Shazam! hits its stride when it goes for the comedy angle. I found myself howling with laughter at several scenes in this movie. It's not a particularly well-made movie by most critical standards. Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, and a breakout performance by Jack Dylan Grazer elevate this film beyond its myriad flaws.
One thing is that Shazam! is a very cheesy film. I am not sure if that is intentional or not, because the bits work about three-quarters of the time. Some of the jokes knocked the wind out of me from laughing so hard. Other times, like a certain overdone jape with St. Nick, the jokes admittedly got a little annoying. I give it latitude in some instances because I think the film is self-aware and tries to poke fun at the superhero genre.
Shazam! is a movie that rewards the ability to mute one's critical faculties and laugh at a goofy film without being too nit-picky about it. However, I found that the poor execution of the film was often distracting and too severe for me to feel comfortable giving it immunity from flak and waiving my critiques.
Mark Strong as the so-called "super-villain" in this film does an OK job. I blame the scriptwriters for a lot of the perplexity that I had regarding his character, Dr. Sivana. His origin begins after a chance meeting with a wizard that he develops a grudge against because the magic-man told him he did not have a "pure enough heart" to harness the powers of Shazam. He also has a deep-seated hatred for his father and brother, because they treated him like the black sheep of the family and told him he would never be "man enough." He then stages his entire life on the premise of wanting to exact revenge on his family, and he has an axe to grind with this sage who didn't let him inherit the mystical abilities of Shazam. I never understood what his motivation was beyond that.
There is a colossal time jump that leaves out the formative years of Sivana's youth and his transition into adulthood and status as a research scientist. He becomes a cold-blooded killer because he has daddy issues, a mean older brother, and a vendetta against a conjurer that slighted him as a child which most people would have written off as a hallucinatory experience. He makes it his mission to seek out Shazam, I assume, because Shazam lusted after his source of power. Still, the Machiavellian approach that Sivana takes to doing this and the flippancy with which he wreaks havoc seems erratic and directionless.
One of the things that continually bothered me was the stark contrast in attitude between the old Shazam and the young Shazam. The old one was a buoyant, lighthearted guy and the young one was dark, brooding and self-serious. I often did not buy into the idea that these two were the same person.
I did not particularly care for the digital craft in this film either. The movie often felt like a head trip, and the demon-monsters looked like amorphous CGI blobs. It sucks that the monsters were integral to the treachery and villainy of this movie, because the effects looked extremely dated in terms of quality.
Again, these are caveats to a laugh-out-loud thrill ride of a film, and I don't want to deter you from seeing it just because I can't suspend my cynicism for two hours and enjoy a movie for what it is.
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