Shazam! - 2019
Director(s): David F. Sandberg
Writer(s): Henry Gayden (screenplay) / Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke (story) / Bill Parker and C. C. Beck (characters)
Cinematography by: Maxime Alexandre
Editor(s): Michel Aller
Cast: Zachary Levi, Michelle Borth, Djimon Hounsou, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer and Asher Angel
DC may have finally found its stride by making weird, funny, and light-hearted superhero movies that avoid the being gritty for the sake of being gritty route Snyder wanted - but it still doesn't shy away from it when needed. Shazam! is a shining example of how to create the right balance between what Marvel is doing and what the DCEU tried to do, let's talk about it.
The story follows Billy Batson (Angel), a young boy bouncing from foster home to foster home due to his rebellious attitude towards the families taking him in. He is adopted by the Vasquez's and becomes friends with Freddie Freeman (Grazer), a paraplegic orphan the Vasquez also took in. After protecting his new brother from a group of bullies, he is endowed with powers by a mysterious wizard that allows him to become a grown superhero that goes by the name Shazam (Levy). This new found power sets him down a path of both discovering who he is and what it takes to be a superhero.
When I first saw the trio behind the camera of Sandberg, Aller, and Alexandre (Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation), I was confused since the tone of Shazam looked so lighthearted and goofy in nature. But, after watching the film, I completely understand why they were drawn to this world, as the magic and the evil elements Shazam keeps at bay are deeply rooted in the horror genre. The aesthetics of the monsters where done beautiful, and in many cases, they felt tangible and menacing, giving Shazam an imposing first threat to deal with in his origin story. Gayden’s script does tend to follow some of the superhero origin story beats, but the heart injected into the film thanks to the search for a family by Billy, and the love and care from the foster parents added a lot of weight to the characters we were being introduced too.
Quick note: this film may not be for small kids, despite the bubbly tone the trailers suggest. The bad guys are big and ugly monsters, it earns its PG-13 rating.
I do love that they did not shy away from the magical elements of his story and seeing this world through the eyes of two kids adds a sense of wonder missing from the many cynical films DC has put out so far. This film is the closest we have gotten to 1978’s Superman. It is bright, lighthearted and funny when it needs to be and knows when to get serious, creating a good balance between that produced an experience that flies by leaving you wanting for more.
The cast is lovely, with Mark Strong being an imposing villain and the negative reflection of what Shazam could’ve become, and I am glad he got to be in good DC film after his purgatory run as Sinestro in Green Lantern. I fell in love with the foster parents played by Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews, along with the foster kids that become Billy’s family. However, this film belongs to Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer, their chemistry was incredible as if they have been working together for years. Levi completely channels both Hanks and Reeves, perfectly landing the kid trapped in an adult experience while also being an upbeat superhero. And Grazer delivery is something impressive for any actor to pull off, let alone a teenager, he is funny, witty and never comes across as anything other than a real kid – I look forward to his career.
Shazam! is just so much fun, that I cannot wait for people to enjoy it as I did. The third act of this film delivers a unique conclusion to the ordinary world ending battles that tend to bog down many superhero films, and it managed it seamlessly address a lot of the representation issues in this genre. Levi is perfect as Shazam, and I can see him being this generation's Reeves. A funny light-hearted film that somehow still has action and horror elements executed exceptionally well by Sandberg. Go see it!
Shazam! Is Why I Love Movies.
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