Whatever your opinion of the DC Films cinematic universe is, you can rest assured when I say that Shazam is an awesome movie…if not something of an anomaly.
Shazam tells the story of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a reckless foster kid in search of his birth mother, becoming imbued with the powers of the wizard Shazam. Calling out the wizards name gives him the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury. While this may sound a little corny and even somewhat convenient to have what amounts to basically the powers of Superman at your disposal, Shazam flips everything on it’s ear by making our hero of the film a fourteen year old kid who has no idea what he’s doing and has a bit of a jaded view of the world.
Okay, so let’s get something out of the way very quickly, there is something about this film that just seems off. It’s a superhero movie that has the look and feel of a big budget blockbuster, but is was a very low budget film for what it is. It’s part of a cinematic universe and references it constantly, but also feels like something that is completely on it’s own. This film reminds me of the kind of superhero film that would have come out around the early to mid-nineties, like the Phantom or Mantis, something that didn’t really care what the status quo was or about having some kind of agenda to boost ticket sales, it just wanted to be a good movie. That’s what Shazam does.
Shazam, played by Zachary Levi, is a great character that feels like he could be a real person, after you get over the whole “it’s Big, but with superpowers” aspect of this film, you’re left with a hero character that is dealing with anger, denial, and abandonment all while trying to adjust to living with a brand new foster family who quite honestly steal the show here.
The foster parents played by Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans actually seemed like a real married couple that were friends that fell in love. The five foster children all seemed like real kids living their own lives. None of the seemed like a precocious, Hollywood kid that is too cute for their own good. And the actors portraying them played off each other as if they really liked each other. Zachary Levi also really played up Billy Batson’s innocent and exuberant sides that he most likely hides from everyone else.
The villain of the film, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, while not weak, is another cookie-cutter villain with the same power set as the hero type character, but the Sivan is portrayed in this film by Mark Strong, perhaps the scariest man on the planet who is professional as hell as an actor. No matter what the role is, no matter the film, Mark Strong is always going to bring his A-game and bring everyone around him to his level. While Dr. Sivana is given a pretty decent backstory in this film, he’s mostly relegated to the action scenes which are few and far between, and honestly, they’re not the best action scenes that DC Films has given us. Whether it was budgetary constraints or story that kept the action to a minimum it’s actually not a big deal that the action is somewhat lackluster here. There’s a fight scene around the mid-point of the films where Shazam first meets Dr. Sivana, and Shazam/Billy Batson is scared. the kind of scared that only a kid could be in that situation, and that is what separates Shazam from the rest of the pack.
Shazam is never afraid to show you the honest side of things. Billy has a foster brother named Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) that is obsessed with superheroes and instantly jealous of Billy’s newfound powers, and while it may have been tempting to making his jealousy a rift between that characters, it’s treated with a sense of honestly that respects the intelligence of the audience.
With all of that being said, Shazam is a surprisingly warm, good-natured superhero film that gives us everything we would expect from it, while being honest and confident in what it is. I highly recommend you go out and see this films as soon as you can.
Score: Three bolts of lightning out of five.