Usually Marvel are the pranksters, with their heroes trying to one-up each other with open-mic night material. DC, since The Dark Knight worked so well, are the university student that took a philosophy class once. Their heroes have existential crisis and rarely enjoy their opportunity. Most superhero movies nowadays, never embrace the inherent joy of superpowers. SHAZAM!. With a single word, joy and heart is injected back into the superhero genre, and into DC.
Shazam! follows the story of Billy Batson (Angel), an orphan who granted the powers of SHAZAM!, transforming into his true potential in the form of Zachery Levi. Billy must learn responsibility (sound familiar?) and take down Dr. Sivana (Strong), with the help of adoptive brother, and superhero nut Freddy Freeman.
What makes Shazam! stand out amongst the plethora of superhero films is what is missing from most of them; heart. The movie embraces the magic of superpowers, conveyed through Levi and Angel’s seamless double act. Subtle eyebrow movements or physical mannerisms tie the pair together, which is feat for both actors to achieve. Where Levi brings the humour, Angel has the tough job of delivering the emotional weight of trying to find his family.
The film’s stand out is its message on family; its importance; the work to create one; and the many forms that it can take. In a giddy, uplifting moment in the finale, Batson demonstrates this with his family that is bound to illicit cheers from all audiences.
The film sadly suffers from superhero-origin fatigue, with the first act going through the motions. Once that lightning strikes Billy, not only is he transformed, but the movie is as well. The jokes come flying and the pace picks up, building to one of the most satisfying third-acts in a solo-superhero film in a long time.
Another way that the film avoids superhero failings is by making a compelling and memorable villain in Mark Strong’s Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. Strong’s performance feels like a subdued Red Skull or Ocean Master; moustache-twirling evil, but not chewing the scenery. He is treated with fear and also has a unique origin tied into themes of toxic masculinity. Not as convincing as Thanos or Kilmonger, but makes enough impact that the audience feel pity for him, like Loki.
While Angel holds his own as Batson, the stand-out of the movie is Jake Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman. He is the audience; longing for the powers but never getting the chance, only to live vicariously through someone who doesn’t appreciate them enough. He also goes toe-to-toe with Levi in snarky banter and the chemistry nails the unstable dynamic duo relationship.
The rest of the cast serve their purpose and have the outlines made up for further development; Darla is naïve, Pedro has body issues; Eugene is the nerd; and Mary is the eldest. Sandberg establishes the world, and ties it in neatly with the rest of the DC Universe with some fun reference’s fans will chuckle at.
Shazam! is a jovial superhero film that teaches the importance of family; the meaning of being a superhero; what makes a hero, and does so with sharp humour and light action sequences. Think Deadpool but child friendly, consistently funny and smart that takes a reflective approach to the superhero genre.