Directed By David F. Sandberg
Starring – Zachary Levi, Djimon Honsou, Jack Dylan Grazer
The Plot – We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s (Asher Angel) case, by shouting out one word: “SHAZAM!”, this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult superhero Shazam (Levi) courtesy of an ancient wizard (Honsou). Still a kid at heart: inside a ripped, godlike body, Shazam revels in this adult version of himself by doing what any teen would do with superpowers: have fun with them! Can he fly? Does he have X-ray vision? Can he shoot lightning out of his hands? Can he skip his social studies test? Shazam sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of a child. But he’ll need to master these powers quickly in order to fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, adult language, and suggestive material
– A Different direction for D.C. In finding something that sticks to the wall positively, D.C has stripped everything down in order to find what is great about the comic book genre of films in the first place. Long gone are the big budgets, the extensive post-production rendering, in-the-dark cinematography, and atmosphere that makes us feel like we’re watching a movie from The Crow franchise. Instead, we are treated to an airy environment full of wonder and humor, vibrancy in color texture, and an overall presentation that looks like it was something off of a C.W Channel of shows. That’s not to say this is a bad thing, but instead reminds us that “fun” should be the first adjective mentioned when discussing comics, and with some hope in consistency to this approach, D.C will rise from the ashes to fight again.
– Imagination in action set designs. Where the budget that the movie does have goes is in the variety of backdrops and sequence pieces that stand as a love letter to the city of brotherly love. Because this is set in Philadelphia during the winter time, we are treated to a mall scene that pays homage to 1986’s “Big”, a convenience store, and a winter fair full of rides and prize booths for our characters to lose themselves in. These are settings with a purpose, and because of such we are treated to supreme improvisation when it comes to the ways these adversaries adapt and overcome one another that would otherwise make things difficult. Above all else, the setting of Philadelphia itself is an original take for comic book films, and proves that D.C is all for spreading their influence across the geographical stratosphere.
– The comedy works. One thing I was worried about heading into this film were the trailers that convinced me on everything BUT the humor, and thankfully this isn’t the case, as the film saves its best lines and sight gags for the feature presentation itself. Not everything lands as intended, but I can say that the chemistry between these actors, as well as the positive energy commitment that they give to making these lines pop from personality, is something that gave me plenty of hearty laughs, and all in a way that is good for the whole family. I also enjoyed the gags at superhero films, like long distance hearing, that otherwise usually bothers me, but is commended here for being called out by the sheer ridiculousness of it all. This is a PG-13 film, but there’s nothing here that is too extreme or testing for younger audiences, and I commend that much higher than something like “Deadpool” that can easily reach for the raunch of no restrictions whenever it needs to tickle its audience.
– Razor sharp performances all around. Aside from a little girl character, whose speech patterns were completely unbelievable, the rest of the cast here knocks it out of the park, and each receive ample attention in getting their characters over. For my money, it’s easily Levi and Grazer who steal the show, bouncing off of one another in interaction like typical bored teenagers who have just stumbled across the greatest thing in either of their lives. For Grazer, it was the slick tongue in the way he reacts to Shazam’s superpowers that I couldn’t get enough of, as well as the command he has over every scene he stands in. Mark Strong is also solid as an above average antagonist, who does carry with him a lot of torture from his past. Strong is having the time of his life playing this role, and the menace and persistence from his character design collides well with a demeanor that never shifts from serious. However, it’s definitely Levi’s show, as the complexity of harvesting the immaturity and curiosity of a teenager is something that is clearly evident in his deliveries, making it easier to see the child buried deep down in this barrage of bulging muscles that nearly protrude his seat. Levi’s charisma is feel good humor at its finest, and if his infectious powers have no effect on you what so ever, you may in fact be heartless.
