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Shazam! Review

April 5, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
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Shazam! Review  

Directed By: David Sandberg
Written By: Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke; Based on the characters created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck
Runtime: 132 minutes
MPAA Rating:

Zachary Levi – Shazam
Asher Angel – Billy Batson
Mark Strong – Dr. Thaddeus Sivana
Jack Dylan Grazer – Freddy Freeman
Djimon Hounsou – The Wizard Shazam
Grace Fulton – Grace Fulton
Marta Milans – Rosa Vasquez
Cooper Andrews – Victor Vasquez
Ian Chen – Eugene Choi
Faithe Herman – Darla Dudley
Jovan Armand – Pedro Peña
John Glover – Mr. Sivana

Warner Bros. and DC’s latest cinematic installment is the cinematic debut of Shazam, or Captain Marvel as he was originally known when the character debuted in the pages of Fawcett Comics in 1939. Due to rights issues, the character now goes by the name Shazam, hence the title. This follows the story of the young foster child, Billy Batson (Angel), who is granted with the mystical powers of the Wizard Shazam (Hounsou), granting him the ability to transform into an all-powerful adult superhero (Levi). Basically, it’s the big screen superhero of the 1988 classic Tom Hanks film, Big.

Since DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. thought it was more important to try and push a solo spinoff film for Black Adam that is still yet to be made (and considering Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s packed schedule, it’s questionable if and when it ever will be), Shazam instead has to contend with the nefarious Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Strong). Sivana was once given the opportunity to be granted the powers of Shazam, but he was instead tempted by the powers of the Seven Deadly Sins. Spending his entire adult life searching for a way back to the Wizard Shazam’s hidden dimension, he unlocks the symbols and is finally granted the Seven Deadly Sins’ power. Nearing the end of his lifespan, the Wizard Shazam is running out of time and options to find a champion who is pure of heart to carry on his legacy.

Enter wayward teenager Billy Batson. At 14, he’s been sent from foster family to foster family. Billy is never able to settle in as he’s desperate to be reunited with the mother he was separated from at a very young age. The system finally puts him in a group home with the kindly Victor (Andrews) and Rosa Vasquez (Milans), who are also the foster parents to Eugene (Choi), Darla (Herman), Pedro (Armand), Mary (Fulton) and Freddy (Grazer), who gets to room with Billy. Freddy also happens to be a superhero fanatic in a world that’s already home to the likes of Batman, Superman, Aquaman and the like.

Billy is none too eager to accept his new home, but he is brave enough to stand up for Freddy when he’s getting beaten up by some bullies at school. This is apparently enough to be offered recruitment by Shazam, granting him all of his power and wisdom he’s acquired across centuries. Young Billy Batson has now become a boy in an all-powerful superhero’s body. So, he does what most kids that age would do with superpowers, goof off, sneak into strip clubs and show off to try and get money.

Shazam! definitely features some strong direction by David F. Sandberg, who thankfully didn’t create a drab, ugly-looking film, but instead one that’s more vibrant and warm. The film is anchored by an amazing performance by the charismatic Zachary Levi, who is definitely the highlight here. His manic energy also elevates the picture.

The main drawback to Shazam! is really Asher Angel’s performance as Billy Batson. While he did show some early promise, Billy is a little too withdrawn for the rest of the film, often overshadowed by the performances of his superhero alter-ego played by Levi and his foster brother Freddy, played by Jack Dylan Grazer. Considering Big was the big inspiration here, in that film, it was believable that Tom Hanks was playing an older version of David Moscow. Here, not so much. The performances don’t really match up well enough.

Mark Strong is an adequate, but unspectacular villain, as Dr. Sivana. His backstory is actually fairly interesting and quite harrowing, but the character has been severely dialed down for the sake of the film. Strong is a tremendous actor, but the Sivana character could’ve used a bit more comic book villainy type of flair to make him a little more distinct and unique. The movie didn’t need to go full-on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but Sivana just was never all that cool or interesting, especially when the film teases far more intriguing and interesting rogues you’d rather see the Billy Batson version of Shazam face.

Ultimately, the film’s coming-of-superhero story for Billy is strong, and the relationship between Freddie and Billy’s Shazam definitely make the movie an entertaining viewing experience. Billy ultimately trying to find his own home and his “real” family is a strong and powerful message, and Sandberg gets that across exceptionally well.

Considering this film has a lot more humor and comedy than previous DC film entries, it definitely appears that Sandberg, the writers and producers took a lot more cues from the Marvel Cinematic Universe playbook. There are quite a few visual and stylistic similarities to Ant-Man and Spider-Man: Homecoming. That said, Sandberg does a very good job shooting the superhero action and fights. It was a major step-up from the lugubrious visuals of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. Even Wonder Woman‘s final sequence overdid the computer-generated visuals. Punching someone doesn’t necessarily have to cause an atomic explosion that destroys everything around it.

Shazam! is not the best DC or comic book superhero movie ever made, but it’s an entertaining superhero romp with some good performances and a sense of humor. Hopefully, if the film series continues, it’s able to fulfill the promise of more exciting adventures that are to come.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Shazam! is a decent entertaining DC comic book superhero installment. It's elevated by an incredibly strong performance by Zachary Levi and good direction by David Sandberg. Dr. Thaddeus Sivana as a villain is a bit on the bland side, and he could've used a bit more flair. Either that, or Black Adam seems like he would've made a far superior antagonist for this story. It's a decent start for the Shazam! film series, even if it didn't knock it out of the park.