REVIEW: “Shazam!” (2019)

ShazamPOSTER

I feel the need to start off with a confession. After seeing the first trailer for DC’s “Shazam!” I pounced on the opportunity to voice my skepticism. It wasn’t due to a desire to be some kind of contrarian. I genuinely disliked DC’s decision to make a joke out of a truly iconic character. You could say I was armed and ready to push back hard on this movie.

Funny thing though, despite my prefabricated negativity, it was hard to hate on the trailer too much. It’s star Zachary Levi is a genuinely likable guy and it did sport some humorous ‘reluctant superhero’ moments. I kept thinking of Will Smith’s “Hancock” except actually funny. But enough about the trailer. What about the actual movie itself? Let’s say it lands somewhere in the middle.

SHAZAM_feb22_0125.dng

“Shazam!” is the seventh film in the DC Extended Universe and easily the most light-hearted of the bunch. The heads at DC Films seem to have panicked and pivoted to making their movies much more MCU-like instead of carving out a their own unique identity. I actually appreciated their darker and more serious tone as it offered a different flavor to the superhero genre.

David Sandberg, known more for his work in horror, directs from a screenplay written by Henry Gayden. He opens with a prologue featuring Djimon Hounsou as a wizard decked in full Gandalf the Grey garb. He basically serves as a crash course on the Shazam lore you’ll need for the two-plus hours that follow. We get things like the Rock of Eternity, the Eye of Envy, the Seven Deadly Sins each in monster form. You know, the normal stuff.

Now jump ahead to present day Philadelphia where teenaged Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has ran away from one foster family after another. Child services gives him one more chance, putting him in a group home ran by Victor and Rosa Vazquez (sweetly played by Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans). But Billy has no interest in a new family. Instead he’s intent on finding his birth mother who he was separated from as a child.

Shazam2

The house is made up of a fairly interesting array of characters. None are particularly deep but they serve their purposes. His gabby, superhero enthusiast roommate Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) gets most of the scenes. He’s a little annoying but proves to be a big help after Billy magically encounters the wizard from the prologue who imbues him superhuman powers in the form of a super-buff adult body (played by Zachary Levi). It’s Freddy who helps him sort through his crazy new abilities.

But every hero needs a villain, right? Mark Strong can make the silliest material seem menacing and here he plays Thaddeus Sivana, a power-hungry baddie with serious daddy issues. In the prologue we see him encountering the aforementioned wizard as a child. But he was deemed unworthy of the power Billy now possesses and has been seeking the way back to the wizard’s realm ever since. And once he gets wind of Billy, well he begins doing bad guy things.

While Strong’s performance is fun, as villains go the movie version of Sivana is pretty shallow. Instead of giving him any meaningful depth Sandberg digs his heels into the comedy element of his story. It turns out to be a double-edged sword. Some of the film’s most playful moments are its best. Take when Shazam/Billy and Freddy are going through their checklist of superpowers testing every one. And much of it too the smile-inducing “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen.

Shazam3

But eventually the whole ‘kid in an adult body’ wears a little thin. And when so much time is put into youthful frolicking, it’s hard to buy into his sudden shift to superhero. Not to mention the tonal clashes particularly as the movie transitions back-and-forth between Billy’s angle and Sivana’s. It’s tough to balance Shazam flossing (that’s a dance for you older folk) with a demon creature chomping someone’s head off.

There is no denying that “Shazam!” has charm and heart. You also can’t help but enjoy the fun and energetic Zachary Levi, padded suit and all. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that the original Captain Marvel (sorry MCU, it’s true) deserved a better movie. A part of me thinks “Shazam!” would work better as an all-out spoof instead of attempting a balancing act. Then again I would probably push back on that even harder. So we are left with a fun but lightweight DC installment that uses a ton of humor to mask its otherwise noticeable flaws.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

3-stars

 

22 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Shazam!” (2019)

  1. I think this is a fair review Keith, especially taking into account understandable preconceived notions of the movie. And I’ve been consistently reading about the clashing tonal shifts in it, so I’m curious to see what this is like, despite not having much of a rooting interest in Shazam. I’m drawn more to the kid stuck in an adult body running gag

    • If you’re drawn to that gag you’re going to get aplenty! 😂 I have such a weird reaction to this picture. I did laugh at times and Levi is a hoot. But frankly I’m really surprised that is gotten so much critical love when it has some of the same problems that critics usually pounce on when reviewing superhero flicks. The tone thing is legitimate even though it wasn’t a total deal-breaker for me. It just makes the whole thing feel uneven.

      • This is really interesting because it applies so much to my feelings over Jordan Peele’s Us: “…frankly I’m really surprised that is gotten so much critical love when it has some of the same problems that critics usually pounce on when reviewing superhero flicks.” Just substitute horror in place of superhero. I don’t get the hype for Us at all. At. All. Really lame movie imo

      • LOL. And see I LOVED “Us”. It was such a surprise for me considering the issues I had with “Get Out”. I do think some of the Peele adoration is over the top though.

    • I’m so glad I’m not alone. I really like the darker toned DC movies as well. This is far removed from those. I think you would be fine waiting for BluRay.

  2. Strong was wasted here. The script gave him nothing to play or say. Screenwriter should have Netflixed “Kick Ass” and begged for another crack at the script once they cast Strong. Big, dull unfunny hole in the middle of a movie that could ill afford it.

    • You nail it. It is kind of fun. But I didn’t love it the way so many seem to. Definitely check it out but don’t feel the need to rush to the theater. HBO would work just fine.

  3. I actually found the tonal shifts pretty unique and not jarring. I cannot Imagine some of the those death scenes or that scene mom tells him she abandonded him to be in MCU, that’s way too unpleasant for them

  4. “I kept thinking of Will Smith’s “Hancock” except actually funny.” – LOL

    I think Sivana could’ve been a bit more nuanced. His father and brother were so awful that I sort of snorted when he tossed his brother out the window. I thought we maybe would’ve seen a bit more humanity in him, but nope.

    • Exactly! I thought that opening exchange between father and two sons was a little hard to believe. But still, I’m okay with daddy issues. Just do something meaningful with them. I love the superhero genre, but nailing down villains has certainly proven to be tough for them.

  5. I thought that this movie was fun. It wasn’t the best DCEU movie out there (as some are claim it to be), but it was definitely than several other entries in the franchise. I thought that Levi truly made the movie….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s