Final Score: 3.5 / 5
Coming off their latest success with Aquaman, DC had hoped that they would strike lightning twice with Shazam!. Touting it as the best DC movie since The Dark Knight, which is something that we heard going into Aquaman as well, the question on all of our minds here at The Twisted Cape was ‘but is it really?’. Could this movie, with it’s silly premise and light-hearted hero, really hold a candle to Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus, a movie widely held as the best superhero movie ever made and just generally one of the best movies ever made? Short answer: fuck no. But it did certainly surpass my expectations.
The story focuses on Billy Batson (Asher Angel) as he gets placed into yet another foster family in Philadelphia. After standing up for his foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), Billy gets chased by some bullies and escapes using the subway. While on the subway, he gets transported to a mysterious sanctuary where he encounters The Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who bestows upon him his powers, turning Billy Batson into the titular Shazam (Zachary Levi). With the help of Freddy, Billy tries to come to grips with his new powers and learn how to become a hero. Meanwhile, Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) searches for a way to harness the power of the Seven Deadly Sins in order to steal away the Wizard’s power, a power he was denied as a child, from Shazam and become an incredibly powered being. If that character motivation seems a little unclear, well that’s just because that’s about as much as we’re told throughout the movie.
According to the title of the movie, Billy Batson/Shazam is supposed to be the main character of the movie, but I’d argue that Freddy Freeman is actually the star of this whole affair. Freddy is both the comedic relief throughout and the plot-driving mechanism for the first half of the film, helping Billy to figure out and control his powers. Jack Dylan Grazer is able to play both parts of the role very convincingly. This isn’t to say that the other cast members didn’t do a good job acting as well. Asher Angel as Billy Batson came across as the hard trusting foster kid trying to find his way home extremely well. There’s a moment later in the film where Billy finds what he’s been looking for only to realize it wasn’t what he wanted, and the look of pain on Angel’s face was heartbreaking. Based on this movie, I’m not entirely sure if Zachary Levi was actually acting or just being himself; he may truly be a fifteen year old boy stuck in a grown man’s body with how well he played the part.
Watching all of the trailers going into this movie, I assumed it was going to be groan-inducing humor that would leave me overall bored and underwhelmed. To my great delight this movie was genuinely funny. There were moments where I was sitting in the theater actually laughing instead of giving a half-hearted chuckle like I assumed I would. This is thanks to the very natural chemistry between Asher Angel/Zachary Levi as Shazam and Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy. The constant witty back and forth banter between the characters added so much levity to the film and was honestly the thing that DC had been missing since Man of Steel. The overall plot itself was nothing too mind-blowing, but was at the very least well written, with the exception of maybe Dr Sivana. I understand that Dr Sivana was intended to act as the living embodiment of the Seven Deadly Sins, but it felt as if his intentions were ill-explained and poorly represented at times. His motivations overall were a little lackluster, but Mark Strong was able to save the character with a strong performance.
Special effects and CGI for DC have been a major issue throughout this whole disaster of a movie franchise. Aquaman proved that the studio is capable of doing better with their CGI, but for whatever reason hasn’t. I’m happy to report that the CGI in this movie is good; not great, but certainly better than other DC outings. There were a few moments where the Seven Deadly Sins looked almost claymation-esque, but for the most part they didn’t look terrible. The biggest area where the special effects/green screen work made me reel back a bit was in the moments where Shazam was flying. It felt very green screened and out of place with everything else. The weird thing though is that when Dr Sivana was flying, it looked miles better than Shazam and actually seemed believable. I don’t know how they managed to stay inconsistent with that, but bravo DC for continuing to surpass my expectations yet again.
Small little spoiler paragraph, one thing that caught all three of us off-guard when watching this movie was the introduction of the Family of Marvels. Throughout the movie we got to spend time with and really get to know Billy’s new foster family. Obviously they’re setting them up for the Family of Marvels in a future installment, we thought. I don’t know if DC just got over excited when scripting this movie or if they just didn’t have faith that it would land hard enough to afford them the ability to do a sequel, but in the final act we get to see the formation of the Family of Marvels and get to share in their first ever ass kicking. The entire final fight scene with these characters was a lot of fun and I’m interested to see where they take the entire family in the future.
There’s really not too much more to say about Shazam!. It doesn’t do anything groundbreaking or revolutionary, but that’s ok. DC should focus on movies that just get the basics right at the moment instead of trying to push the limits on these characters and what they can do. And this movie does just that. It takes a largely unknown character, brings it the forefront of the modern moviegoer’s mind, and introduces him with a fun, silly movie. Could it have been better? Sure. But honestly, at this point I’m just happy that DC didn’t give us another Batman vs Superman.