Oh DC, here we go again. We all know the rocky road Warner Bros & DC have been on since they tried to start up their extended universe with Man of Steel back in 2013.
So where does the latest entry – Shazam, rank among this broken and battered universe of hit and miss movies? Well it may not be a home run but Shazam is a fun and hilarious movie that has made me smile more than any other DC movie to date.
Let’s start with the character himself, Shazam. Comic book fans will be familiar with the character but for those of you who are not, the short version is that a young homeless lad by the name of Billy Batson gains powers from a powerful Wizard named Shazam… If you think that sounds goofy, well you’re not wrong and one of the best things about this movie is how it plays into the wacky story and has fun with it. The filmmakers themselves even compared this to Christopher Reeve’s Superman meets Tom Hanks’ Big and I would say that’s a fair comparison.
Young Billy Batson is played by Asher Angel who is new to me having not seen him in anything before. He does a fantastic job with the role, bringing humour and weight to an emotional back story before his character even gains his powers, though there’s definitely a debate to be made that his friend / foster home roommate – Freddy Freeman steals the show! Played by Jack Dylan Grazer, Freddy pretty much represents the inner child in all of us and is exactly what we would all be like if our best friend had just gained super powers. After revealing that he is a super fan of other DC heroes such as Batman and Superman, he spends the majority of the film helping Billy out by testing how far his powers can stretch, culminating in some truly hilarious moments that poke fun at super hero clichés that I won’t spoil here as you need to see for yourself.
Not only does Freddy work great alongside young Billy, but arguably even better alongside the fully grown adult version played by Zachary Levi. Levi was born to play this role and I can’t think of a better casting option than what we got here. He plays the innocence of a child in a man’s body so perfectly and had me nearly crying with laughter more than a few times! Not once during the film does his character ever get boring and I’m left not necessarily wanting more of the film but definitely wanting more of Billy Batson (Young and old) with his sidekick Freddy. My only complaint is that sometimes it feels like there’s a disconnect between Billy as a child and Billy as Shazam as the former seems more moody than his hyperactive counterpart. It’s also worth noting that the supporting cast, more specifically Billy’s foster parents and the other kids that live there with him are absolutely brilliant as well and paint a rarely seen positive picture of a foster home in modern America.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the film’s villain – Dr Thaddeus Sivana played by Mark Strong. The characters whole motive is based around jealousy that he was rejected by the Wizard Shazam when he was a child so joins up with the seven deadly sins to try get revenge on the chosen one, Billy. I genuinely don’t think I have a good word to say about this character. He was dull, cheesy and was accompanied by some lousy CGI that just made me wince every time he and those god-awful seven deadly sin monsters were on-screen. I found myself losing interest in the movie throughout every one of his scenes and I only began to care once he interacted with Shazam. Mark Strong is not to blame here, he underplays the character which might have been a smart move given that what he had to work with was utter garbage.
The other problem I had with this film was how easily it fell into those superhero origin tropes. Given that a lot of the movie does well at pointing the finger and laughing at itself and these tropes, it was disappointing to see it fall into some of these traps itself. The best part of the story is when Billy gets his powers and is learning how to use them and even when he is called to action for the first time, it still feels fresh and funny. But as the film enters its third act, things begin to unravel. The stereotypical big boss fight that has ruined many a DC movie for me (And some Marvel ones to be fair) is back in full force here and it’s an absolute mess. There is one great scene that I won’t spoil which is absolutely hilarious but other than that, the third act completely outstays it’s welcome and soured a lot of the good that had come before in the first two acts.
I left the cinema feeling that Shazam is a great character in a below average movie. If you were to ask me if I wanted more of this movie, I’d be unsure. But if you asked me if I wanted more of Shazam himself and sidekick Freddy, I would bite your hand off in a second! So in that regard I would count this as a success if the main intention was to introduce Shazam to the DCEU and mainstream audiences, but as a stand alone movie, it doesn’t do enough to be counted as one of the greats when it comes to origin stories.
I give Shazam: