Shazam! is easily one of the most anticipated DC superhero films in a long time. Coming off an outstanding financial and a decent critical reception to James Wan’s Aquaman, David F. Sandberg’s new film is being set to the standard and expectation that the Worlds of DC franchise could finally turn the tide for both fans and critics and unite them under the one DC banner. However, Sandberg and company take these expectations and almost completely disregard them, delivering a flick that’s hard to recognize what it’s trying to be. In one moment, it features poorly rendered gruesome deaths, and in another, Zachary Levi as the lead character is cracking cheesy, cartoonish jokes at over 60 MPH. There isn’t a tight balance on what Shazam! is and instead, it sometimes comes across as muddled and disjointed. But outside of these tonal inconsistencies, a disastrous opening, and a bloated third act, Shazam! is still a blast for the entire family, succeeding largely on its constantly beating heart and ever charismatic lead performer Zachary Levi. It’s certainly not groundbreaking for the genre, an attribute that becomes increasingly more obvious as the film progresses, but it’s suitable for an age where comic book films are placed to such a high bar.
The most prevalent topic to buzz about when exiting the theater is Shazam!’s decisive heart and themes. Centering around a foster family that includes our main protagonist Billy Batson (played in the younger form by Asher Angel), Sandberg smartly dodges most of the stereotypes of such a roster of characters and sheds new light on the quiet heroism that many foster parents actually show those who they adopt. I note that the film dodges most of these stereotypes simply out of the inherent flaw that the foster family, while portrayed differently than the usual foster family cliché culprits, is still shaped against a very recognizable mold. Almost all of the characters have no real motion in their characters, entirely exposing how dull their stereotypical personalities are. There simply is no flavor to this band of characters that makes them feel unique, an objective that was doubly important since the third act relies on the audience being invested in these characters.
In addition, the performances from the entire family range from passable to a hard-lined mess, the latter being sourced from Grace Fulton as Mary Bromfield, one of the foster children. She has one of the only legitimate attempts at making a dynamic character in the film, and while granted it wasn’t a fantastic attempt by the writers, she completely blows the part. Her character lacks subtlety and is far too on the nose, an even more devastating consequence given the fact that her arc is attempting to incorporate themes subtly.
As for the two characters who get the most spotlight, Asher Angel as Billy Batson and Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman, they both do fine enough jobs, despite Angel getting off on the entirely wrong foot. Grazer as Freddy is likable, but like the rest of the characters outside of the main protagonist’s, he is static and only has one personality. The effect of the chemistry between Grazer and Angel and Grazer and Levi wears off surprisingly fast, making the final act of the film, where all of the characters are intended to have a great moment to shine, compromised and weak.
But what saves the entire film is unquestionably Zachary Levi as Shazam, the titular hero. In every scene he is in, he clearly gives it all and instantly solidifies the performance as one of the most iconic in superhero history. It’s worth laying down the ticket price just for Levi alone. He has a flamboyant charm that somehow always works and does a dazzling job of keeping the audience engaged and entertained.
One of the few controversial elements heading into the film was Levi’s actual superhero costume. And frankly, it does look like a low-budget production at times, with his massive lightning symbol clearly being LED. At certain, admittedly rare, points, it was comparable to a homemade product, a ridiculous assessment since the film cost 90 million to make, but it was most likely spent primarily on Strong and his CGI-heavy sequences. And on that note, Mark Strong as the main antagonist Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. In full transparency, I had completely forgotten his name, despite seeing the film just hours ago, simply because of how stiff his villain is. To Strong’s credit, he is clearly putting in as much effort as possible, but the film seems so unconcerned with his character and arc therefore that he feels like an unwarranted PS note. In fact, if he were to be entirely removed, the film would be just as compelling and entertaining as it would be in its present state, perhaps even more.
In conclusion, Shazam! is a delight that’s simply undeniable, especially to younger audiences. It has an outstanding collection of lead performances and a director, David F. Sandberg, who has his heart entirely in the right place. What notable flaws the film has, in its structuring and characterization, can easily be excused just on Levi’s merits alone. Shazam! is, in fact, everything that people could have hoped for, and it will hopefully usher in a new age for the Worlds of DC franchise.
We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson's (Asher Angel) case, by shouting out one word--SHAZAM!--this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult Super Hero Shazam (Zachary Levi), courtesy of an ancient wizard. Still a kid at heart--inside a ripped, godlike body--Shazam revels in this adult version of himself by doing what any teen would do with superpowers: have fun with them! Can he fly? Does he have X-ray vision? Can he shoot lightning out of his hands? Can he skip his social studies test? Shazam sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of a child. But he'll need to master these powers quickly in order to fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Strong).
SHAZAM! Hits Theaters on April 5th, 2019!