'Shazam!' (2019) A Super-Duper Movie Review
The DCEU Up to This Point
After seeing the entries from the cinematic universe that’s been molded by DC comics for the last six years, I will admit that I really wasn’t the biggest fan of with the first few entries. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, as well as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, were colossal trainwrecks that I did not much care for in the slightest. Suicide Squad was a small step in the right direction within the character department, despite its obvious riding along on the coattails of Guardians of the Galaxy. However, the writing in regards to the story structure and antagonist still had a long way to go.
In my opinion, 2017’s Wonder Woman was the first truly solid film to be released in this cinematic DC universe. Not perfect by any means, in terms of narrative and character and even specific villains, those components were handled far more competently in comparison to what came before it. Justice League was more or less a step backwards that very same year, yet still was at least filled with a bit more life than Man of Steel ever was. Then DC came back with another admirable form of entertainment the next year in James Wan’s Aquaman, which so far remains possibly my favorite entry in the DCEU. Over time it seems that DC has been making a major effort in learning from their past mistakes in order to improve upon their franchise and better their future installments.
Now we’ve reached DC’s latest cinematic venture with the solo superhero flick, Shazam!. How does it hold up to the heights that DC has established in recent years? Is it another fumble or achievement? Will I keep teasing what I thought of the movie forever or will I finally just get to my point? The answer is yes.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is mostly an average, streetwise teenage boy going from one foster home to the next as he yearns to reunite with his long lost mother. In his newest foster home, Batson finds himself surrounded by a large number of foster siblings that he attempts to get along with in the interim of his inevitable next stop. One day Billy is summoned by an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) that insists that Batson is the only hope that the world has and the wizard must transfer his powers onto him. From that moment, Billy has the ability to transform into a buffed out Zachery Levi that goes by Shazam any time he says his name. The ultimate hero that Earth has been longing for is now a YouTube celebrity with his lightning powers and bumpin’ dance moves. Unfortunately, Shazam is not the only superpowered being living amongst us as Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) must challenge Shazam so he may retain unlimited power.
It’s been said all over the internet at this point, from the look of the trailers, that this seemed to be a superhero version of Big starring Tom Hanks from the ‘80s. We were right to assume that, and you know what? I loved it. I won’t lie, I genuinely had a blast with Shazam!, I really did. This movie was hilarious, had fun action, lovable characters, and is one of the least cynical movies that I’ve seen since Aquaman. Shazam! is a fantastic time as long as someone goes into it with an open mind. There is such a charm and personality to this film that was sorely missing before 2017’s Wonder Woman; that was the secret ingredient absent from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. Those were hollow shells that contained nothing outside of dread and exposition. We need characters to engage us as an audience in order to earn that bleak tone. We need charismatic or interesting dialog interwoven with the explanatory conversations so we can invest in what is happening. That is what Wonder Woman did, so did Aquaman, now Shazam! too and it’s paying off.
A lot of people are saying that the inclusion of comedy within these latest DC films have felt to be only a cynical way in attempting to mirror the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since those movies obtain such a large amount of humor in their dialog. To an extent, that may be true, for me though the humor in the last few DC movies feel genuine. At no point do I ever find a joke in Shazam! distracting or annoying, it always seems to naturally belong to whoever is uttering the line at the time. No joke ever seems to break the tone or any character’s persona, if it did then I would call foul, but this film had a firm grasp on the identities of these characters and the tone that it needed to maintain in certain scenes. Therefore, I found no qualms with the comedy here.
With that said, the comedy is funny as hell in this. The events that transpire inside the story definitely feels like what a teenage troublemaker would do if they randomly gained the abilities of a superhero. He wouldn’t go out fighting crime right off the bat, he’d be goofing off with his friends and testing out the waters of what he is capable of. Then add the fact that he turns into a fully grown adult man, of course he’s going to try scoring alcohol, what teen boy wouldn’t? Instead of ever feeling irritated by this kid and his antics, I one-hundred percent understood where he was coming from and why he did the things he would do. No one is going to instantly think to themselves, “well I’ve got powers now so I guess that means I gotta go out lurking for evil to fight against”. Nope, especially not a kid. He’s going to mis-use his powers and wind up in some wacky shenanigans, which those shenanigans were hysterical to watch unfold.
