DC comics have had many misses in their attempts to claim their share of the comic book movie trend. Shazam! continues another Hollywood trend of giving acclaimed indie directors a big tentpole film early in their career. Thus, DC’s newest film fell on director David F. Sandberg, who made Annabelle: Creation (2017) after his successful indie horror film Lights Out (2016), to see if he can right the apparent sinking ship. Fortunately for all involved, Shazam! breathes new life into the DCEU as a fun, campy superhero film that is ripped right out of a child’s fantasy of becoming the hero.
Shazam! manages to bring a bit of joy to the mostly dark DCEU
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a foster kid who has fought against the system every step of the way. His new foster family is a little less traditional, with several siblings – including the superhero-obsessed Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) – being a bit clingy. Billy is summoned by The Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), and is turned into Shazam (Zachary Levi). Freddy is more stoked about Billy’s newfound powers than Billy is, but together, they attempt to discover all that he is capable of.
The real heroes of the film are definitely Levi and Grazer. Their chemistry is a great pairing, and they really work well off each other. Levi seems to be having so much fun in this role that it reminds me of Tom Hanks in Big (1988), as we see a grown man with big muscles in a questionable superhero costume, but with the mind of a 14-year-old. The script by Henry Gayden takes advantage of this dynamic, and gives our hero several opportunities that are just pure fun. Whether he’s standing on top of the steps that Rocky trained on or buying beer without a fake ID, Billy and Freddy a number of opportunity for hijinks.
A big challenge that Sandberg was up against was that this wasn’t just the hero’s origin story, but also Dr. Thaddeus Sivana’s (Mark Strong). Not uncommon for the first film in a potential franchise, the villain that Shazam will be combatting with also needs some development. Strong is no stranger to playing this kind of role, and takes to it with ease. Some of the plot points and family themes that are built into this movie are a little on the nose with the juxtaposition of the two characters – but in the end, they work well enough for what the movie is trying to do. Sivana’s family belittles him and shames him, while Billy has grown up trying to find his family – something that he feels is the most important thing. These two conflicting ideologies put them at odds even before they have the power to combat each other.
Billy’s other foster siblings and parents are played by relative beginners, but they each bring a little something to the film. Darla (Faithe Herman) is the sweetest of the bunch, initially hugging Billy and welcoming him to their family. She is a great gauge of how Billy is feeling towards the group throughout the film, as she is the most emotive. Overall, the scenes at the foster home are endearing, and give enough emotional backbone to the story to make us care about their wellbeing, and hope that Billy will warm up to them.
Shazam! is certainly much more fun (and overall, a better script) than Aquaman (2018). I also was felt that it is one of the strongest third acts in the DCEU, and gives me hope for the upcoming properties that the company will likely bring to the big screen. If they are still going to make the Black Adam movie, I hope that the entire cast from Shazam is able to be involved, as I think they collectively brought something to the table. Shazam! earns the Not Quiet Golden, Ponyboy rating.