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Review: Shazam!

Shazam!
9 10

After the tremendous success of both WONDER WOMAN and AQUAMAN, following the disastrous performance of JUSTICE LEAGUE, all eyes are on SHAZAM! to see if the back-to-back rebound success stories were a fluke or a sign that the DCEU has regained its footing. Well, for me, the answer is simple. Hell yes. Now, I know that there are many that champion the Snyder-verse DCEU and I have enjoyed many of them myself (MAN OF STEEL is still my favorite Superman film) and even enjoyed some of it's most criticized films, including BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and SUICIDE SQUAD. But, there's no doubt that the tide has shifted, with the new slate of films focusing more on single character stories rather than universe-building team-up events. And now, for the third time in a row, those efforts have paid off in spades.

SHAZAM! follows the exploits of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), an orphan who is in search of his real mom, which inhibits him from staying in a foster home for any true length of time. However, saddled with a new foster home that houses five other kids and two loving "parents", Batson is exposed to a caring group that challenge his usual "runaway" agenda. Batson becomes quick friends with Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), a crippled boy his same age that is obsessed with superheroes in every way who carries himself with attitude and humor, which helps him combat his handicap. While Batson and Freddy are making their way through standard teenage life, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) is busy on the hunt for a portal to the Rock of Eternity, a magic location that houses an aging Wizard (as played by Djimon Hounsou) who is looking to bestow his powers to a "worthy" individual as his own lifeforce begins to fade away.

shazam, zachary levi, jack dylan grazer

Fate collides one day when Batson finds himself on the run from some bullies after protecting Freddy and he ends up in the Rock of Eternity himself with The Wizard confident he's found his new champion. And, as fast as you can say Shazam! he's transformed into a hulking mass of electric energy in a superhero suit. And this is where the fun really begins. Zachary Levi, as the grown-up/transformed Batson/Shazam! is an absolute delight in the role and clearly has a strong understanding of who this character is and how he would react to his new situation (i.e. a teenage boy that now has the body, likeness and powers of a fully-grown superhero). The panic, the discovery, the humor, the awkwardness and, eventually, the heroics, all come naturally to Levi, who is able to exude his younger co-star (Angel), while fully embracing the part in his own right.

What follows is very much "BIG with superpowers" but that's not where the buck stops. There's a lot more going on here than a "kid" superhero testing out his powers, making YouTube videos, destructively "stopping" crime and attempting to BE a superhero without any true guidance from one. Director David Sandberg has crafted a superhero film that dips its toe in many other genres, notably the 80s-style adventure films of that era, from THE GOONIES to BACK TO THE FUTURE to GHOSTBUSTERS and more. It's got a tinge of horror, superhero action, loads of humor and, most importantly, a lot of heart, which is something that can't be undersold in a story like this. While many may be concerned that this is just a comedy, you can rest easy that it's got a lot more going on. That said, it's laugh-out-loud funny from start to finish and that's in no way a bad thing given the material we're dealing with.

shazam, zachary levi, mark strong

There are some points where the story slows down a bit and you may find yourself getting anxious for the next funny or heroic moment, but the lulls are necessary, even if they drag a bit. The payoff to these moments is important, however, so it's not all for nothing. On the villain side, Mark Strong always makes for an imposing force and I found his Sivana to be especially ruthless. There are definitely some dark twists with his character and even though he isn't given enough to elevate into the "greatest of all time" villain spots, he's got the presence, acting chops and attitude to make for a fine evil baddie. The evil creatures at his disposal are equally nasty and you may need to cover your kid's eyes a few times when they pop up on screen. Another small criticism is that the film occasionally meanders into a flat style, particularly when it's just Shazam! and Freddy walking around the city. However, I'm also willing to cut some slack as it also lends some realistic credibility of a larger-than-life superhero just walking around the city like an average joe, so it's a minor gripe (and one I may change my mind on upon future viewings).

SHAZAM! is unapologetically a film set in the DCEU with plenty of references to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman (and surely more that I missed) and I was surprised at how much they played into the story in various little ways. It's much more connected than either WONDER WOMAN or AQUAMAN in that sense, but it all fits and makes perfect sense to do so. And that's another thing that makes SHAZAM! so effective; it's clever as hell. There are so many moments that unfold in this film that will have you smiling from ear-to-ear at how perfect and clever they are, wether they're addressing familiar tropes, embracing the world and situation they're living in or simply turning the genre out a bit, the film is hardly a stale recreation of everything you've seen before and that's a beautiful thing. It also benefits from some genuinely rousing and heroic moments, some of which I simply can't spoil here (even if Funko already did). No matter how you slice it and despite any flaws in pacing or style, SHAZAM! is an absolute gem and a damn fun time at the movies.

Source: JoBlo.com

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