WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2019)
Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou
‘Shazam!’ sounds a very-Will Smith kind of word.
DC. Those harbingers of doom, grey filters, and horrendous digital facial hair. Brooding in the shadow of Marvel in terms of box office returns, the movies themselves haven’t always attracted excellent reviews either. Wonder Woman scored the studio their first unanimous hit, whilst Aquaman broke into the billion-dollar club (and lest we forget, SUICIDE SQUAD is an Academy Award-winning movie…) and both of those movies had an element of fun and colour to them, setting them apart from the earlier DC offerings.
Decked out in red spandex with a bright yellow lightning bolt adorning his chest, Shazam/Billy Batson wasn’t going to have an issue with the colour aspect, the issue would be getting people to come and see a pretty unknown quantity. With the marketing leaning towards a Big / throwback vibe, the momentum began to swell and with the affable Zachary Levi in the lead role, who knew what could happen. The key question, though, is – is Shazam! actually any good? Happily, the answer is yes, yes it is. By no means excellent, but very good. Directed by Lights Out helmer David F. Sandberg, Shazam! offers a bouncy, punchy superhero movie that just wants to have a bit of a laugh.
The story isn’t a million miles away from the antics of Tom Hanks in Big. Fourteen-year-old Billy Batson (Angel) is bestowed superhuman powers by a strange shaman guy (played by Djimon Hounsou and known as…Shazam) in order to protect the Earth from Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Strong) and his Seven Deadly Sins ghoulies. OK, that part didn’t happen in Big, however, the child in a man’s body aspect did and with the words “Shazam!”, Billy becomes the buff superhero (Levy) and spends most of his time japing about with his new powers and age. Keeping his identity from his foster home family proves tough enough and eventually Billy becomes an internet sensation – however, Sivana wants his powers and will stop at nothing to get them. Shazam! is probably (definitely) DC’s most light-hearted and (actual) fun movie in their stable and the gags come thick and fast, for the most part hitting the mark including a few real laugh-out-loud moments. Zachary Levi is great in the lead role, as was his younger counterpart Asher Angel. The dynamic between teen Billy and superhero Billy is great, as is the relationship between him and Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy – Billy’s adoptive brother who suffers from disability and uber-nerdiness too – the two (three?) really hit it off. The remaining members of Billy’s adoptive family all play their part too to create a little team to want to root for. Mark Strong is dependably solid in the villain role, full of snarls, scowls and deep vocals – he may not be the most memorable, but he is appealing within the movie.
There is a real ‘old-fashioned’ vibe to Shazam! – which is meant as a positive. From the pair-ups to the ridiculous Ghostbusters-esque Seven Deadly Sins baddies, there’s a nice feeling that the movie doesn’t take itself entirely seriously, even in the action scenes and big finale (the villain’s ‘evil speech’ scene is golden). There’s a refreshing self-awareness that feels spot on. Even the DC tie in’s felt organic and not out of place or, more importantly, unobtrusive – most movies nowadays feel the need to cram in references left, right and centre or the screaming desire to remind everyone THIS IS PART OF A CINEMATIC UNIVERSE. However, Shazam! plays it right. In terms of screenplay, the writing is just fine and, interestingly, the villain gets more development in terms of back story which makes sense given Billy’s situation. The set-up for a sequel is there but I didn’t find it gratuitous or felt that it made this feel less of a standalone movie than it does (despite the universe tying mid/post-credits stinger). Some of the CGI was a bit naff, especially in the major battle, but there’s enough going on to divert your attention.
Shazam! is one of those movies that comes along every so often and brings the kid out in you. Who didn’t want to have superpowers as a kid? Zachary Levi’s goofy performance is just what the movie required and the rest of the cast are just as strong. Get rid of the brash and broody DC and deliver movies like Shazam! more often. This is what superhero movies should be like - very good and unashamedly fun.
May 6th 2019