Shazam! (2019)

Director: David F. Sandberg

Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou

Screenplay: Henry Gayden

132 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material.

 

After the success of Aquaman, it seems like the DCEU may finally be righting the ship with their cinematic universe, and now, only a few months later, the question remains as to whether or not they can actually bring a wacky character like Captain Marvel (no, not that one) to life. Well, I have the answers you seek.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel, Driven to Dance, TV’s Andi Mack) has been bounced from one foster home to another for years following his accidental separation from his mother as a child. He’s been given one last chance with a large foster family run by Victor and Rosa Vasquez. Billy, not one to settle, struggles with connecting to his new family, but while fleeing bullies after defending foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, It, Beautiful Boy), Billy finds himself pulled out of the world, landing in a strange place where a mythical wizard (Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond, Captain Marvel) informs Billy that he’s been chosen as the new champion, Shazam. After saying the word Shazam, Billy finds himself transformed into an older and much more powerful version of himself, and he doesn’t quite know how to fix it, but Freddy might.

It seems like the DCEU has finally adopted the MCU viewpoint of developing great stories that just so happen to include superheroes. The screenplay by Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo) is, first and foremost, a film about family, both the search for one and the power of finding one, and its themes permeate the story with subtle moments that use the Shazam lore to expose character and progress plot nicely. The emotional beats of the film ring true in a lot of ways, and it’s great to see representation like this on film.

Beyond all that, Shazam! is a ton of fun. The tone of Big as a superhero film is perfect, and it weaves seamlessly into the darker material surrounding Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, TV’s Deep State). The film takes its source material seriously while pointing fun at what would happen if a teenager all of a sudden gained superhuman powers. This is a movie that is perfectly encapsulated within its trailers, as opposed to a tonally troubling film like Suicide Squad which was sold on one tone and struggled to find one in the finished product.

Zachary Levi (Blood Fest, TV’s Chuck), who plays the heroic older Billy/Shazam, is a kinetic and magical onscreen presence. He consistently shines as a superheroic version of a teenager, and he’s believable in the role, something many performers before have struggled with. I bought into the whole thing quite well. His interactions with Jack Dylan Grazer were pitch-perfect.

Mark Strong is mostly great as Dr. Sivana, but the one problem with his arc is that he is another DC villain who falls prey to the DCEU villain problem. It took Marvel some time to dig out of this as well, and Dr. Sivana is a step in the right direction, but parts of his villainy devolve into CG monster territory.

Shazam! had a tall order after its first few trailer gave us a feel for the tone of the film. I was excited but apprehensive because I’ve been hurt before by DCEU films like Suicide Squad which sold one tone but ultimately gave me a different one. Thankfully, David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation) has done it again by crafting a film wholly different than any of the others he has been known for. Shazam! is aided by powerful turns from its entire principal cast, and it mostly dodges many of the pitfalls that its predecessors have fallen into. This is a fun and exciting superhero movie unique to its character and story and well worth your time.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

For my review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, click here.

For my review of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out (2013), click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here.

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