Shazam! – Film Review
Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou
Director: David F. Sandberg
Synopsis: In need of someone to inherit his power, an ailing wizard chooses foster kid Billy Batson to be his champion, which gives him the power to become an adult superhero, all he has to do is say “Shazam…”
Review: There’s a good chance that each and every one of us has wished at some point in their lives that they were a superhero. The appeal of superheroes is perhaps at its strongest in our formative years, thus in this era of superhero movie dominance, it is hard to stand out from the crowd. Yet this is precisely what makes this latest film to emerge from the DCEU so intriguing, as it is quite literally a teenager in an adult sized, superhuman body.
Billy Batson (Angel), is the teenager in question, who has had a troubled life being in and out of foster homes, never really properly adapting to it with unanswered questions about certain events that happened in his childhood. However, on one seemingly normal day, his life is turned upside down. After being transported to this mysterious place, he meets a wizard desperately seeking a champion to inherit his remarkable powers. Sensing something in Billy, he grants him his powers, and just by uttering a single word, Billy has the power to become a fully grown adult superhero (Levi) at will, which brings the ominous Dr Sivana (Strong) into the picture.
With DC’s early misfires now (hopefully) behind them, their focus now seems to be building stories around their individual heroes, as opposed to rushing straight into superhero ensembles. Asher Angel is excellent as Billy, a character who hasn’t had the best luck in life. But he is a character who you can’t help but root for, especially when he gets his powers. When in superhero form, Levi is an absolute delight to watch. Given that he has to essentially act like a kid would, he does so with believable excitement and giddiness that one would have in that situation. Every superhero needs a reliable sidekick and for Billy/Shazam, that honour belongs to his roommate Freddy (Grazer). The budding friendship between Freddy and Billy as they go about discovering the extent of Billy’s powers is just joyous to watch.
After the dour and dreariness of their first few extended Universe outings, the studio definitely seems to have done a complete U-turn in favour of more humour. Henry Gayden’s screenplay is full of terrific wit and jokes, plenty of which dial the cheesiness and silliness factor up to ten. David F Sandberg’s direction continues on the path set by James Wan and Aquaman, as there is a distinct vibrancy and a very colourful palette to the action scenes. To counteract this though, there are one or two quite sinister moments that really push the family friendly vibe the film is going for. Mark Strong, who’s no stranger to playing a villain, does a capable job. He is very much your run-of-the mill bad guy with his nefarious plans. Having said that, though there is a solid attempt to give him a backstory to flesh him out as a villain, some more work could have gone into developing his back story.
After the troubles DC experienced in the early stages of setting up its extended universe, it’s satisfying to see DC take another step in the right direction. The overall goofiness of the story could be a hindrance to some, if done to excess, but thankfully it never becomes overbearing. With the central message about the positive impact that a warm and loving family atmosphere can have being very prevalent, especially in circumstances like foster families. Though this isn’t anything new in a superhero film, Shazam! has found a way to make it feel simultaneously fresh and heart-warming in equal measure.