We all have a superhero inside of us -- it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In 14-year-old Billy Batson's case, all he needs to do is shout out one word to transform into the adult superhero Shazam. Still a kid at heart, Shazam revels in the new version of himself by doing what any other teen would do -- have fun while testing out his newfound powers. But he'll need to master them quickly before the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana can get his hands on Shazam's magical abilities.
Directors: David F. Sandberg
Writers: Darren Lemke (Story by), Henry Gayden (Story and Screenplay by
Cast: Asher Angel, Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Faithe Herman, Cooper Andrews, Marta Milans
Shazam is a character with a long lineage in comics and an similarly long list of aliases and legal issues. The Superman-like hero debuted in 1940 with the name Captain Marvel, which of course clashed with the Marvel hero of the same name. Perhaps it is thus fitting that this film releases within just months of the Marvel film.
The film is heavily influenced by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s 2012 run on the character which sees foster home runaway Billy Batson (Asher Angel) put in the care of the Victor and Marta Vasquez (Cooper Andrews & Marta Milans) with their 5 other foster children, including Freddy Freeman. After being chased by a set of bullies who had been picking on Freddy, Billy is magically transported to the Rock of Eternity where the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) bestows Billy with the ability to transform into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) when he says the Wizard’s name. Unfortunately Dr. Thadeous Sivanna (Mark Strong), one of several people who had been transported before the Wizard and was deemed unworthy, had previously returned to the Rock of Eternity and set free the spirits of the Seven Deadly Sins. After using the Sins to seek some personal revenge, he set his sights on claiming Billy’s power so he can’t be stopped.
The joy and excitement of discovering one’s superpowers has never been enjoyed on film as much as it is here. The sequences of Billy and Freddy testing out his potential abilities are some of the high points of the film. The happiness on Zachary Levi’s face everytime he does something new is very entertaining to watch. While we have seen several kid-in-adult-body movies before, the addition of superpowers adds a fun element to it which make a lot of the jokes we’ve seen before have a fresh feel to them.
The dual Billy/Shazam role works well thanks to Zachary Levi and Asher Angel working together pretty seamlessly to make it feel like it is the same person. While Levi gets to stretch his comedic chops acting as an excited teenager, Asher Angel tackles more of the emotional moments, particularly a storyline searching for his mother. While those moments were moving, they felt rushed or tacked on and then glossed over or inconsequential as Billy doesn’t deal with it and moves on from it particularly quickly.
Jack Dylan Grazier is entertaining as the partially paralyzed Freddy Freeman. His love of superheroes and desire to live vicariously through Billy make him very endearing although i could see him being a divisive character as he does come across as a bit annoying at times. When Freddy has a disagreement with Billy, the movie wants you to side with Freddy, but I suspect that some will prefer Billy’s view.
The rest of Billy’s foster family feels really underdeveloped,especially as they play a big part of the 3rd act. Only Darla (Faithe Herman), the sweet and naive little sister who loves to give hugs, and Mary (Grace Fulton), the elder sister who’s about to go to college, have any moments of any substance. Eugene (Ian Chen) and Pedro (Jovan Armand) are almost forgotten about for half the film after their initial introduction and are painted with a very broad brush as the geeky gamer and the shy kid.
Mark Strong does a fine job as the villian Dr. Sivanna but he is only given a handful of scenes with any substance to build the character beyond what he saw in the prologue or to flex his acting chops. Sivanna has a solid motivation but it is pretty basic and uninteresting. The Seven Deadly Sins he controls, and who provide him with his powers, never seem distinguishable or identifiable from each other, which makes a key moment in the climax of the film hard to believe or follow. Shazam! continues DC’s trend of the final confrontation devolving into a CGI laden mess, which in this case doesn’t offer much surprise or feel terribly satisfying. The first fight between Shazam and Sivanna through a shopping mall is quite fun and is something I don’t think I’ve seen before (props for the Big nod).
Shazam! provides a very unique and fun take on the superhero movie but is let down by its average villain and several rushed and underdeveloped elements. Adapting this property to the big screen was always going to require a lot of heavy lifting but it felt like they needed to flesh a few more things out. Still, I won’t be surprised to hear kid screaming out “Shazam” in the hopes they’ll transform into a superhero. We can only hope that the sequel that this sets up is a step up, and potentially star Dwayne Johnson in his long cast role of Black Adam.
Review by Ashley Hobley
Movie was viewed in cinema.
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