Going to the theater to see a DC film is a dangerous move that will risk wasting money and wasting two hours that could have been spent with anything more enjoyable. That bitter taste lingers in some areas, but DC took some notes from the fun side of Marvel to create Shazam! which is the best from the DC universe by a long shot.
A mysterious wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) is on his last stride before death, so he needs a new hero to take over to protect Earth from the seven deadly sins. A troubled teenager in Philadelphia living with a foster family, Billy Batson (Asher Angel), gets chosen to become the new Shazam (Zachary Levi). Of course, those demons from hell that were warned about eventually got loose, so now he must learn to become a hero to save the world. Seemingly generic, but this story has quite the personality.
Levi and Angel playing essentially the same character work wonderfully. The role for Levi is nothing new since he is used to playing a man-child from his breakout role in Chuck, but he is able to show he is more than that character. The dynamic personality glows throughout his arc, which has been done many times before, but not often this entertaining. Seeing a hero learn his powers feels more believable when they are having fun, especially a 14-year-old. It is hard to say that someone would not want to test out their powers in the most thrilling ways like a child, even if they are an adult.
Mark Strong as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana has his typical villainy moments with his overly dark DC vibes. While he has those flaws that make him a bit dull, his backstory and performance make him a lot more compelling. A lesser baddie from others seen in the genre, but far better than anything from the DC extended universe.
The wholesome, loving foster family Billy lives with warmed my heart until I stopped to think how shallow they all feel. Performances from everyone were a joy to watch, but not enough development made me care. What worked is their wonderful chemistry which saved the film from this flaw and made this family feel real. If a few were cut from the film, then others could shine more on screen for a better roster.
The action reminds me of what we see in any Superman flick with some added humor from a Spider-Man story (sorry DC fans for the Marvel reference, but it is the truth). Flying through the city to bash through buildings in a more contained story is a refreshing take. The world is in danger, but having a more intimate setting made every fight more personal between Thaddeus and Shazam.
DC has a color issue with its bland visuals and lousy CGI. Besides Shazam’s beautifully vibrant suit, that is one of my new favorites from any superhero movie, there is not much to admire on the big screen.
The most shocking aspect is the humor. I consistently laughed and for the right reasons. I did not laugh to mock; instead, I laughed for genuinely funny scenes. Everyone has their time for serious and comedic beats that fit correctly.
Two entries in a row from DC that has horror directors working on their big blockbusters. While I felt James Wan’s (Saw and The Conjuring) Aquaman was atrocious, David F. Sandberg (Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation) managed to implement his horror experience in a way that worked much better without taking away from the tone that makes Shazam! so damn good.
Shazam! is not only a blast, but a great balance of a family movie, superhero adventure, and a new take on the coming of age theme. Any fan of caped heroes who save the little guy needs to stop reading and go to the theater to support this goofy, yet a heartfelt film. For once, a DC movie got its tone right by executing its darker and brighter moments into a cohesive narrative without the jarring shifts like its previous releases.
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures/DC