Wholesome, genuinely funny, and beaming with heart, Shazam! is one of the most enjoyably well-balanced comic book films we’ve seen.
Directed by David F. Sandberg, Shazam! feels very much like a “Sandberg film.” While no, it is not a psychological horror thriller, the key word is consistency. From beginning to end, Shazam! feels consistent in its message and delivery. The film starts with a ton of heart and ends with just as much emotion. Because of this, the film makes you feel genuinely relaxed and you find yourself smiling most of the way. This inadvertently becomes the perfect setting for Sandberg to blend in light amounts of his horror techniques to change pace. Shazam! is an extremely well balanced film, Sandberg knows there audience he wants to capture, the themes he wants to put on display and the actors execute it perfectly.
Probably the best part of this film is the cast. Featuring Zachery Levi as the iconic hero, Asher Angel as his counterpart in Billy Batson, Mark Strong as a solid villain in Dr. Sivana, and an absolute show stealer in Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman, the leads of the film do a wonderful job setting the mood through each act. Aside for the leads, Faithe Herman pretty much owns every single scene she’s in as Darla Dudley.
Shazam! tells the story of Billy Batson, a foster child who has found difficulties adjusting from home to home. His life changes when he is summoned by the Wizard, played by Djimon Hounsou, and is transformed into a superhero. The comparisons to 1998’s Big are easy to see but the film’s best moments don’t come from that. The literal heart of Shazam! is the Shazam Family. The group of foster kids that Billy ends up with are the moral center and fiber of the film. Chief among them is Freddy Freeman. Freddy is the literal equivalent of a DC fan in a DC movie. He is obsessed with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, collecting memorabilia and even actual moments of their heroics. Freddy is the exact friend and brother that Billy needs by the time they meet and his enthusiasm of being friends with a real superhero provide some of the best scenes in the film.
Darla Dudley, Pedro Peña, Mary Bromfield and Eugene Choi round out the family and provide the heart the film firmly sits on. Mark Strong is back in the DC world for another shot at a super villain. After being the only shining part of 2011’s Green Lantern, Strong effortlessly fills the role of Dr. Sivanna. While not the strongest villain the DCEU has seen so far, the character does a solid job being an opposite to Billy Batson. Where Billy is young, overly excited and careless, Sivana is calculated, determined and ruthless in his approach.
Speaking of the DCEU, this film is firmly set in the cinematic universe. While it is clear DC is moving to a direction where heroes are in solo stories, some even outside of the continuity, Shazam! doesn’t waste a second letting you know this story takes place in the same world where Zod once brought a war to metropolis, Batman protects the nights of Gotham or even Aquaman rules the seas. Superman is chief among them, with name drops practically every few minutes. This felt refreshing and especially nice to see as older films are brought up through clever easter eggs and moments. Fans will be happy to see and even hear some awesome little throwbacks to the larger DC world.
As said before, the key to Shazam! is heart. Shazam! might be the most heartwarming superhero film since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. The film is distinctly more family friendly than other films but it is also genuinely entertaining for all ages. One of the reasons why is their clever use of humor. In a standard Marvel film, the jokes are almost exclusively through quips or tension breakers. When things are getting serious, a joke is thrown in to break it. Shazam! however stays away from that style of humor. Opting for situational humor and full embracing the idea of what a child would do if they suddenly woke up as Superman, the jokes feel distinctly different and more fresh than the ones seen in the MCU or even 2018’s Aquaman. The reason for that is this feeling of genuine humor rather than forced humor. Fans will definitely be laughing and smiling along as the film takes you on an awesome journey.
Gripes with this film are minor are attributed to technical factors. At times, particularly in the third act, the visual effects are not as polished as prior DCEU films, easily attributed to the smallest budget the franchise has seen thus far. Dr. Sivana, while convincing and brilliantly preformed, starts to lose some steam in the later acts as well. Other than that, Shazam! feels very much consistent in performances, tone, emotion and pacing, making for a great superhero adventure.
Overall, Shazam! is simply the definition of having an awesome time at the movies. While a tad kid friendlier than prior DCEU entries, the film does a spectacular job being in the world that started with 2013’s Man of Steel and shows the diversity of tone in the franchise. A stellar cast, heartwarming message and a clear director vision come together to make Shazam! a great comic book film.
For other reviews from Sheraz: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/sheraz-farooqi/movies
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