They say that failure is the best teacher and Shazam! is proving that Warner Brothers and DC Films are learning from theirs, with both Wonder Woman and Aquaman, recently proving that. Following Aquaman’s success, director David F. Sandberg exits his horror roots and enters Shazam!, a delightfully entertaining superhero movie that dials back the spectacle to focus on wholesome storytelling, great characters, and solid action.
Shazam! seems to take place within the continuity of previous DC films. The story revolves around Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a boy who has been an orphan most of his life. Now turning 15, he struggles to find the truth about his parents and their whereabouts. Billy finds himself entering another foster home where he meets his new siblings. The most prominent of which is fellow orphan, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). Freddy is a disabled superhero enthusiast who is a huge fan of Superman and the other heroes that have appeared thus far and works to ground the film in continuity. The rest of his new foster family include Darla (Faithe Herman), Eugene (Ian Chen), Pedro (Jovan Armand), and Mary (Grace Fulton).
Meanwhile, the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) is attempting to find someone who is pure of heart to carry on his legacy. As fate would have it, Billy finds himself at the right place at the right time and is chosen to take on the powers of Shazam. In the blink of an eye, Billy finds himself having immeasurable power. However, despite his appearance of an adult as Shazam (Zachary Levi), he is still a 15-year-old teenager. Now, with this newfound power, Billy must balance his normal life, his friendship with Freddy, and his own insecurities, while potentially facing a grave supernatural threat.
To put Shazam! in the simplest of terms: Shazam is the movie Big but with superheroes. In fact, movie enthusiasts will catch a very nice nod to the 1988 fantasy-comedy in the film. If you were a fan of the 1980s classic, you will certainly love and appreciate what SHAZAM has to offer. Shazam! is a movie that certainly understands what it is, and goes for it. It is self-aware and embraces that to provide a memorable fantasy-comedy experience, which is refreshing given the nature of the film’s predecessors.
One of the things I look for in films, video games, anime, and so on is the chemistry of the acting and voice work. With a keen eye and ear, you can indicate the level of enthusiasm of the cast, and if that cast is enthusiastic about what it is they are doing, it allows them to display their voice talents in an enjoyable way. As I watched Shazam, I can tell that everyone was having a good time during production, and their passion shows.
Angel and Levi acting as the same character was spot-on casting. While not powered-up, Angel displayed that witty and rebellious, but an emotionally tender orphaned teenager. His chemistry with Grazer is sharp, as the two bounce off of each other with their dialogue, that occasionally references the other DC movies. It is important to note that despite Grazer playing a disabled character he does not have any mobility issues that he has disclosed. This can be murky considering the little too near non-existent representation disabled people have and how few roles disabled actors play.
When transformed, Levi absolutely nails the excitement and enthusiastic silliness of being a 14-year-old teen that just became a demi-god that can shoot lightning out of his hands. Seeing these two speak constantly brought a smile to my face, and had me laughing throughout the movie. The movie also goes into some unexpected turns that left me gasping in surprise as well.
Overall, Shazam! is incredibly entertaining. It was incredibly refreshing to see a movie that didn’t fall into the more recent tropes. Giant beams in the sky, massive invading armies, or an overwhelming battle scene are all absent, making Shazam! surprisingly unique, making its focus on the more sensible and down-to-earth storytelling all the more evident. There is a solid amount of action, including a big fight with a super-powered villain, against Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) to be exact. Still, the focus on character building and storytelling in the movie is worn on its sleeve and provides a delightful experience.
The rest of Shazam! is also well polished. The supporting characters, from the the Vasquez foster-home, to the villain, they all do their jobs very well. The sequencing of events and how they occur, including big revelations, are all well-rounded and paced. I never had felt like scratching my head nor frustration. In addition to this, the musical choices, especially as the film takes place in Philadelphia, work very well.
Perhaps my only nitpick would have to be that the film could have benefitted from being longer and the one reveal towards the end could have been a bit better. That being said, the final act is immensely satisfying but could have benefitted from being longer. Additionally, as the movie takes place in Philadelphia, I feel there could have been more space to connect Rocky Balboa to the character of Billy Batson, as the two figures both share the notion of having to fight hard to make it in the world and fight even harder to survive. However, these are nitpicks that don’t compromise the film.
In the end, Shazam! is a feel-good story of triumph, discovery, and power, both in making choices and resisting the negative ill-will that life encourages. It’s entertaining and filled with memorable moments, and quotable dialogue that filmgoers will be referencing for some time. If this is the measure that DC Films is aiming for, then the future of the World of DC will undoubtedly be lit up in bright lights. Pun Intended.