He is also Flynn Rider in my favourite new style Disney animated film, Tangled. Needless to say, I watched every trailer with slightly rose-tinted glasses, but once in the cinema, I put aside that love of his previous work to judge this film on its own merits.
First of all, I have to say I am shocked at how much I enjoyed the teen actors in this film. All of them are great, and it follows on from my review last week of “Us” when I mentioned the rise of really great child and teen actors. The two main boys we follow, Billy Batson and Freddy, are funny, believable and as a result really entertaining throughout the film. Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer should both be marked as talents to watch after their performances in those roles.
Shazam! tells the origin story of the character, and it does a really does a good job of setting up the world, giving us the rules of the world, and then letting the hero have fun within those rules. We see him gleefully testing out his powers and can see the visible childish excitement in his face when he learns of a new ability. This is all performed well by Zach Levi, whose childish side has always been a part of his work. Whether it’s entirely in line with the comics I’m not sure, as I know in the Injustice fighting video game he goes from 15 year old boy and transforms into a hero who is essentially a different person. Here it’s treated as if this is a straight body swap, and he still has the mind of a 15 year old boy.
This all leads to some really wholesome, friendly fun with him and Freddy. The chemistry between him and Billy/Shazam is the driving force of the movie, and that bond that is created between them as the film progresses is heartwarming to watch unfold. The bond he has by the end with the rest of his foster family is a little odd, as there aren’t many scenes with some of them, but I think that’s actually to the betterment of the film as a whole as I think Shazam! gets its runtime just about right. A few more scenes of interacting with the siblings might have made me check my watch a few times.
Changing focus from the good guys, Mark Strong plays antagonist Dr Sivana. A cool name, a typically evil villain, and one that Mark Strong commits to and is as good as the role allows him to be. I saw a clip of Dwayne Johnson talking about how this film was developed with Black Adam as the villain but he felt telling two origins in one movie was a bit too much and would end up being a disservice to one of the characters, so they decided to take Black Adam out and make their own movie starring The Rock. It turns out he was right, as I found myself disinterested by the origins of Sivana and despite Strong’s solid performance, I just didn’t find him particularly engaging.
In a weird way, Shazam reminded me of a Phase 1 Marvel movie. The hero is nailed perfectly, and the villain is a generic guy who ends up with very similar powers to the hero. Applying that Marvel template is no bad thing though, as it means Shazam feels like a really fun time and actually has some really fun actions scenes that beat anything we saw back in Phase 1 of the MCU. Whether Shazam! is a match for Aquaman or Wonder Woman is another question of course.
My answer to that question, is Yes. Shazam feels like the final part of a tonal shift in DC’s universe of films. This is a funny film, I genuinely laughed out loud at some parts, and that is a far cry from the shocked outrage I felt watching Batman V Superman in the cinema. DC are on a good run now, with Wonder Woman, Aquaman and now Shazam! all delivering really fun movies. If next years Affleck-free Batman movie can live up to these last few films, I think we might just have the makings of something really good for DC here.
Good: Teens are all great, Zach Levi is perfect for this kind of role, Some good laughs sprinkled throughout. One of the coolest moments in any film when he jumps off a roof and transforms.
Bad: Despite good acting, the villain was just a bit too unsubtle for me, and Shazam’s suit, whilst comic book accurate, just reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Turbo Man in Jingle All The Way.
7/10 I’m off to find out where I can re-watch Chuck for the 4th time.