This is going to be a SPOILER FREE review but there is something that I have to say first going into this review that I find rather interesting. Although fans know that the hero in the film is called Captain Marvel in the comics, they never once said what his name is in the film. I can’t help but think that’s an intentional move on DC and Warner Bros part. It doesn’t impact anything about the movie, I just thought it was interesting.
Despite the film never calling the hero Captain Marvel, fans are almost unanimously saying that this is the better film than Marvel’s Captain Marvel movie that came out a month ago. What do I think? Yeah, they’re right. Shazam! is definitely, hands down, the better film. In fact, I think it’s the best film from the DC Extended Universe!
Shazam! is the story of Billy Batson, a young orphan who is called by the mystical wizard Shazam and is granted superpowers. With the help of his disabled foster brother Freddy Freeman, the adult-looking superpowered Billy Batson tries to learn what exactly is his powers are. While this is all happening, Dr. Sivana, the black sheep of his family, unlocks a great evil and is now in search of the person who was granted the powers of Shazam.
The first thing I have to mention is that, although Shazam! is firmly rooted in the DC Extended Universe (you see references to Superman and Batman throughout the film), it’s thankfully didn’t adapt the “grimdark” atmosphere the other films had. This is a really good thing as it wouldn’t suit the entire idea of “kid gets superpowers” theme. Most of the comedy works incredibly well and Shazam! is definitely a more lighthearted affair and it does work.
However, there are still some dark moments which did throw me off and did prove distracting. These scenes are there to show how threatening the villain is so it does feel justified but they do come off as jarring. A part of me does wish they toned down these scenes just a tad bit. Not that there incredibly intense; this is a PG-13 films. But they come off as too much from the opposite side of the fun spectrum the entire film builds throughout its 132-minute runtime.
A lot of what makes Shazam! work is definitely the chemistry between Zachary Levi as the superhero incarnation of Billy Batson and Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy Freeman. Zachary Levi just has the uncanny ability to play a kid in an adult’s body and it totally works here. I will say that, weirdly enough, the “adult” version acts more immature than the “young” Billy Batson. But it works so I can’t complain too much. As much as I enjoyed Zachary Levi’s interpretation of the hero, I do have to say my favorite performance still comes from Jack Dylan Grazer and Freddy Freeman. He gives off a really energetic performance and a youthful exuberance that felt extremely real and, more importantly, likable.
That’s not to say that the rest of the cast are bad. I actually have to say that I really liked everyone in the movie! The Vasquez family, the ones who take in Billy Batson, are all great and much better than they had to be. I actually wanted there to be more scenes that focus on the household because they felt rather underdeveloped in the grand scheme of things.
Sad to say that the weakest performance actually comes from Mark Strong as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. But that’s not really Mark Strong’s fault. Rather, the problem lies with how one-dimensional Sivana comes off throughout the entire film. He never has any emotion but irritated throughout the film. It’s a perfectly adequate performance but, as there is very little depth to the character, I don’t thing Sivana will be mentioned in any Best Villains in a Superhero Film lists.
One thing that I really liked about Shazam! is that is understands what a kid would do if he could become an adult with superpowers in an instant. As kids, we all want to become superheroes and we all say we want to do good things with those powers. But in reality, there’s also a whole slew of other things we’d want to do. Shazam! manages to capture those really ridiculous things, like trying to buy beer (even though kids don’t really like the taste of beer).
A lot of people have already commented that Shazam! is pretty much “the movie Big but with superheroes” and that’s a pretty good approximation. After all, Shazam! is ultimately about what a kid would do if he did have superpowers. But there’s a little more to it than that because of the film’s underlying themes of family and how a family is supposed to work. It’s not a an incredibly subtle message but it does get it’s point across without being incredibly obtuse about it.
As this is a more family friendly film, superhero movie fans may be disappointed that the action and fight scenes aren’t all that good. It’s not that they’re bad. They just feel rather uninspired, especially when you compare them to previous superhero movies. Even the final battle never struck me as a desperate battle between good and evil. Some of the humor during the fight scenes may also feel intrusive and out of touch with what’s supposed to be a serious moment. In fairness, there is some creative use of Billy Batson’s ability to transform in an instant by uttering the word Shazam!, which I do appreciate. In general, the fights take more of a back seat to the goofiness that is a kid gaining superpowers bit. It’s a good trade off, in my opinion.
All-in-all, I really liked Shazam! a whole lot. In fact, it just edges out Wonder Woman as my favorite film in the DC Extended Universe. Wonder Woman may be a better made film and has some really iconic scenes, like the No Man’s Land scene. But I like Shazam! just a little bit more because, while it doesn’t have the bombasticness of other superhero films, the mere fact that it doesn’t take itself so seriously makes it a breath of fresh air. It manages to capture the magic (pardon the pun) of what a preteen would do in that scenario, a very positive message of what family should be and it has some of the most likable cast of characters in any superhero film ever made.
Despite it’s rather obvious flaws, Shazam! is a great watch. I highly recommend it.
Have you seen Shazam!? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!