SHAZAM! review

Shazam! (Warner Bros.)

Shazam! stars Asher Angel as Billy Batson and Zachary Levi as Shazam. Also starring are Jack Dylan Grazer (“IT”) as Billy’s best friend and ultimate superhero enthusiast, Freddy, part of the foster family that includes Mary, played by Grace Fulton (“Annabelle: Creation”); Darla, played by Faithe Herman (TV’s “This is Us”); Eugene, played by Ian Chen (TV’s “Fresh Off the Boat”); and Pedro, played by Jovan Armand (TV’s “Hawaii Five-O”). Cooper Andrews (TV’s “The Walking Dead”) and Marta Milans (TV’s “Killer Women”) play foster parents Victor and Rosa Vasquez, with Djimon Hounsou (“This is Us”) as the Wizard.

Christopher Godsick, Jeffrey Chernov, Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia and Hiram Garcia are serving as executive producers.

Synopsis

We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s (Angel) case, by shouting out one word—SHAZAM!—this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult Super Hero Shazam (Levi), courtesy of an ancient wizard.Still a kid at heart—inside a ripped, godlike body—Shazam revels in this adult version of himself by doing what any teen would do with superpowers: have fun with them! Can he fly? Does he have X-ray vision? Can he shoot lightning out of his hands? Can he skip his social studies test? Shazam sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of a child. But he’ll need to master these powers quickly in order to fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Strong).

Review

Coming off the back of Aquaman DC Films has been riding a wave of positive publicity. Turning the tide after the lacklustre success of Justice League might mean focussing more on individual characters and worlds but if Shazam! is anything to go by then the approach is working.

Director David F. Sanberg and writers Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke have crafted something entirely unique from the pantheon of comic book movies. Moving away from the darkness of Zack Snyder’s entries and avoiding recreating the formula of Marvel they have instead created something new and exciting.

Shazman! makes it clear from its opening act that it won’t be following the usual pattern of a comic book origin. Opting to focus on Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) over Billy Batson works twofold by setting up a villain with very human emotions but also flips the origin movie idea clean on its head.

From there the story shifts to Billy and intricately weaves its way through comedy, action adventure and even horror. It does so seamlessly, blending everything together into a Big meets Ghostbusters meets the worlds of DC Comics extravaganza.

The disparate elements which make up Shazam! feel almost like the group of foster kids at the movies heart. Though there is plenty of story and plenty of action it’s the characters which really make this movie come to life.

Asher Angel plays Billy Batson perfectly. Some real heart wrenching flashbacks set the scene for 14 year-old Billy to be alone and unable to trust. Though he eventually finds a home with the Vasquez family he has quite a journey to traverse first.

Angel and Zach Levi do a great job of matching up their mannerisms to create one character in two very different bodies. Angel gives us the insecure teenager still searching for his mum. Whilst Levi gives us the super powered hero which this movie will have you believing lies within all of us.

Levi, too, brings some great vulnerability to the role. His portrayal of a teenager in an adult’s body never veers into unwatchable, cringeworthy territory. The writers make sure to keep the dialogue comedic but without taking scenes to extremes measures to drive home their point.

His brand of comedy fits in perfectly with the tone of the movie. By the time I left the cinema there was no doubt that he has been perfectly cast in this franchise and I hope to see him make many more appearances in the future.

Jack Dylan Grazer steals many a scene throughout the movie. Through necessity Freddy takes more of a back seat as the story develops but he remains a true sidekick to Billy from the moment they meet. In many ways he is the audiences gateway in to this world over Billy.

As we’ve seen in the trailers Freddy is a huge fan of comics and his scenes do bring a lot of nods to the wider DC Universe. The movie is literally peppered with them throughout. Some major, some not so much. It’s going to be interesting on rewatching it to see what other connections to the DCEU there are.

Of the rest of the young cast Ian Chen as Eugene Choi absolutely stole the show. His scenes are utterly hilarious. His introduction is a proper laugh out loud moment and it sets the tone for all his scenes in the movie.

Faithe Herman (Darla), Grace Fulton (Mary) and Jovan Armand (Pedro) are all excellent additions to the cast. In all honestly they all have standout moments in the movie. It’s purely the comedy factor which sets Ian Chen aside for me.

They’re all compelling characters who help create an incredibly diverse cast. Equally compelling are Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews as Rosa and Victor Vasquez. The warmth they bring really helps enhance the family vibe of the movie.

Despite all of the sad backstories, Dr Sivana included, there’s an overriding sense of hope and joy in the movie. It’s the kind of cinematic experience which leaves a huge smile on your face.

Any concerns that Shazam! would be squarely aimed at a younger audience can be forgotten. Though the movie is clearly not as adult as say Batman v Superman it certainly isn’t a kids movie either. It lies somewhere in-between with plenty for all audiences to enjoy.

We’ve all seen comic book movie villains derided by fans and critics for being nothing above average. Shazam! is able to rise above that and make Mark Strong’s Thaddeus Sivana someone much more interesting.

His familial background adds some much needed context to his motivations for becoming a villain. Equally his tussle with the Seven Deadly Sins really emphasises how well rounded the character actually is. Though ultimately his emotions lead him down a dark path we’re able to follow him because so much exposure is given to his circumstances.

There are one or two moments when the CGI betrays the mechanisms of movie making but on the whole Shazam! looks like the $150M+ blockbusters of Summer. It’s great to see that a lot of the effects in the movie are practical and also that the writers played to the lower budget given by the studio.

Instead of reaching beyond its means the movie looks inwards and uses its heart as its biggest selling point and I cannot fault it at all. Everything from cinematography down to costume design is immaculate.

Seeing the hero suit in action certainly puts to bed any concerns that it would look overly padded. Levi looks great in every scene and is every inch the super hero. I was particularly entranced by the lightning bolt on his chest. Look closely and you’ll see there’s a lot of power moving around inside there.

Benjamin Wallfisch’s score also does a great job of driving home that feeling of adventure. It swells in all the right moments and accompanies those smaller, character moments in all the right ways. We also get to hear the beginnings of what could become a very memorable theme for the titular hero. I’m really looking forward to listening to it once the soundtrack album is released.

Verdict

Shazam! is absolutely the DC movie that we’ve all been waiting for. It builds on the successes of both Wonder Woman and Aquaman to create an enjoyable epic which is full of heart, laughs and high stakes action.

Levi leads a near perfect cast through what is arguably the most consistent DC Films release of the modern era.

9/10

You can find all our Shazam! coverage of the movie over at our Shazam! hub.


Follow us on Facebook, on Twitter @GetYourComicOn, or on Instagram at GetYourComicOn. If you have a story suggestion email feedback@getyourcomicon.co.uk.

About Neil Vagg 2743 Articles
Neil is the GYCO Editorial Chief. He has a BA in Film & Tv and an MA in Scriptwriting; he currently works 9-5 as an office manager and 5-9 as a reviewer/web designer. He has been subscribing to comics for around nine years but has been reading them as long as he can remember. Favourite comics: Batman; Nightwing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and All New X-Men Favourite films: Batman (any apart from & Robin); Star Trek Generations, Underworld, Beetlejuice Favourite TV shows: Fringe; Buffy, Arrow, TBBT, Being Human UK and Star Trek TNG