Billy & Freddy
Much like the friendship between Tom Hanks and Jared Rushton from Big, Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy and Zachary Levi/Asher Angel as Billy is gold with the comedic chemistry between this duo/trio and is side-splitting. Every joke landed for me and every scene pertaining to this two characters bickering or having some sort of back-and-forth always had me laughing. The three actors here are the true heart and soul of the movie, which shines oh so very bright. A film like this could have gone stale real quick if not for the witty humor that these three were able to deliver perfectly. If there was a weak link between this trio then I would have constantly been comparing this movie to Big, not in a good way. Luckily they work tremendously with one another onscreen to provide the heartwarming charm and comedic strengths that Shazam! needed.
I particularly enjoyed the fact that even though the character of Freddy was physically disabled, that didn’t dampen this kid’s smartass personality. He had just the right amount of sarcastic quips, yet a satisfyingly optimistic quirk that the character required to feel fresh rather than a stagnant dud. Nor does it feel simply like a recreation of Grazer’s previous character of Eddie from 2017’s It or even the Billy character from Big, Freddy feels unique to this film and not some rehash. He’s a funny kid that knows how to throw out a great one-liner every now and again.
I’ve personally not seen young actor Asher Angel before, but he seems to hold some real promise as a future talent. I will say that I was probably a little more entertained by the character of Billy here whenever Zachery Levi was onscreen, but I won’t deny that Asher still holds his own very well and was able to handle the more emotion driven scenes terrifically. Also, to be fair, Zachery Levi is supplied more of the funnier material to work with as opposed to Asher who usually required a more subdued approach. Levi could simply give a single facial expression or read a line in such a way that I would instantaneously be rolling on the floor in tears, while Asher would subtly emote which would result in me feeling rather moved by scene that built on his character more. I was engaged in this role from both performances through and through, finding Billy equal parts hilarious and emotionally identifiable. At no point did the switching between the two actors come across as disjointed or disorienting, I was able to always buy that these two were playing the same character. Another aspect that if portrayed poorly would have probably broken the entire film’s stability, but they seemed to have pulled it off with grace.
Another part that I liked about the character of Billy becoming a superhero is that when it eventually gets to the action beats where he has to go up against the villain, he doesn’t all of the sudden know how to fight and kick the baddie’s ass. Billy is caught off guard and is completely out of his league with something of this magnitude. This isn’t some bully that he’s going up against, this is a superpowered being trying to murder him and Billy legitimately gets his ass handed to him. Just because Billy has all these powers, does not mean that he knows how to use them to instantly save the day. There is a learning curve that Billy has to go through mentally and physically before he can manage to thwart a supervillain first. That was a touch that I truly appreciated about the movie.
I Love This Movie, But…
There are a couple of disappointing factors about Shazam!, a smaller detail being that of the foster parent characters that have taken Billy in. They aren’t bad characters by any means, in fact, they were likable and surprisingly engaging. The problem being that it feels like the film opens a potential subplot pertaining to a character arc between the foster parents and Billy possibly forming a sweet bond together, then it slowly became sidelined about halfway into the movie. Honestly that was a bit of a letdown because these were actually some really refreshing characters that I liked quite a bit, yet nothing was really done with them after a while and the bond that was supposed to form between the three characters felt almost superfluous. I would have appreciated being given a lot more development with them together, hopefully that will occur in the next movie, yet at the same time it seems as though that ship has already sailed and it is too late to accomplish what it should have in this film.
Dr. Baddie McBad Guy
The more substantial issue that I have with the film is that of its villain, Dr. Sivana who was played by Mark Strong. Again, not necessarily a bad antagonist, but his motivations are lacking while Strong’s performance is one that he could give in his sleep. Not a bad performance, but there’s nothing noteworthy about it either. It’s pretty much the same villainous performance that I’ve seen him portray countless times over, only this time with less of an intimidation factor or much of a personality either. He’s simply the bad guy that the good guy needs to defeat. That’s about it. Plus, when it gets into Dr. Sivana’s backstory and the reasons why he makes a dark turn with his life, it fails to leave much of an impression. Oh no… his daddy didn’t love him enough and his brother picked on him as a child. He’s a grown ass man that is apparently doing totally fine in his life now, get the f*ck over it dude. I’m not personally relating to this guy’s problems, nor am I finding him all that scary so I really don’t care all that much any time he pops back up. Dr. Sivana wasn’t the worst villain from this recent line of DC flicks, but he wasn’t the best either.
