Why so dark?
Shazam! is everything that the DCEU should have been from the start. It smartly blends its darker, more serious moments with ones of levity and fun creating a well balanced mix of what makes the Marvel movies so successful while also having a unique flavor of its own. Managing to contain heart, action, excitement, and a lot of humor, this is one DC entry that monumentally succeeds and gives hope that this franchise can dig itself out of the grave.
Billy Batson has been running away from foster home to foster home, not feeling like he belongs as he tries to find his birth mom. In his newest foster home, Billy begins to acclimate to his environment and tries to make friends with his new foster brother Freddy. When a wizard seemingly chooses Billy to have superpowers that transform him from a young kid into a fully grown strong man, Billy must learn what it means to be a hero while also being a kid.
Shazam! Is the only entry in the DCEU that was not previously in the Justice League or teased to come in other films making it a refreshing change of pace. The film is allowed to start fresh and not worry about what was established before and serves as one of the film’s greatest strengths. There is no setting up for what’s to come, Shazam! is a complete story and structure that should be the new norm for films to come.
Zachary Levi is impeccable as the titular hero, deftly capturing the essence of a growing teenager with all the immaturity and excitement yet imbuing himself with a real pathos that allows the audience to connect. He is clearly having a lot of fun in the role and perfectly displays what it would be like for a kid to wake up one day and have superpowers. Levi’s comedic timing is great whether in a serious battle or having witty dialogue in exploring the character’s powers.
Equally excellent is the younger version of Billy played by Asher Angel. He is confident and cocky, but also scared and emotional. The range of emotions that are demanded from both actors is exceptional and it helps ground the movie and make it all the more fun in the long run. His new adoptive brother Freddy is hilarious and pairs well with both Angel and Levi as Billy begins exploring and investigating the new powers.
The movie has a lot of fun with the “young kid in older body” premise and this is where a lot of the film’s excellent humor resides. They have him do things that an actual young teenager would do if he had super powers. He doesn’t immediately begin superhero antics of saving people and being valiant, but rather will go try and buy alcohol, stop the bullies he’s been experiencing, or even try to get his own house! These are all hilarious and thanks to the excellent chemistry between Freddy and Billy, the movie really excels at bringing a new level of fun to the DCEU.
The film’s villain, Dr. Sivanna (Mark Strong), is fairly well developed and provides another step in the right direction. His backstory is understandable and his motivation truly shows the psychological impact a parent can have on a child. While it doesn’t fully explore that dichotomy, the setup of the character is interesting enough that I was invested in him as a person. His powers and the CGI monsters he is controlling though? Not as much. While the effects and presentation are nice, it all boils down to having someone for Shazam to throw down with for the film’s action sequences. Any depth and motivation is cast aside as the film moves along making you wish the mined the potential more the villain.
But at its core, Shazam! Is a film about family. All of the great things about one, why we should appreciate what we have, what really makes a family, but also the faults that exist in parenting, the impact a family has on a child, and the opportunities for growth and change. The foster family that Billy lives with really help explore these themes and while I wish I saw more of them, what I was presented with warmed my heart! Heck, I was even tearing up near the end. It’s more than just a superhero movie, it has heart and I’m glad they really went for it this time around.
In terms of flaws for the movie, there were moments in the film where I felt things were a little bit too dark and I was expecting the film to make a joke about it but it never came. The film feels a little inconsistent in tone at times trying to balance jokes with the darker elements, but it only happens once or twice where I started to notice it. I also was wishing for more action sequences as at times the excitement and tension just wasn’t up to par with the likes of say Wonder Woman’s trench sequence.
Through it all, Shazam! Is the best DCEU movie yet and proves that the studio needs to focus on more character driven solo outings in the future. It has great heart and humor which is a refreshing change of pace from all of the brooding we have seen in the past. It attempts to be deeper than most films and succeeds in a lot of regards but also comes up short sometimes. I would love to see a sequel and I would love to see this character more going forward! Hopefully they learn from this success and give this the proper Justice League later that we deserve
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