Shazam! Review: A magical addition to the DC oeuvre
If you are neither a DC nor a Marvel fan till now, and you don't have a particular favourite in either camp, chances are Shazam will fill that void
One of the biggest drawbacks of the DC Extended Universe, at least as long as Zack Snyder was involved, was its dark, brooding tone. With Wonder Woman and Aquaman, the tone got significantly lighter. The latter, featuring a cheesy pulpy superhero unlike any previously seen on-screen, was DCEU's highest grossing film and must have helped Warner Bros understand that the audience was really taking to the direction the studio was going in. Shazam! follows suit, and is not at all disappointing.
Director: David F Sandberg
Cast: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Glazer, Mark Strong
Shazam, originally called Captain Marvel, was the most popular superhero around the time he was introduced, outselling Superman. He was also the first-ever comic book character to be adapted into a live-action film way back in 1941. Yet, it took nearly 80 years of suing and counter-suing of entities, repeated rewrites of the character's origin story before he was fully actualised as what he really was: Not a cheap imitation of Superman, but a cool kid living in the body of an adult having his own problems, and yet, trying to help the world around him in the only way he can.
If that reminds of you the Tom Hanks-starrer Big, well, don't be surprised. Shazam! was apparently pitched as Big meets Superman. To this effect, there is a fabulous piano sequence in this film that is a direct reference to the same scene in Big. While Billy Batson (Asher Angel, who looks like a male twin of Game of Thrones star, Maisie Williams) doesn't wish to grow up, he does however want to go after his one big goal: To find the mother he lost as a child at a fair. He believes she is the true north of his life, as is indicated by the only memory he holds in his hand, a compass. This search for true north makes up not just Billy's emotional arc, but also that of the other prominent characters in the film. There is the wizard, Shazam, who in refusing to give his power to a young Thaddeus Sivana in 1974, creates a supervillain out of him. Yet, decades later, he gives his power over to a 14-year-old Billy, not out of choice but because of the lack thereof. It is this trust that young Darla (the cutest character in the film), one of five foster children with whom Billy shares a home, gives to her brothers Billy and Freddy Freeman (the scene-stealing Jack Dylan Grazer) at a crucial moment, which results in a fantastic payoff at the end between the rest of the family.
These payoffs are examples of some of the wackiest writing in Shazam!, as they come as a consequence of subverting some of the most used tropes in the superhero genre. When Billy turns into an adult by uttering the word Shazam, he transforms into a red spandex and white cape-wearing hero who takes the form of Zachary Levi. The superhero slowly discovering powers are often some of the most uneventful episodes in such films, but here, they are the best with one riotous comedic scene following another. The final villain monologue trope here gets a delightful twist too. That the writing never lets the fun and the emotions overstay is veritably clever.
The writing, however, isn’t as strong with Mark Strong's Sivana. He is a one-note character played stiffly by the actor. Also, the CG behind the Seven Sins that power Sivana's character is unimpressive. You could think of them as 'random-shapes-with-big-teeth' and wouldn't be far off the mark. There is, however, a tease of two iconic villains of Shazam in the movie (one at the start and one at the end) that makes you wonder if maybe a sequel will have more depth.
This film will definitely get a sequel and Shazam will definitely be a part of the wider Justice League. The final credits scene, one of the most creative uses of that space, shows how this character can fit in the larger universe. The love and care that this film takes in establishing its superhero makes this one of the best origins stories. If you are neither a DC nor a Marvel fan till now, and you don't have a particular favourite in either camp, chances are Shazam will fill that void.