– Evolution in script. There is a subplot involving Billy’s mother that until the final half hour or so I found to be faulty because of its believability, but it turns out that the film was saving the biggest impact for our hearts, and what emitted was a third act dramatic pull that I truly didn’t see coming, that even tugged at my heartstrings. This, in addition to an overall family-first narrative is something that I took great pleasure in, and proves that the film tries so much harder in conjuring up the human side of its superheroes for us the audience to see ourselves in. Because of such, it proved that this movie was doing so much more than resting on its laurels with a one-sided humorous pull, bringing with it the crossroads between past and present for our character that really serves as the catalyst for his psychological transformation.
– D.C continuity does exist. It’s funny to see a notable chapter in the D.E.C.U that does in fact take place in the same world as its most notable superheroes, but the film never feels desperate in getting that point over as anything other than table dressing. In addition, the weight of the threat from the antagonist itself, while serious, doesn’t feel big enough that the entire world is at stake, at least not yet, so it, as well as the distant setting from Gotham and Metropolis alike, makes it feel believable that all of this could be taking place somewhere out of the grasp of Batman or Superman alike. Most of all, it’s cool that because these are child characters, the film can exploit those superheroes as idols or rock stars in a way that their respective films never could, and it makes Billy’s delve into that territory feel much more attainable to the kid watching at home, from beyond the screen.
– Actual consequences. One scene in particular really stuck with me in the change of pace that we’ve come to expect from superhero films and what we’re able to see in regards to victims. While there is still some imagination to be left to shadows and colored glass, we do see character’s flying out of windows, character’s heads being eaten, and complete destruction on a basis that we’re often not privy to. Part of this is on Sandberg himself, a usual horror director, who brings his sense of sadistic saturation to the film without it ever feeling tasteless or pushing the envelope. It establishes him as the perfect director for bringing reality to the superhero genre, and as to where a film like “Batman Vs Superman” will overlook the many casualties that throwing a monster into a nitroglycerine plant will cause, “Shazam!” embraces it, and reminds us that with great power comes dangerous consequences.
– Perfect last second stinger. I felt that the film ended in a perfect place after the conflict resolution, but there’s one last scene that began to worry me for its purpose until I saw the point. I won’t spoil anything, but the final line of dialogue mumbled during this major surprise that is at least creative for what it does or rather doesn’t show, made me laugh and feel excited at the same time, and really brings to life the reality of kids becoming their heroes that I mentioned earlier on. It’s such a well filmed, finely-timed scene, that ends the film on the highest possible note that it rightfully could, and is the perfect transition into some child-like drawings of familiar faces in the universe. Also, stay for a mid credits teaser that will pay off if you were paying attention during the first act.
– C.G restrictions. Some of this can be forgiven for budget limitations, but the rendering of monster supporting antagonists brought to light some less than stellar animations when compared to a live action backdrop. Particularly for me, it’s the total lack of mouth movement from those characters that not only made the graphics feel lifeless, but also made it distracting each and every time we have to cut back to which ever one is talking because we couldn’t possibly give them moving mouths in the first place. Likewise, Shazam’s effects of transformation and teleporting is cut and edited in a way that leaves far too much to the imagination in terms of what we’re actually seeing. Think when you see Superman flying and everything feels so seamless. That isn’t quite the case here, but it’s never so compromising that it soils the integrity of the film as a whole, just a few spare scenes that shake immersion.
– Third act problems. (SPOILERS) Two things bothered me about the film’s final battle that I couldn’t get over, regardless of padded exposition for it. One involves a convenient plot device for the antagonist that allows us to stop them. Not only is the way that our protagonists figure this out far fetched at best, but it also comes out of nowhere for the time when the film finally introduces us to this aspect. My second problem was a shark jumping moment, in which Shazam! shares his powers with other kids in his group home, and I have a problem with it because it breaks the rules that we’ve come to know. Early on, the film says that only one person has the strongest heart, and that person will become Shazam! complete with all of its powers. Now we’re supposed to believe there are six people with the strongest heart. Doesn’t really make it the strongest heart, does it? For my money, I wish it would’ve just been Shazam! overcoming the odds to defeat the opposition, even if it’s to say that family fighting together is a lot stronger. It’s a bit overdone on that narrative, and threw a little too much at the screen in the closing moments.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+ and my favorite film in the modern day D.E.C.U