Good for DC. Seriously. Shazam! is a ton of fun and a delightful surprise. and Zachary Levi work well together and a wonderfully over-the-top Mark Strong malevolent performance carries this superhero movie past mediocrity and into a popcorn-munching adventure.
Young Billy Batson, played by Asher Angel, is a foster child constantly on the run. Following a scuffle at school after having just joined a new foster house, Billy is magically transported to a lair where a wizard him to take up the powers and protect the realm. Yes, it happens that fast. Billy laughingly says “Shazam” and all of sudden we have whizzed into the comedy portion of the movie.
Before we delve into the humor, let’s touch on evil. Shazam! starts exposition of the villain, Dr. Sivana. We meet him in a younger sense when he is denied the privilege to become Shazam because he is not pure of heart. That fuels his rage and propels him on a lifelong quest to seek out the magic he was denied. Dr. Sivana’s quest is realized to a point and he becomes embodies with the spirits of the seven deadly sins.
Strong is wonderful in the role of brooding super villain. He really does go all-in. At first Dr. Sivana appears as a run-of-the-mill order version of The Incredibles Syndrome, but a glass-shattering moment cements his mood and makes him credible as a grade-A psychopath. It also has to be said, Strong must have studied Horatio Caine with his dramatic sunglasses removal. It is pinpoint.
The middle third of Shazam! is fan service comedy with a sprinkle of necessary plot development sprinkled in. I am all aboard the Jack Dylan Grazer bandwagon. He was awesome in It and he is charismatic as all hell with Levi sharing the screen. Their training sessions provide chuckles and his character’s propensity to love all DC materials makes for fun Easter Egg hunting.
Speaking of the aforementioned Levi, there is not an actor I could have casted perfectly better for the adult role of Billy Batson, AKA Shazam. Most known for his role in NBC’s Chuck (it is awesome, you should see it), Levi has the childlike tendencies to make this objectively absurd premise work. It’s his first major motion picture acting since Thor: Ragnarok and I for one would like to have more Levi in my life.
Shazam! is not afraid to play with tropes and make fun itself. From literally pointing out how ridiculous the costume is, to calling Dr. Sivana supervillain to his face; the upfront nature that Gayden and company put forward adds to Shazam!’s wonderful levity.
There are plenty of other audience pleasing moments sprinkled throughout Shazam!: A “Queen” scored montage, an “Eye of the Tiger” appearance, a comical scared Santa Claus and fantastic closing shot twist are just a few scenes fans will cheer for.
There are some story pit falls that I’d like to have answered. How does Billy know so much about the evil sins controlling Dr. Sivana? It seems instantaneous when he first meets them that he has that understanding. One other nit-pick would be how does Dr. Sivana know how to use all of his super powers nearly instantaneously but Billy needs time to learn? There are plausible explanations with the fact that seven sins are controlling him and therefore can teach. Or that Dr. Sivana is indeed an adult compared to Billy who is 14. Both make sense, but it’s left a bit up to question.
The adventure splits into some side quests throughout the journey. Subplots come and go without much thought. All except one. Batson is granted the chance to meet with his biological mother and the get-together does not go as well as he’d like. It’s not too heavy handed, but the story about how he was left alone to fend without a family helps establish the more isolated behavior Billy shared at the start of the movie. It’s his ultimate zero moment; he can go no lower and decides it’s time to begin rising up.
Smart Shazam! story planning from writers Henry Gayden Darren Lemke puts extra emphasis Envy, the last of the seven deadly sins to leave Dr. Sivana in the climax of the movie. It hooks in well with plan of Billy and his family to take the all-powerful eye away from the power hungry doctor. Throughout out many cultures, there is heavy symbolism and connectivity with an evil eye and jealousy.
Seeing something that you want and are jealous not to have…that’s something that everyone can relate to. Dr. Sivana is envious of the power that Shazam has and in a rather heavy handed scene midway through the movie, Billy points out how Freddy is jealous to not have the superpowers. The theme of wanting something others have hip-hops around Shazam! and the climax being resolved by literally removing an evil eye is a neat way to wrap up a motif.
There is also a typical hero baptism “nut-up or shut-up” scene right before the final confrontation. Dr. Sivana is dunking Billy in ice cold water and then Billy rises from the cold liquid in slo-mo as Shazam to see his family being threatened by the seven deadly sins under his nemesis’ rule. From that point on, Billy is your quintessential good guy, making all the right moves and helping those dearest around him.
One final praise for the screenplay. Again in the finale of the movie, Billy hands a kid a tiger in the amusement park. It is the same type of stuffed animal he wanted the day he got separated from his biological mother for good. Just a solid touch connecting all the dots.
Stanko Rating: B+