Review: Shazam! – ‘Big’ meets ‘Kickass’

To say that DC Filmshave had a troubling few years trying to build their cinematic universe would be an understatement. From the dismally dark and boring Batman V Superman to the overwhelmingly cringe-inducing Suicide Squad, the DCU has successively lacked the character and fun that enables their Marvel counterparts to flourish so greatly with. However, last year’s Aquaman saw a shift in tone for the series, which whilst still being a film with flaws, was nonetheless a move in the right direction. Shazam! carries on in this direction, delivering a good old-fashioned bit of comic book fun.

Shazam! is directed by David Sandberg and follows teenager Billy Batson as he is bestowed with great powers that turn him into an adult superhero when he utters the word ‘Shazam’. The great thing about this film is just how fun and light-hearted it is. Its strong self-awareness in its understanding of the crazy superhero universe it is set in allows the writing to take itself less seriously and thus allows more leniency for jokes and entertainment

The film is mainly set in the home of a foster family who take Billy in and looks into the struggles and relationships which come with living under such a roof. This family aspect to the film is very central and heart-warming, documenting how someone from a broken family can find love and safety in a new one. The interactions between the foster children are very convincing and at times rather hard-hitting, most notably between Billy and his eventual sidekick Freddy. The relationship between these two leads to Zachary Levi’s great performance as Shazam, as he bounces childishly off of Freddie’s quips as they learn of his superpowers. Levi convincingly maintains the perspective that he is a 14-year-old trapped in a grown man’s body with his playful dialogue and bouncy physique, whilst not acting too comically childlike as to break the façade. The arc of Shazam throughout the film also grows brilliantly as he learns about his abilities, and this teaches the viewer that powers are not what makes one great and heroic, but it is human that lies behind them. This offers a great life lesson for younger viewers of the film in a far better way than any other DC film, and this is supported by the great dynamics and dialogue within the foster home which helps Billy to grow.

Although Shazam! makes great leaps forward for the DCU, it still falls victim to some of the universe’s most notable flaws. The antagonist, Doctor Sivana, is for the most part, uninteresting with unrealistic evil motives. Ultimately, he becomes nothing more than another forgettable villain, and his on-screen moments are never that engaging or entertaining. The plot is also quite predictable, following a safe and repeated formula, backed up by many clichéd moments that even the self-aware humour cannot save. Overall, Shazam! is a great step in the right direction for DC, delivering excellent and light-hearted fun which all superhero films should strive for. It also sends a powerful lesson out for its younger viewers on what makes a real hero and how one can grow from even the most disheartened situations. Even with its predictable moments and underwhelming villain, Shazam! keeps its focus on its family moments and finally gives the DCU a proper hero that everyone can root for.

By Rory Yeates

Image courtesy of GeekTyrant