To say Shazam! is something totally new for DC is a bit of a stretch. In fact, it’s more of a blast from the past. Think of Richard Donner’s Superman and an era when superhero films cherished heroism and feelgood moments over in-depth worldbuilding and cataclysmic end-of-the-world odds. It’s a time when everyone was in on the joke but appreciated the chance to see their favourite hero on the big screen.
In that sense, Shazam! isn’t a grand extravaganza of a film that gives your eyes diabetes because of all the CGI eye candy. Yes, it does contain its fair share of special effects and all those technical bells and whistles, but its biggest strength is how it succeeds in entertaining and wearing its heart on its sleeve. The film understands what it’s meant to be and what its audience wants to see.
In many ways, it’s the antithesis of DC movies before Wonder Woman. The earlier entries in the DC Extended Universe received a lot of stick because of their intricate storylines and grittier tone. While they were ambitious and reaching for the stars, many fans simply didn’t understand or want something as intense and serious.
…Shazam! takes it back to basics…
On the contrary, Shazam! takes it back to basics, scrapping the last remains of Zack Snyder’s initial vision for the universe in favour of a linear and simple narrative. There’s nothing complex about screenwriter Henry Gayden’s story. It’s essentially about two themes: responsibility and family. Shazam (Zachary Levi) is a 14-year-old orphan named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who’s transformed into a superhero with the power of the gods. His instant reaction to his powers is what you’d expect from any teenager his age: it’s all about him. He needs to understand that with great power comes—oops, wrong universe, but you get what I’m saying. He gets powers, there’s a bad guy, and he needs to learn how to use his gifts for the greater good.
As young Billy comes to realise, though, he can’t do it alone in life. His foster brothers and sisters end up playing a major role in shaping his superhero and home life. And it’s here where the magic happens in the movie. Director David F. Sandberg rounded up a sensational cast with immense chemistry and charisma. The trailers certainly didn’t deceive us, as Angel and Levi play off each other with aplomb—they easily convince that they could be the same person. Additionally, Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddie Freeman steals the show in every scene he’s in, while Faithe Herman’s Darla Dudley brings all the heart-warming cuteness to the party. In fact, it’s mostly the younger members of Sandberg’s movie who carry the film perfectly and you’ll want to see them back on the screen sooner rather than later.
…Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddie Freeman steals the show in every scene…
Unfortunately, the lowest point of Shazam! is the villain. While you can’t fault Mark Strong’s performance as Dr Thaddeus Sivana, he felt like a template that could’ve been filled by anyone else. I’m not going into spoiler territory, but his arc, which opens up the film, is complete within the first hour. A little more substance might’ve transformed him from a moustache-twirling bad guy into someone more impactful and memorable.
Nevertheless, Shazam! is the glorious sum of all its parts. It’s undoubtedly a film that you can enjoy over and over again, as well as the perfect picture for the whole family. Perhaps more importantly, it’s the Superman-esque movie that old-school Man of Steel fans have been clamouring for since 1978. Heck, it’s even the best Captain Marvel film released this year, too…
It's the Superman-esque movie that old-school Man of Steel fans have been clamouring for since 1978.