A wonderfully light hearted tale of a young boy who is suddenly able to change himself into an adult Superhero. Strong performances and a solid plot make up for what the film lacks in spectacle and grandiose, and Zachary Levi’s winning smile and charm will more than likely have you falling in love with this character.
David F. Sandberg comes onto the comic book movie scene with only his third feature film, Shazam. Briefly put Shazam is a cheesy light hearted flick with little in the way of dark gritty moments, something the DC Extended Universe certainly seems to be moving away from, and delivers on that tone wonderfully. Zachary Levi gives a stellar performance as a teenage boy suddenly imbued with superpowers with his winning smile and child-like demeanour really bringing the character to life. Unfortunately some of the younger cast members can take the corny nature of the film a bit too far but for the most part, Shazam is a great standalone superhero movie that manages to subvert the genre in some interesting ways giving it its own unique identity. Something that films of this genre can struggle with.
Shazam is the story of Billy Batson (portrayed by Asher Angel), a foster child who struggles to stick with families due to his belief that his Mother is out there waiting for him somewhere. His constant searching for her has led many families to give up on him, until he meets the Vasquez couple, who were foster kids themselves, and is introduced to their family. He strikes up a friendship with the boy closest to his age, Freddy, who is obsessed with all things superhero in the DCEU. For reasons that won’t be spoiled here, Billy is granted the powers of Shazam, changing him into an adult superhero by just uttering the word.
Whilst simple the plot is very tight and well developed. A strong script and some all round good performances give the film a childish charm which is exactly what the film is aiming for. Zachary Levi plays the Superhero version of Billy fantastically, holding onto the natural characteristics of a 14 year old boy and developing Billy’s character into the young man he becomes. Mark Strong gives a wonderfully serious performance as Dr. Sivana juxtaposing the silliness of Shazam’s character creating some hilarious moments and also some quite intensely unnerving ones. Billy’s character is very believable as a young teenager who is suddenly able to turn himself into an adult (and an adult superhero at that) and the challenges and responsibilities that come with the opportunities for fun that brings.
Visually the film struggles to stand out in terms of cinematography but goes some ways to make up for it with the costume and set design. Shazam’s costume is wonderfully colourful and is almost copy and pasted from the comic books. The hilariously useless white cape and golden boots really emphasise the silliness of the character and further, the silliness of the movie.
Unfortunately however the film is let down by a pretty generic visual style outside of the Shazam costume. The cinematography is mostly forgettable as is the design for the film’s villains. There is only so many times Mark Strong can take his glasses off to reveal his weird eye before it becomes grating. Furthermore the monsters suffer from the DCEU’s consistent flaw of being designed as big grey ugly beings with glowing red eyes, something that is shared across almost every DC film to come out since Man of Steel (Zack Snyder, 2013). However the action scenes are strong and well directed which brings otherwise fairly mediocre elements of the visual style out of the boring and into the comfortably entertaining.
Shazam indicates a positive direction the DCEU is now heading following the positive response to last year’s Aquaman (James Wan, 2018). Now moving away from gritty and grey, DC’s response to the MCU finally feels like it is coming into its own, and is worthy of some notice. Embracing the silliness and treating the over the top seriousness with a self referential, tongue in cheek approach gives the films an accessibility that lacked with earlier entries in the series. It’s not unfair to say that this franchise lacked any sort of identity that went beyond dark and grey before the release of Aquaman. Whilst still suffering from elements that have been left over from the Zack Snyder era, the DCEU appears to be heading in the right direction in terms of having its own identity separate from the MCU but also being entertaining and engaging in its own right.
Simultaneously juggling a tongue in cheek, self referential style with an emotionally engaging plot leaves Shazam as likely the best entry into the DCEU thus far. Standing head and shoulders in terms of quality above the likes of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (Zack Snyder, 2016) and Justice League (Zack Snyder, 2017) Shazam represents a continuation of the new direction started off by Aquaman. Whilst lacking a certain visual flair to give it that extra edge, Shazam’s silly and colourful hero more than makes up for it in this tight, well directed and entertaining package.
Written by Alfie Smith