Review: Shazam! (2019)

shazam

Just your friendly neighbourhood sparky-man: DC/Warner Bros

SHAZAM! is a breath of fresh air. Not because it’s the first really good DC comics movie this decade (step forward WONDER WOMAN) or the first fun DC comics movie this decade (take a bow AQUAMAN) but because it’s the first earnest DC comics movie this decade.

Foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is deemed worthy by a wizard to wield an extraordinary power. By saying “Shazam” he transforms into a muscled superhero (Zachary Levi) with the power of six mythological figures. With forces of evil gathering, can Billy harness and control his new powers in time to defend his nearest and dearest?

You can definitely tell this was directed by a horror movie guy, David F Sandberg. There’s a scene where a scientist ill-advisedly reaches for the handle of an enchanted door and she barbecues alive before our eyes. Then there’s the Seven Deadly Sins demons ripping apart a full boardroom fleetingly seen through frosted glass. Nothing is on screen for long enough to increase the rating, but there’s some creepy imagery that’ll stay with the little ‘uns in the audience.

A lot of fun is to be had coming up with what a fourteen year-old would do with an adult stature, not to mention the joy of Zachary Levi acting someone less than half his age. The film would only land if they got the casting of both sides of Billy Batson’s character right, and while Levi has a lot of fun in the role, newcomer Asher Angel has to bear the brunt of the dramatic heavy lifting and does so in fine fashion. Jack Dylan Grazer stole the show as IT‘s Eddie and gets a lot of the laughs here as Billy’s disabled superhero-obsessed foster brother Freddie. Yes, Mark Strong is playing another villain, but Silvana has a few more shades than standard-issue baddies, arguably at the cost of story pacing early on.

Look out for a pleasing but expected explicit hat-tip to BIG, and ROCKY is also part of the film’s DNA what with its Philadelphia setting and working-class against-the-odds story. The film features what might be the best superhero joke since those muggers debated lifting Batman’s wallet to check his ID. It’s a situation I’m astounded has never been exploited for humour before (I don’t think). Not spoiling it, but it’s to do with superhero/supervillain proximity in their titanic final battles.

Shazam! (is that exclamation point becoming tedious yet? (!)) is that rare superhero movie that gets better as it goes on. Most, even the really good ones, tend to tail off. While I really enjoyed all the character building and most of the larky training montages, what the film becomes and how in its final stretch is truly something special. I’m not going into any more specifics at the moment because it’s not in any of the trailers. They also seem to have fun with teasing another dreary hero fight in the dark before relocating to the most brightly lit setting imaginable – the fairground.

Said brightly-lit action closer is a better Superman scene than anything actually involving Superman for over a decade, and for all the effects and the excitement what always matters foremost is we’re witnessing a hero saving civilians and his family from harm (you know, actually being a hero).

It’s nice to have such a down-to-earth superhero story as this, the relationship between a lonely, knocked-about kid and his new family being far more important than the admittedly spectacular super-fights. It’s similar to how the superlative SPIDER-MAN 2’s best scenes were out of spandex and dealing with real life and the myriad problems encountered therein.

It’s somewhat poetic that the comic book hero who was once more popular than Superman is now making a connection in the ways that the most recent take on the Man of Steel could not. Shazam! is pretty special, and a sign that DC/Warner Bros might finally be getting the message – get the basics right first. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Bong Joon-ho, Danny Boyle, the Coen Brothers, Nicolas Winding Refn, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Taika Waititi and Edgar Wright. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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