[SPOILERS] Review: Shazam! (2019)
Stars: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Faithe Herman, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand
Director: David F. Sandberg
Bias: I am waaay out of the loop when it comes to the DCEU films. The last one I saw was Wonder Woman, and I haven't bothered tracking down Batman Vs. Superman, Justice League, or Aquaman. At best I find the post-Christopher Nolan DC films enjoyable if not world-shattering (Man of Steel, Wonder Woman) and at worst I find them virtually unwatchable (Suicide Squad).
In A Nutshell: Precocious orphan and chronic runaway Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is 'chosen' by a mysterious wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who transfers his superpowers to the teen. Batson must then learn to control his newfound powers while adjusting to his new adopted family. Things get even more complicated when the Seven Deadly Sins (rock...demon...things?) are released into the world and Batson must defeat them and the evil Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) who controls them (or do they control him...DUN DUN DUUUUN).
Because of my general lack of interest in the DCEU (and, tbh, superhero movies in general right now, with a few notable exceptions), I went into Shazam! with low expectations. I had heard good things about the film, and I love Zachary Levi, so I was excited on that level, at least. And I think maybe the fact that I went in knowing virtually nothing about the
Shazam comics or mythos was actually a good thing, because it meant that each development in the story was genuinely surprising to me.
This is also the first DCEU film that I think does comedy well. I haven't seen Aquaman yet, but that notwithstanding I generally find DC's attempts at humor stilted and irritating - every "joke" in Suicide Squad made me want to choke to death on my own tongue. But Shazam! is funny. Like genuinely funny, and without undercutting the legitimately dark moments of the film (I mean it is about an orphan fighting human-eating demon creatures, after all). I give lots of credit to a well-crafted script and solid performances from both the teen and adult leads. The dynamic between Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Shazam (Zachary Levi) is really the heart of the film, and the conflict between those two characters feels very grounded (and grounding in a film that is otherwise quite fantastical).
Shazam!'s greatest strength is that it does on the surface what many superhero films do through subtext and implication - it revels in the superheroic body as a nexus point of teenage male wish fulfillment. And although I'm not a teenage boy (although I still do have the tastes of one, in many ways), that joy - in feeling powerful, accepted, and heroic - is infectious. It helps that Shazam is able to share his powers, too. In a crucial turning point in Shazam's battle against Sivana, he realizes that he can share his powers with the rest of his adopted family. Each character is transformed into a superhero and they work together to defeat Sivana and the Sins. It might sound a bit sentimental, but this is just the sort of film where that sentimentality totally fits and works.
Shout-Out: All of the child/teen actors in the film handle both the gravitas of the darker scenes and themes and the lighthearted comedy that is laced through. Jack Dylan Grazer and Asher Angel were standouts, although the entire Shazam family (Shazamily?) was pretty great.
To Go, to Rent, or to Stream:
Shazam! is definitely worth checking out in the theater, if you have the chance!