- Directed by David F. Sandberg
- March 28, 2019 (TCL Chinese Theater) / April 5, 2019 (US)
A young boy gains fantastic powers and must stop a madman before he unleashes the Seven Deadly Sins upon the world. All things considered he might have already done it.
Shazam! is a mostly post Snyderverse/definitely pre-James Gunnverse entry into the DC live action movie catalog. It is much lighter in tone and just plain fun rather than shooting for dark and moody. It has a tone all its own rather than being something homogenized to be like other films it is connected with though not directly a part of.
I’m not talking that it feels separate from any film universe. What I’m talking about is that it has its own distinct vibe. From early on it’s clear you are watching a Shazam movie. There’s no getting what you’re seeing construed with Man of Steel or Wonder Woman or anything else. That’s very comic book. At least from back in the day.
There was a time when if you would pick up an issue The Amazing Spider-Man or Batman or The Adventures of Superman or any number of characters and it felt different as you read. That has been lost a little bit with numerous restarts as companies try to capture the excitement of people purchasing the first issue. And with connected universes on film that is something that has quickly gone away on film. And that is a strength here because you should feel like it’s a different type of film.
One thing this movie does well is craft the character of Shazam (Zachary Levi) as a boy in a man’s body. Unlike the much earlier live action series, there are clear personality elements that carry over. He is not a man child but rather a child trying to pretend to be an adult. I think the only other time I’ve seen such a quality performance in that regard was Tom Hanks in Big.
While he may be portrayed as a kid in the body of a man, he is an intelligent character. He’s not a fool even if he makes mistakes. He stands up for the right thing and he is using his brain to defeat the villain. As he grows, Shazam understands what the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) was saying to him in a way that Sivana (Mark Strong) could not.
This movie does a very good job of balancing humor and action as well as its serious elements. This is not an entirely fun superhero movie. Shazam’s true self of Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is in the foster system having been abandoned by his mother years earlier. He is framed as a kid acting out rather than a bad kid. Eventually he finds himself in a home where he is treated as family almost from the start.
And that connects to the strong theme running through this of family and that family isn’t necessarily blood but where you find it. Billy expects his family to be his biological mother (Caroline Palmer) when in fact his family turns out to be the people he’s been placed with. They care about him and support him in a way his mother never could or even would.
But it also touches on the scars family can leave on you. Sivana’s father (John Glover in yet another DC project) is resentful and emotionally abusive towards his son and that only intensifies after the accident of the opener. This leaves Sivana with a growing hatred not only towards his father but towards the Wizard who rejected him. So is his father the ultimate villain of the story? An ‘I love you’ or a few kind words could have kept quite a few people alive.
Mike Strong is a fantastic actor. The guy has a charm. And when he plays bad he is one of those guys that can make the villain somebody you kinda want to win. His Sivana is focused on getting back to the Rock of Eternity and has been following stories of the Wizard from around the world for years hoping for a way back. But he’s not going back to become the Wizard’s champion. Rather he’s going back to unleash the Seven Deadly Sins and get revenge upon the world.
It is interesting that the test started the ball rolling and gave a way for Sivana to get his revenge on others. In other words, the Wizard seeking a champion to protect the world from the Seven Deadly Sins causes the problem he is trying to stop. Oops! So Sivana’s abusive dad or the Wizard once again choosing poorly put the world in jeopardy.
The Sins are rather dark and creepy in comparison to the lighter tone of everything else in the movie. There is a clear difference between good and evil not only visually but in portrayal. Sivana is clearly bad and Shazam is clearly good. That makes for a clear difference in their philosophies and why they do what they do.
The finale is a culmination of elements laid out during the film. It is not just a big fight to wrap things up. The idea of family as well as the essence of the Sins all play into it. And it even finds replacements for the other wizards at the Rock of Eternity even if it does not explain how those replacements are wizards now.
I have heard people say that the finale goes all Power Rangers. It has nothing to do with that. What it does do is dig into the mythology of the character as the rest of the film did to get to victory. The Shazam Family has existed almost as long as the character and their introduction to help in the end is just a use of existing elements that also highlights the themes of family in the story.
On that bit about the character’s mythos, there is a great mid credits scene that uses Mister Mind (voice of David F. Sandberg). He is a character that has been a longtime nemesis of Shazam. I’m not sure if too many people have heard of it outside the comics world, but it was a nice nod to the character’s greater mythology. And definitely promised something unique in the future.
Shazam! is a great fun film. There is plenty of humor and plenty of action and plenty of what they call heart. It’s something that will definitely please comic book fans and is great family viewing. I recommend this!