‘Shazam!’ serves up some heavy cheese in the best possible way
The DC Cinematic Universe is back with their newest installment, “Shazam!”
The film focuses on a 14-year old Billy Batson, a foster child who has spent his whole life trying to find his mom after being separated from her early in life. Shortly after being placed in a new household, Billy encounters a mystical being who grants him with extraordinary powers. Billy and his foster brother Freddy both enjoy the powers for some time, until an equally powerful threat rears its ugly head, looking to challenge Billy for control of his power.
“Shazam!” is a film that takes its premise and runs with it. The corny, cheesy nature of the film is unapologetic in its approach, playing out as a loving throwback to classic superhero films such as Richard Donner’s 1975 “Superman” or the Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” trilogy. The film’s concept and the overall light-hearted tone work hand in hand to deliver some great comedy. The script uses the premise of a child transforming into an all powerful superhero to poke fun at the cliches of the genre, while doing a good job at making most the humor have a decent flow.
Much of the spot on humor can be attributed to Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer’s excellent chemistry. Levi as the titular character was simply fantastic in the way he was able to so accurately capture the mannerisms and behavior of a pre-teen aged boy, giving him a fun presence whenever he was on screen. Freddy could have very easily been an irritating character given his energetic nature, but Grazer manages to channel then character’s energy to make him very likable and sympathetic. Together, the two characters were the highlight, bringing off enough of a believable dynamic for this film’s universe to sell both the comedic and dramatic elements of the screenplay.
Speaking of which, it is interesting to note that while the film does remain mostly comical, there is a surprising amount of dramatic weight to the story that does feel earned. Billy’s search and eventual discovery of his mother along with his connection to his new foster family is where the film’s heart lies and both aspects are pulled off very well. There are even moments in the film that are surprisingly scary and intense for a superhero movie like this. One scene involving the villain in an office meeting room is one that stands out. While it’s no “Dark Crystal” in terms of intensity, these scarier elements helped give the film’s universe a heavier sense of consequence.
As for problems, while the screenplay and acting helps convey the classic superhero tone, there is not nearly enough effort being put into direction or presentation to equate. While nothing is done incompetently and the film actually has some decently constructed elements (the design and visual effects of the Seven Deadly Sin monsters was fantastic), there is no sense of style to the editing, cinematography, musical score or production design, making the film less than memorable.
The villain of the film was also a mixed bag. While his intentions were clear enough and there was a level of intimidation to his actions, his arc feels like it could have been fleshed out more. Without giving much away, his arc mirrors Billy’s quite a bit and it feels like the film should have done more to illustrate this. Doing so in a gradual sense would have made the finale more exciting, as the one we ended up with, while not boring, did over stay its welcome.
Despite these problems, it’s very hard to hate on “Shazam!” While this won’t be a groundbreaking game changer by any means, there’s enough fun to be had while watching to satisfy. For those looking to take a refreshing throwback to a more pure and simple age of superhero flicks, then “Shazam!” is a name you’re going to want to call.