Film review, by Jason Day, of Shazam! the superhero comedy – based on the DC comic – starring Zachary Levi and Mark Strong.
Teenage Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has a lot to deal with. Separated as a child from his mother, he has grown-up – and run away from – a series of foster homes. His social worker moves him to a new one and to his surprise he has five other siblings.
One day, he is chosen by an ageing wizard (Djimon Hounsou) looking for a human pure of heart to take over his duties preventing the seven deadly sins escaping his lair and wreaking havoc on Earth. Billy accepts and is turned into superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi). When Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) – who was also approached by the wizard as a child- hears of this, he finds a way to the wizard’s realm and releases the sins. Obsessed with absorbing Shazam’s powers as well, he/the sins set out to do just that, putting Billy’s new family in danger.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
I really don’t like superhero movies.
That quote adequately summed up what I thought about superhero/comic book based movies and, especially, the obsessive fan worship that accompanies them for many years.
Whimsical stories that necessitate back knowledge of a medium for kids I was never into as a kid (reading The Beano for a bit was the closest I came to geekdom), casting predicated on physical perfection, po-faced scripts shorn that replace wit and humour with sarcasm and an over-reliance on special effects, comic-book cinema has never held my fascination.
For some years I actively avoided watching them, leaving the reviews to my good friend and fellow critic Claire Durrant. But then, something happened.
After all those years out cold in the comic cinema wildnerness, hearing conversations in the kitchen at work about the ‘Marvel Universe’ and the varying meta-strands that spun out from that place, I had a niggling feeling I was missing out on something.
Wonder Woman (2017) was truly wonderful, but not quite enough to get me to the multiplex again for a follow-up. But still those work conversations continued and I felt left out. A film critic who can’t discuss films is a poor critic.
So would Shazam! turn my head for good?
When watching a film, I text a note of what I want to explore in the later review, a sign of a good movie is I watch more and type less. For Shazam! I didn’t text a single thing.
This is a winning film on so many levels. Firstly, the casting is spot-on. The younger actors are hugely confident, especially as this is the first blockbuster for some. Special mention goes to Grazer as the younger Freddie, a boy mocked for his disabled leg and who vicariously lives through Billy when he turns into a super-powerful, body-beautiful able to fly and beat up the bullies.
Levi and Strong make a spectacularly successful combo a perfect set-up as, respectively, the naive, gauche, clumsy newbie hero finding his wings and the seasoned villain who has fumed and obsessed in the shadows but whose evil is now finally unleashed.
Interestingly, both characters have neglectful families in common – Billy’s mother abandoned him and later rejects him again and Thaddeus’ father (John Glover) preferred his older son and openly mocked and emasculated the younger sibling.
The effects are wonderful but – oh, novelty! – don’t overwhelm the story. The narrative is strong and the script frequently very funny and inventive (Shazam announces his presence to the world by that very 21st century phenomenon – social media. His Youtube channel quickly racks up a sizable following) and the cool effects complement rather than crush this.
So, do I now love comic cinema? Have I gone through a cinematic conversion, my earlier thoughts deleted and replaced by a need to dip my toes into the DC and Marvel universes?
Not quite. Those views still stand and even the most ardent black tee-shirt wearing, comic-con fanatic could budge me on that.
But I admit that after seeing Shazam! there is something to comic-based movies. Not everything just – something. That in itself might get me to think twice before avoiding a comic film in the future…and that might form a new quote at the top of the next DC/Marvel review.
FYI – stay tuned for the inventive closing credits sequence, with the characters doodled on notepads and post-its. They give way to a post-credits sequence that paves the way for a sequel.
Cast & credits
Director: David F. Sandberg. 2hrs 12mins/132 mins. Warner Bros./DC Entertainment/DC Comics/New Line Cinema/Seven Bucks Productions/The Safran Company. (12a)
Producer: Peter Safran.
Writer: Henry Gayden.
Camera: Maxime Alexandre.
Music: Benjamin Wallfisch.
Sets: Jennifer Spence.
Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Djimon Hounsou, Faithe Herman, Meagan Good, Grace Fulton, Michelle Borth, Ian Chen, Ross Butler, Jovan Armand, D.J. Cotrona, Marta Milans.