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Shazam! – Movie Review

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Shazam! – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

The entire concept of the superhero Shazam (originally named Captain Marvel in 1939) has a wish-fulfillment component, as most children dream of becoming superheroes. In bringing the character to the big screen, director David F. Sandberg displays a youthful spirit in showing how Billy Batson gets used to the incredible gifts bestowed upon him. The winning humour allows Shazam! to become a highly enjoyable comedy on top of being an entertaining superhero romp. The themes of family also work in strengthening the main message about what it means to be a hero. There are multiple moments sure to induce smiles, which is one of the biggest accomplishments of Shazam!

The highlights of Shazam! unsurprisingly come from Billy discovering his new abilities and seeing what he can do with them. Being a teenage boy, there is certainty plenty of immaturity involved, but his progression through the story is believable. A huge component of this is Zachary Levi. Comparisons will probably be made to Tom Hanks in Big in how he portrays a boy suddenly dealing with being an adult and Levi brings a similar sensibility to the role. He doesn’t go too over-the-top, even in the overtly comedic scenes and we never forget about the young boy underneath. Pairing him up with Jack Dylan Grazer’s fellow foster kid Freddy also works, helped by Grazer’s excellent comedic timing. Some of the funniest lines come courtesy of his delivery.

Sandberg also gives the film a decent amount of emotion that allows the audience to connect to Billy, Freddy and the other foster children. The screenplay, credited to Henry Gayden, doesn’t merely reduce the other children into background roles. They are given well-established personalities that wonderfully pay off later. One of Billy’s main arcs, finding his biological mother, is properly handled and we see the effect this search has on him and his decisions. Recent DC movies like Wonder Woman and Aquaman have become more self-contained, with only a few cursory nods to the other films in this cinematic universe. Shazam! works on its own, but Sandberg does include multiple references to the other superheroes in this universe and these enhance the characters. Freddie and Billy represent the regular civilians, watching and being inspired by the caped heroes in the sky. That adds a further element of self-awareness to their journey.

What is most surprising about Shazam! is how dark it gets at points. Not in a moody way, but instead harkening back to Amblin movies of the 1980s that would mix comedy with moments of terror. If Chris Columbus had directed or written a superhero movie, it would probably look something like Shazam! These do up the stakes when Billy battles with Mark Strong’s villain and his seven demonic monsters, but a few scenes are unexpected in how brutal they are. The action scenes themselves are well directed, although Sandberg saves the best for the climax. There is such a creative joyfulness with which he handles the third act.

Shazam! fulfills its promise of being a consistently funny age swapping comedy, but also manages to work on other levels. The superhero escapades we have come to expect from the genre are all here and the movie doesn’t skimp on imagination. Part of the fun here is seeing a superhero who knows all of the common traits of caped beings and there is also an understanding of what a young person would do if suddenly handed these gifts. David F. Sandberg clearly cares about these characters and wants us to care about them, too. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing Zachary Levi put on the lightning bolt emblazoned superhero suit again.

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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