Okay then, so let’s start with the important fact – Don’t leave til the very end, there are 2 credit scenes.
Now that we have that over with, what can I tell you about Shazam?
Enjoy it, maybe watch it again – I know I intend to.
“But why?” I hear you ask. “Why is this so worth watching? Is it better than Justice League? Is it better than Wonder Woman?”
I have to say that, in many ways, yes – It’s better than Wonder Woman, though not as epic in scale. It’s definitely far better than Justice League, though. Because it’s remembered something that is often forgotten in the DCEU:
Having Super Powers might be a burden. It might be a responsibility. It might even put the people you love at risk. But, goddamnit – It’s awesome and FUN, too!
It also remembers that we’re only human. That we can be pure of heart, and a mighty champion, but it doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes. It’s allowed, and part of the learning process.
And one of the biggest assets that the film has in making this clear is called Zachary Levy. I’ll admit that I’ve been a big fan of this guy since I watched ‘Chuck’, and he was perfect for the role of Shazam, flipping from goofy 14 year old nerves and exuberance to occasional moments of confusion and ennui, and finally – Kick-ass hero 🙂
I’ll admit, though, I have a soft spot for the scenery-chewing Mark Strong as Dr Sivana – He may not be the most terrifying DC villain ever, but he’s menacing, and obviously terrifying to Billy Batson, no matter what Billy looks like, because he pushes him, and pushes him, forcing him to learn some very hard lessons – Mark Strong definitely has that glint of madness. Incidentally, it’s good to see John Glover maintaining his record as DC’s least-awesome father.
The big theme of Shazam, however, right from the first scene, is family – Traditional, nontraditional, dysfunctional or otherwise. The effect that family has on us to shape our lives, and the effect it can have on us when we need to protect it, and are supported by it. Sivana has a family that don’t appreciate him, and so he is driven manically to prove himself right, no matter the cost or the laws he must break. Billy is searching for his mother, and so he has a… casual disregard for the law, but he still knows what is right, and what is wrong. He may not be too strongly attached to either, but he IS only 14. And when the chips are down, he knows what the difference is and will act on it. And when he does find his home, it’s good that it’s because people finally stop giving up on him, and care enough for him to feel safe investing back in them. Plus, when your hero is 14, you can save time by not focusing ona Romantic Subplot!
As Billy, Asher Angel is engaging when he’s upbeat, and sympathetic when life (and adults) are getting him down, trying to make him give up his dreams and just move along through the system.
As Shazam, the last of the Wizard’s council, Djimon Honsou is pretty good too, even hidden behind the crazy beard.
Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley is impossibly annoying AND loveable at the same time, like any kid sister – it’s amusing watching Billy get quite obviously played at times by her need to be loved and recognised because she’s the youngest, and Billy’s never really had to learn how to deal with such tactics.
Jack Dylan Grazer, as Freddy, is obviously having a ball as the annoying kid who gets so wrapped up in Billy’s newfound abilities that he forgets that he’s ‘just’ his ‘manager’, and sets rules he won’t keep. But his obvious disappointment in Billy when he feels let down makes for a compelling emotional whip to force him to reconsider his approach to being a Super Hero, even BEFORE he gets his own, personal super-villain – Actions have consequences. He definitely plays the geeky hero enthusiast role well.
The setting for the film, Philadelphia, is a nice change of pace from Gotham and Metropolis, more colourful, yet less perfect and classical than those 2 idealised cities. Not on either coast, it’s just a pretty average, American city. It’s also interesting to see the memorabilia and content about the Justice League members that become part of the drama, and part of the fights. I can’t help but think that Bats would be very happy that one of his batarangs came in useful for its designed purpose, not so much the other stuff.
While Wonder Woman had some of that exuberance, it was tempered by Diana’s years of training for her role, the Amazon’s Warrior culture, and the overlap with World War 1 – Frivolity was in short supply, and so the lighter patches were fleeting, and often comedic or romantic. With Shazam, there are many bittersweet moments, a few genuinely sad, more than a few laugh out loud at the schlock moments, but a lot of exuberance, enthusiasm and genuinely warm, if saccharrine moments too. The setting at Christmas time DOES seem a little odd when it’s April here, but there is a good reason that helps to make the film work, by providing reasons for certain set pieces to happen correctly, and giving the viewer appropriately good reasons to cheer/laugh.
In conclusion, I’d heartily recommend Shazam for at least 2 viewings – There’s a few nice details in there for the hardcore fan, and it’s just going to put a smile on your face. Even the end credits are amusing and engagingly childish at times, and they aren’t afraid to throw shade at the DCEU – Apparently Levi is setting himself up with some help from the writers as the DC Deadpool – At least for the moment!!
The effects work is, in general more than competent – I don’t know that it will be up for an Oscar, but it doesn’t intrude into the film or stop you from enjoying it all. Sometimes the colours seem a little washed out – But that’s often just because of the big red and white doofus front and center!
Engaging performances, with good costuming and effects, makes Shazam a real winner – not just as good a film, but especially as a DCEU film that proves they are great at individual hero stories, not so much the team ups.