Review: Shazam! (Bumbray)

Shazam! (Bumbray)
7 10

shazam bannerPLOT: Teenaged Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who’s been in an out of various foster homes ever since being abandoned by his mother as a youngster, is granted superpowers by an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou). When he speaks the wizard’s name, “Shazam”, he’s granted superhuman strength, intellect, stamina, flight, power over electricity and near invincibility as well as the outward appearance of a hulking adult man (Zachary Levi). The only catch – his new powers have put him in the crosshairs of a similarly powered super-villain (Mark Strong) who wishes to acquire the powers of Shazam for himself.

REVIEW: I guess the conventional thinking, that DC’s superhero films have something to prove opposite the juggernaut that’s Marvel, is somewhat moot by this point. With AQUAMAN grossing over a billion dollars, WONDER WOMAN not far behind it, and both raking up more than decent reviews, one could easily argue that despite some early, rocky outings (only one of which, JUSTICE LEAGUE, was an outright flop) the DCEU has more than found its footing.

What makes their movies exciting, even to someone who’s admittedly suffering from a bit of superhero fatigue, is that they’re open to trying new stuff, with the upcoming JOKER film an interesting experiment, as is the AQUAMAN spin-off, THE TRENCH. I like the idea that not every film has to be a do-or-die epic and SHAZAM!’s a good example of a more modest superhero outing that could pay off massively for the studio. Given the genre and the fact that the price tag reportedly hovered around $80-100 million, SHAZAM! doesn’t seem like something that can really go wrong.

Indeed, it’s a lighthearted, fun superhero movie that harkens back to an older kind of family adventure, wearing its eighties influences on its sleeve by taking the Shazam origin and turning it into what’s essentially the BIG of superhero films. It’s an approach that pays off throughout, giving the film a unique flavor even if it suffers from the same issues many other superhero movies suffer from – weak villains and bloated running time.

Director David F. Sandberg has definitely made a superhero movie aimed at kids, who’ll likely flip for it in a big way as well nostalgic adults, although in what’s a surprisingly disciplined move, the nostalgia ends at the general vibe of the film – with it being set in present day (I totally expected this to be set in the eighties or nineties based on the trailer). The DCEU continuity isn’t ignored. Just like AQUAMAN, it takes place in a post-JUSTICE LEAGUE world, with Superman, Batman, Aquaman and Wonder Woman all getting named-checked. Like in the MCU, the kids of the DCEU worship their superhero protectors, with Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy Freeman having a roomful of Superman memorabilia. Thus, when Billy gets his powers, Freddy accepts them pretty easily, appointing himself his new friend’s defacto mentor/sidekick.

When it’s about Billy and Freddy, SHAZAM! works beautifully. Grazer steals every scene he’s in, but both Asher Angel and Zachary Levi make Billy an engaging character, with the newly buff Levi having the time of his life in what could be a career-changing role for him. There’s good continuity between the two. I also liked all the stuff involving Billy’s new foster family, with the kids a likable bunch that aren’t hard to invest in which, if you know the comics, pays off in the end.

Where SHAZAM! didn’t work as well for me was in the more conventional, superhero stuff. Mark Strong’s Thaddeus Sivana is as dull a villain as any we’ve gotten so far in the DCEU – a common complaint. The action isn’t anything special as we’ve seen it all before. Flying, caped heroes fighting in the city skyline? Electric bolts shooting out of hands? It’s all been done– with only the occasional meta-moment, such as a fun “fallacy of the talking villain” gag make up for how familiar the action is. It doesn’t help that at well over two hours the movie starts to drag. This wouldn’t have been an issue had the threat felt real, but never for a second did Strong’s character feel like a legitimate problem for Batson and his friends to deal with, despite a few surprisingly violent moments meant to set him up early in the film.

In the end, SHAZAM, while more of a mixed bag than I anticipated, is still relatively unique as far as the genre goes. Even if superhero fatigue kicked-in to a degree that it didn’t during the exceptional BLACK PANTHER, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE and even AQUAMAN, I enjoyed SHAZAM! and there’s not a doubt in my mind that fans will eat it up. There are certain areas I’d argue DCEU actually fares better than most Marvel outings, specifically in the way the movies are shot (both AQUAMAN and SHAZAM! have gorgeous lensing that are a far cry from the typical orange and teal look that dominate most blockbusters) and the music (the score by Benjamin Wallfisch is excellent). In the end, it’s a good family flick and likely the start of another big superhero franchise.

Source: JoBlo.com

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