Think Big meets The Flash, Shazam is an entertaining comic book film from beginning to end that never forgets the fun. It’s practically irresistible.
DC Comics has always had its loyal fan base, even the dark times of the Zack Snyder years, whose vision also has its supporters (some call his work dynamic; I would call it over-stylized, bloated, and say it replaces dialogue with outdated slow-motion action). To be fair, anyone following up with the golden age of Nolan’s Batman trilogy will fall victim to extremely high expectations (I find it comparable to when the fictional film Queens Boulevard, inside the HBO series Entourage, goes from a gritty crime film to a gaudy, fluorescent colored monstrosity, but I digress). Thankfully, after the trailblazing Wonder Woman and a step in the right direction with Aquaman, Shazam! is a thoroughly entertaining comic book film that never forgets the fun.
The film begins with flashbacks to the origin of Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (the always welcome Mark Strong) as a child, being tormented by his older brother and being put down by his abrasive father. He is then transported to a different realm by an old wizard named Shazam, played by Djimon Hounsou (who is the go-to actor right now for comic book character acting). He tells the young Sivana he is not pure of heart, while later finding someone who is: a teenager named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who has escaped dozens of times from the foster system looking for his mother. Shazam transfers his powers to Billy because he has the right makeup, and now can pass on his godlike powers to the next generation; he soon finds out he can transform into a full-fledged adult (played by Zachary Levi) by yelling “Shazam!”.
Shazam! was directed by David F. Sandberg, who helmed the inventive horror flick Lights Out, and he shows a real talent for being able to handle a different genre by keeping things light, breezy, and offering consistent, almost irresistible fun (without turning to the bleaker vision DC has been so fond of this decade). While Sandberg’s camera captures some of the film’s best bits of physical comedy, the script by Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo), helps keep the film from being too self-indulgent, even though some of the villainous lines from Mark Strong’s character will cause a few eye-rolls without ruining the experience. The scenes with Billy’s new foster family convey the message of family being what you make it, which is handled with a deft touch without being heavy-handed and can be moving at times.
Then there is the always delightful Zachary Levi, who has now found a live-action film role that is catered to his natural talents, probably the best since his breakout out role in the cult hit television series Chuck. He has the everyman appeal and likability of a Tom Hanks (even more so than his son Colin) with a quality I would describe as “adorkable” that is perfectly suited for this role (note to Hollywood: I am not big on remakes, but a remake of Hanks’s comedy classic Big with Levi is a slam-dunk idea in theory).
Shazam! is entertaining from start to finish, a film that is almost the birth child of the comedy classic Big, with the comic book hero The Flash. There hasn’t been this much breezy fun in a 21st century DC comic film since, well, ever. The ending is perfect for the tone of the film and here is hoping they try to keep the (possible) franchise of films separate from the other DC universe films for now, like Deadpool, and create its own legacy before branching out.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.