I had a great time with Shazam!, it’s such a fun movie with plenty of action and laughs as well as a few appropriately dark moments. Despite a few trip ups it does get the story and tone mostly correct even into the third act.
Although it may sound like hyperbole, I almost reckon this may be the best DC movie in their current run.
In all fairness the DCEU had a pretty rough start.
Billy Batson is a 15-year-old foster kid who is bestowed the powers of an ancient wizard, Shazam. And it’s that premise that informs almost every step of this film most importantly the tone: it’s a kids adventure film.
And I mean that in the best possible way because that’s the whole point of this character and even most comic book superheroes. Shazam! (or originally “Captain Marvel” before Fawcett Comics was sued by DC Comics for creating a character too similar to Superman and then buying them up) is a child’s wish fulfilment and power fantasy in its purest form.
So when I talk about getting the tone right, the filmmakers are completely aware of its audience and it moves between humour and levity to moments of appropriate and immense dark. This is perhaps the only DCEU movie that gets the tone right in that manner (for all the marketing depicting this as a comedy, there is so much not being shown).
Without spoiling it, think about your favourite dark movie from your childhood, maybe Labyrinth, perhaps The Goonies, or whatever else there are moments like that littered throughout this movie, both visual and emotional. This film does a lot to invoke other films (some deliberately), there’s a moment I can see a bit of Christopher Reeve’s Superman, there are scenes that remind me of Tim Burton’s Batman. And it works!
Most of the characters in this are great and they all have their moments. The casting is especially wonderful in how diverse they are from the foster parents to the kids (even the wizard) and it makes sense especially with the family Billy ends up with. If you are afraid about annoying kids, don’t be. They do a fantastic job and they do well to convince you of the family element at play here.
This is an origin film through and through on many fronts. For all the moaning people do about being sick of origin stories I still contend that’s not true. We were TOLD that was the case and when it’s repeated over and over again people start to believe it. Shazam! proves my point.
It’s such a fun story, it’s also an appropriately small story that fits well with that kids action adventure and especially exploring what a kid would do if they found out they had superpowers, it feels true. And more so than most other superhero films I think it absolutely kills it in the third act climax (which is why I think it’s the best DCEU film thus far). To say any more would spoil it but you will understand why American audiences have been literally cheering at these points.
And for anyone wanting to turn this into a DC vs Marvel, Shazam! vs Captain Marvel nonsense, any manchild bothered by the latter’s feminism… Shazam! actually touches upon toxic masculinity and its effects pretty much from the get go. So there’s that!
However, it’s not a perfect film. There are moments that feel a little wedged in and maybe a tad rushed. There’s a beat where we’re supposed to feel sorry for a character despite them being as a jerk yet we’re meant to think the other person is a jerk and it doesn’t work. Also the tackling of toxic masculinity isn’t as overt as it should be in my opinion (mind you your mileage may vary on that).
There are TWO scenes in the credits: one mid-credits scene that will be baffling unless you were paying attention, and other after the credits.
The film is full of references so anyone that is so inclined may want to check out this short video that might help ID a few points from the history of Shazam! in the comics.
Shazam! is so much fun. I went into this cautiously hoping for a great movie and those expectations were met as well as being surprised at just how heartfelt it was. It won’t blow you away like a massive tent pole film would but it’s just a great all round family adventure.
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