TL;DR – By finding a focus, Shazam! shows that DC can really make great films when they focus on something, in this case, the role of family.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid and post-credit scene
By now, I am sure you have heard about the issues with the DC Extended Universe, in the race to get that big multi-film spanning Cinema Empire they jumped the gun too early and rushed forward before finding out if people wanted what they were giving. During its First Run, there was only one film that was both a critical and commercial success, Wonder Woman, this was because it had its own heart and was not just here to push a cinematic universe, and it has something to say. Since then we have had Aquaman that while not perfect was at least trying to do something interesting, and today we get a look at the next film that found that fun is fine, but heart is more important.
So to set the scene, we open as a young Thad (Ethan Pugiotto) is on a car trip with his unpleasant family in the 1970s when he is sucked into another realm run by Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) the last of the council of wizards left. He is trying to find someone pure of heart to be his successor, but alas Thad is not the one. Fast forward to December 2018 when we find Billy Batson (Asher Angel) helping the police out, but it a ruse to get into their computer because he is trying to find his mum that he lost as a child. Well, it didn’t work out and Billy is put with new foster parents Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa (Marta Milans), not that he plans to stay long. However, everything changes when a subway trip leads him to a dark cave and he yells out the word Shazam becoming someone completely else (Zachary Levi).
I was to describe my overall feeling throughout Shazam! it would be joy. It
is just a fun film as Billy with Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) learning how his
powers work through trial and error. I would be really interested to see how
they worked out some of the blocking, did they get Asher to play the scene out
and then Zach or was it a collaborative exercise. Because both of them completely
sell the fact that they are the same character and a lot of work had to go into
making that work. I have been watching Zach’s work since the joy that was Chuck, so it was really great to see him
swinging for the fences here. Which is important because it is this dual nature
that makes Shazam such an interesting character.
Having Shazam! just be a fun film would have been fine, but at its core, it has more going on and that is because it is a film about family. Family might be something you are born into or it might be something you find along the way. Billy’s drive is to get back to his mother that he lost is the defining part of his life, though as an adult you kind of can see where it is heading and the Care Officer at the start sums it up. He is not looking to find a new family, he is stuck in the past, but sometimes when you are not looking, that is when you find it. Part of this is anchored by foster parents played by Cooper Andrews & Marta Milans. They are trying to make it a home and they are doing with complete optimism, even if that is just a shield they put up to cover their fears. Instead of being sanctimonious as these kind of films can be, it is instead full of heart. The whole family feels like they are real people that I know and it has that level of chaos that you come to expect from families. It was also good that they didn’t make the young characters stupid, they are smart, they can put two and two together and that was a refreshing change.
from the story, this is a well-produced
film from director David F. Sandberg who is relatively new to feature films. It
all comes together really well, though there are one or two lingering shots
that maybe give things away a bit too soon. As you would come to expect the
visual effects are all top-notch, which
is helped by them focusing on lightning so they were able to really make it
pop. I also really loved Benjamin Wallfisch’s score that feels like it is
reaching back in time with its swelling strings and I am here for it.
One thing I think the film did not do as well with is a couple of issues that repeated itself throughout the film. The first is the heavy use of ‘Bait and Switch’ or subverting expectations. This is when the film sets up a scenario that you are sure you know the outcome only to switch it up. For example, at the start, we have kids arguing in the car and the dad leans back to sort them out only to drift onto the wrong side of the road as a truck comes horns blaring out. You have seen that before, it is a common origin story, well here they shift it up by having them miss the truck and just when you breathe a sigh of relief they get hit by another car. This is a great way of building and defusing tension, but once you have done it you lose the shock value each time you do it again, and they use it all throughout the film. As well as this, there is a persistent focus on women dying in pain throughout the film which is really offsetting because it happens more than once and for unnecessary reasons. For example, when Thaddeus (Mark Strong) opens the door back to the Eternal Stone a doctor touches the door and then is painfully atomised for no reason the film is willing to explain. It felt tacky and unnecessary and a couple of things like this did drag the film down for me.
In the end, do we recommend Shazam!? Yes, yes we do. It is great to see that DC has found its footing and realised that they need to be about something. The action is great, the characters are fantastic, watching Mark Strong and Zachary Levi clash is about as enjoyable as you would expect it to be, and at its core, it has a heart that you can see.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Shazam!
Directed by – David F. Sandberg
Story by – Henry Gayden
Screenplay by – Henry Gayden & Darren Lemke
Based on – Comics from DC Comics (there is a whole weird backstory here that you can research for yourself)
Music by – Benjamin Wallfisch
Cinematography by – Maxime Alexandre
Edited by – Michel Aller
Production/Distribution Companies – New Line Cinema, DC Films, The Safran Company, Seven Bucks Productions, Mad Ghost Productions & Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring – Asher Angel, Zachary Levi, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Grace Fulton, Michelle Borth, Ian Chen, Ross Butler, Jovan Armand, D.J. Cotrona, Faithe Herman, Meagan Good, Cooper Andrews, Marta Milans, Andi Osho, John Glover, Djimon Hounsou, Ethan Pugiotto & Mark Strong
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13