One of the most often repeated criticisms we hear about the DC Universe films is that they’re too dark, too heavy, too grim, and too humourless. Warner and DC started to address those concerns effectively with Aquaman last year which had a lighter tone in its dialogue. With Shazam!, those criticisms have been blown away completely.
It’s the story of Billy Batson (Angel) a 14-year-old in search of his mother, a constant problem for the social services as he constantly runs away from his foster homes. But he is pure in spirit, and thus finds himself standing in front of the ancient wizard, Shazam who bestows super powers on him. By uttering the wizard’s name, the kid becomes a super powered adult, dressed in a red costume. Shazam! was always going to be a risky venture for the studio, who steer away from referring to the character by his proper name of Captain Marvel to avoid confusion or litigation from Marvel Studios who, of course released their Captain Marvel film last month. (If you’re confused about there being two Captain Marvels, you need to dig out last month’s STARBURST.)
The heroic alter ego is played to perfection by Zachary Levi who previously played TV’s Chuck. The tone is exactly right, as what we have is a child in a super-powered adult body, but director David F. Sandburg (Annabelle: Creation) whose last film was in 2017, wisely steers away from taking the film all the way down the route of being a rehash of Big with spandex and a cape. Levi’s portrayal of a man-child is hilarious, warm and touching.
The film works better than was hoped, as the trailer certainly gave the impression of being more comedic than the film actually is, which would’ve been a disservice to the character. It’s equal parts comedy, driven by the goofy absurdities of the central character, with the mounting tension that the inept superhero will have to face an adversary in Doctor Sivana (Strong) who is not only a ‘proper’ adult, but also a twisted evil genius. Effectively woven into the story is the tragic backstory of a child who was abandoned.
Shazam! is, at its heart, a gleeful, colourful comic strip romp without the emotional weight of Henry Cavill’s Superman or the angst of Batman. It doesn’t have the epic scope the Wonder Woman or Aquaman films but is a much-needed entry point to the lighter side of DC without spinning in to the silliness of the sixties Batman.
The film is set in the same universe as Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman, which raises hopes that the loveable goofball we see here, sometimes referred to by Freddy as Captain Sparklefingers will one day cross paths with the other established characters in the DC Universe. We need to see Zachary Levi and Jason Momoa teamed together in a film. We’re also anxious for the promised match-up against Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam somewhere down the line.
SHAZAM! / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: DAVID F. SANDBERG / SCREENPLAY: HENRY GAYDEN / STARRING: ZACHARY LEVI, DIJMON HOUNSOU, ASHER ANGEL, MICHELLE BORTH, MARK STRONG / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 5TH
Expected rating 6 out of 10