In regards to the special effects, they’re good. I really don’t have a whole lot to add there honestly. The CGI in Shazam! is pretty much on par with most any other comic book flick that I’ve seen in the last ten years. Majority of the effects are convincing and look good, one or two effects shots may be ever so slightly off, but normally there’s not much to touch on in that department. That’s the case here really. Visually speaking, the film has a decent look to it. There’s something about the aesthetics that feel distinctly inside of the DC Universe, which I admire immensely that these movies are able to sustain some form of visual attentiveness to aid me in believing this is in the same universe that Aquaman or Justice League takes place in. Whether it be seen in the darker lighting for its cinematography, distinct color palettes, the creature and costume designs, the mythology of used to setup this specific narrative that is reminiscent of other DC properties, or even the use of slow motion sequences which is a discernable trait adopted by Zack Snyder that can be seen in most of the DCEU.
Along with all those characteristics, there is one other attribute that is notably a DC trademark; that being the harsher and grittier approach to subjects like death. Meaning, when characters die… they f*cking die. The camera doesn’t look off to the side or leave things open to the imagination, there is a front row seat to a few character deaths here. Now, I’m not saying that this is some large scale demolition where casualties reign high. There are simply a select few deaths that occur onscreen that are somewhat on the surprising side. I’m bringing this up because if someone has a child who believes that they are not mature enough for this type of content then don’t show it to those kids only to blame it on the “negligence” of the filmmakers later. Shazam! is rated PG-13, maybe one should perceive that there is a bit of a reason as to why this isn’t a G rated film. Be a parent and take responsibility for what your little ones watch. Then again, I grew up with far more gruesome flicks. This is nothing. Still worth noting though.
Shazam! is a lovable flick with a tremendous amount of heart, charismatic leads, and some cool action. In the climax of the film, I will admit that I was somewhat skeptical of a specific plot point that happens with the foster kids that Billy lives with. However, after a moment of adjusting and letting it play out, I really enjoyed that factor about the movie too. Although, I highly question as to what kind of school that these kids go to in Philly where it apparently contains the grade levels of kindergarten all the way to the senior year of high school. A nitpick certainly, but still a little on the odd side when I started thinking about it. Aside from that tiny tidbit, I thoroughly had a ball with Shazam! and am excited to see where this franchise is going next.
To me, the DCEU has finally hit a good stride in quality which delights me to see again. I love DC and all the greatness that it has to offer, one of my absolute favorite films is a DC movie. I won’t say what it is, I’ll be saving that for another day. In my heart, all I want is to see both the comic book production studios of DC and Marvel strive. Sadly, there was a stretch where DC wasn’t doing so hot while Marvel was knocking it out of the park almost every time. Now it seems that is a thing of the past and we can move onto cooler material again for both companies. Not going to lie, that has me ridiculously giddy.
Who would have thought that hiring on horror film directors such as James Wan and David F. Sandberg would work out so well for superhero films?! That, to me, is quite possibly the funniest fact about these last two DC entries; that they’re directed by two guys who are directly affiliated with the Conjuring universe… which technically Aquaman is also set in the Conjuring universe since it contains the Annabelle doll in a scene… which also means that that Shazam! is a part of it as well… in the next movie is Shazam going to have to face against a demon that possesses his foster brother and things are going to get horrifying with people getting ripped in half? Because I can get behind this! Oh, another odd fact about this movie; apparently it’s a Christmas movie. I was not expecting that. How odd. I’m cool with it though. I like Christmas. Best DC superhero Christmas movie since Batman Returns!
- DC's 'Aquaman' (2018) Movie Review
When it seems that an all-out war will rage between the people of the land and the beings of the sea, Arthur Curry (Aquaman) must put an end to this rivalry by challenging his half-brother, King Orm, for the throne.
What's Your Favorite of the DCEU Thus Far?
So which movie of the current DC Cinematic Universe is your favorite installment?
That’s All Folks!
DC and Marvel seem to be back at it again in the box office, what did you think of DC’s last outing with Shazam!? Did you like or dislike my review? Agree or disagree? Wish a monster would bite off my head and throw my body out of a skyscraper’s tallest window? Comment down below and let me know! Also if you so happened to have enjoyed my article then please do me a favor and share this around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a Shazamerrific day… It could be a word! I don’t care what spellcheck says.
© 2019 John Plocar