Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Movie Review: Shazam!

Shazam! *** ½ / *****
Directed by: David F. Sandberg.
Written by: Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke based on the character created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck.
Starring: Zachary Levi (Shazam), Mark Strong (Dr. Thaddeus Sivana), Jack Dylan Grazer (Freddy Freeman), Asher Angel (Billy Batson), Djimon Hounsou (The Wizard), Adam Brody (Super Hero Freddy), Faithe Herman (Darla Dudley), Meagan Good (Super Hero Darla), Grace Fulton (Mary Bromfield), Michelle Borth (Super Hero Mary), Ian Chen (Eugene Choi), Ross Butler (Super Hero Eugene), Jovan Armand (Pedro), D.J. Cotrona (Super Herp Pedro),Marta Milans (Rosa Vasquez), Cooper Andrews (Victor Vasquez), Ethan Pugiotto (Thad), John Glover (Mr. Sivana), David Kohlsmith (Young Billy), Caroline Palmer (Billy’s Mom).
With Woman Wonder, Aquaman and now Shazam, I think it’s clear that DC got the message that their shared universe of comic book films needed to lighten up a bit if they were going to move forward. They took their lead from Nolan’s Batman films – but those films are almost a breed unto themselves, and trying to replicate it on a mass scale was a dismal failure in films like Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and Justice League. I don’t hate all of those films – but they were definitely too dour, too dark, too morose to make me want to spend 20+ films in that Universe – which I’ve (mostly) gladly done in the Marvel Universe. So DC reset, and tried to lighten up a little bit. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Shazam – which is a big, goofy film about how much fun it would be to be a kid who turns into a superhero on command. In terms of ranking it in the DC Universe, it’s no Wonder Woman – but it’s a lot better than the rest.
In the film, Billy Batson is a 14-year-old foster kid – who got separated from his mother at the fair one day, and never found her again, although he’s never stopped looking. He has just been moved to his latest foster home – run by the loving Rosa and Victor (Martha Milans and Cooper Andrews) – who are already raising four foster kids – the college bound Mary, the largely silent Pedro, gamer Eugene, adorable Darla, and the superhero obsessed Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). Billy doesn’t much want to be there – but for now he has no choice, and once he is transported to a strange world, given strange powers by a Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) and transported back again, he finds Freddy’s knowledge of all this stuff to be quite helpful.
Because now, Billy can transform himself into a superman like person simply by saying the word Shazam. When he does this, he is now played by Zachary Levi – who was the right choice to play this role, which is essentially a child trapped in a superhero’s body. Of course there is a bad guy – Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) – who as a child was deemed unworthy by the Wizard of having those powers, but has spent his life trying to get back there in order to get the dark side of these powers. And of course, the two will eventually square off – but not before Billy learns some valuable life lessons about home and family, etc.
Like many origin stories, Shazam has to do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of establishing powers and character relationships, etc. instead of just focusing on its story. While it would be true to point out that we’ve seen things like the montage of Levi trying to figure out what powers he has before, it would also be true to point out that here, it’s more fun than most of the time, as it really doesn’t feel like a big, dumb goofy kid playing around. While the movie does establish that there will eventually be a conflict between Shivana and Shazam – I wish it felt somewhat more organic. Basically, it just kind of feels like Shivana sits around and waits until the movie is ready for him to confront Shazam, so we can get to the climax.
I had some other problems as well. While this is certainly the lightest movie DC has made to date, I wish it were even lighter. There is a truly violent and scary scene when Shivana storms in to confront his father in a board meeting – and unleashes his beasts based on the seven deadly sins (which by the way, seems like a missed opportunity, because they are look like the same black, smoky blobs to me) – and it ends with heads being bitten off, and more violence they you’d expect. If ever there was a superhero custom made to be kid friendly, this is it, but I guess when you hire the director of horror films Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation, you should expect some more horror movie type violence. Still, it feels like a missed opportunity to open the audience up to more people – and given that the violence and scares don’t really add much to the film, it’s a disappointing decision.
Still, Shazam is mainly a fun film from beginning to end, and it’s nice to see DC lighten up a bit – even if I think it would better to lighten up even more. This is a goofy superhero film – and I mean that as a compliment.

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