Shazam is a carefree coming of age movie that is a welcome change from DC’s darker offerings.
“There are no universe-threatening cataclysms, as certain other heroes may be struggling with and, though it has its dark moments, it will ultimately leave you with a contented smile on your face”
In many respects, Shazam! is the most enthusiastic, heartfelt superhero movie released for years. It is a low-stakes romp about a fourteen year-old orphan suddenly landed with the powers so many comic fans dreamed of at that age. There are no universe-threatening cataclysms, as certain other heroes may be struggling with and, though it has its dark moments, it will ultimately leave you with a contented smile on your face.
“There, by saying ‘Shazam!’, Billy gains the power to transform at will into a broad-chested, caped, grown man”
Asher Angel plays the role of a young Billy Batson, a troubled orphan who has run away from foster home after foster home in search of his true mother. Batson is reserved and forlorn, remaining closed off to his new foster-family near the movie’s start, and very much having a lone-wolf outlook in life. The movie really takes off when Batson finds himself whisked away to the Rock of Eternity by a weakened and ageing Shazam, played by Djimon Hounsou. There, by saying ‘Shazam!’, Billy gains the power to transform at will into a broad-chested, caped, grown man. Zachary Levi totally steals the show in playing this role, infusing it with a heartwarming, gleeful charm. He even flosses.
“They are a glorious unpicking of superhero tropes in the form of two kids messing around after school”
Billy’s foster-brother, Freddy Freeman, takes on the mentor role for Shazam as the two try to figure out the extent of these new powers. The series of experiments recorded by Freddy, and Billy immediately exploiting his powers to allow him to do grown-up things, are the best parts of the whole two hours. They are a glorious unpicking of superhero tropes in the form of two kids messing around after school. Sadly, youth doesn’t last for ever. In the second half of Shazam!, superhero antics and fight scenes overtake the high-school movie that dominated things up to this point. The action is passable, but wind up being among the least creative parts of the whole thing. It’s definitely been done better elsewhere, and in a more efficient amount of time, too.
“There are certain parallels between Sivana’s experiences and Batson’s, which tie in to one of the movie’s key messages about the importance of treating children with love and care”
Shazam’s adversary in these scenes is Dr Thaddeus Sivana, played by Mark Stong. Sivana, whom we saw as a child at the start of the movie in a surprisingly dark and bloody few minutes. He is obsessed with finding his way back to Rock of Eternity. He is filled with envy and bitterness at being rejected by the Wizard Shazam as a boy, and decides to steals the powers of the seven deadly sins from his protection. To gain absolute power, he must track down and take down the new Shazam. Strong gives a great performance as Sivana. He is understated and threatening, while managing to stay sympathetic and avoid melodrama. There are certain parallels between Sivana’s experiences and Batson’s, which tie in to one of the movie’s key messages about the importance of treating children with love and care. After all, it is with the help of his loving new family that Batson is able to fill his new superhero shoes – and that ridiculous spandex suit.
“I love the warm lighting of the Vasquez family home, compared to the darkness that Sivana takes around with him”
Shazam’s outfit has an action-figure feel that really matches the heart of this film. Director David F. Sandberg has a history with horror (most notably Annabelle: Creation), which shows itself in the opening scene, but I’m glad he went down this shamelessly entertaining road for the bulk of the runtime. Visually, the film uses light and colour to a good effect. I love the warm lighting of the Vasquez family home, compared to the darkness that Sivana takes around with him, for example. I did notice lackluster CGI at some moments though, particularly shots which involved characters flying. I also couldn’t help thinking that the so-called seven deadly sins could have been more imaginatively rendered. They are designed well enough, but they’re all the same boring grey colour aside from their glowing red eyes – a not-so-subtle way of telling you that they’re the baddies.
Unsurprisingly, if you’re a fan of superhero movies you will probably enjoy DC’s latest offering. It’s the most fun DC’s extended universe of movies has had, providing a similar sort of emotional release that the Deadpool films did for Marvel. Like Deadpool, Shazam! has its own unique identity which sets it apart from the constant output of superhero films that can sometimes feel formulaic. It isn’t the genre’s flashiest member, but it’s definitely its sweetest.
Images courtesy of Warner Bros, DC Comics and DC Entertainment.