Billed as a good DCEU movie (a rarity let me tell you), 2019s Shazam! is a film about a boy who gains super powers that he can switch on an off by shouting the name “Shazam”. Billy Batson, a foster child who’s proved a nuisance of every kind to the child protection services, is transported to the realm of a wizard, charged with the task of keeping at bay the 7 deadly sins of the world. Upon returning to the world he knows, he finds he has the ability to transform into a much older, much bigger man. Starring Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, and Asher Angel in lead roles, the film was received very warmly and quickly gained the reputation of being one of the most downright fun superhero movies out there.
A reputation well earned. Shazam! was a strange one for me going into it. I’d seen the trailer and chuckled, but the idea seemed so odd and the tone so out of place that I originally made no plan to see it. “DC’s scraping the bottom of the barrel,” was the thought that went through my head. When I did see it, however, my expectations were far superseded.
Shazam! is a fun, funny, heartwarming film, almost detached fully from its super hero label. That feels appropriate, the tone of the film is a lot more childish and and light-hearted than what has come to be the standard in superhero film these days. Marvel films have a pretty good track record with humor, but it’s always in the form of comic relief in moments of solemnity. The tone of this film is intrinsically light, almost playful. There’s an extent to which that takes away from the consequence of the film, there’s definitely an element of Kick-Ass style casualness (except in that movie people straight up die), which, as someone I saw it suggested, made one care less about the larger plot of the film. I personally didn’t agree with that, the tone that could be said to be dwelling on childishness was for me effective in reinforcing what I thought was given more importance (rightly so) than the mythological aspect of it: the family angle. This was a film about foster families, about the bonds people in less than perfect circumstances make with each other and how important it is to be loved, in that situation as much as any. Possibly my favourite characters in the film were Billy’s final foster parents. There’s a lovely ten-minute bit where they strongly establish the relationships and dynamics within that foster family, maybe my favourite bit of the film. A little flaw is that they could have done a much better job establishing more of a relationship between Billy and the rest of the family, with the exception of Freddy. By the end of the film there’s an awkward question to be asked regarding the strength of Billy’s connection to, say, Pedro, which I wish had been avoided, even if by the process of a couple more scenes. It’s forgivable, and I think the idea comes across potently enough, it just could’ve been stronger.
The way they handle more emotional aspects of the film is admirable on the whole, the scene with Billy and his mother in the hallway is a standout moment. Angel (Billy) is good throughout, but some of the other performances are very child-actor-y. Mark Strong and Zachary Levi are very good, but I had a consistency issue with Levi. His kid-in-a-man’s-body is excellent, but I don’t know how far he was playing the same character that Angel was. Strong is, as I mentioned, very good, breathing some life into a character whose villain-plot is good until the scene with the father, after which it’s just boring. The mythology of the seven sins and the wizards in general feels a little incidental and not particularly engaging. There’s one aspect I loved though, not really by way of the mythology but it’s related so I’ll give it the win. When the wizard calls on Billy, it’s for lack of a better option. After years of searching for someone worthy enough to carry on his responsibilities and coming up short, he has to settle for someone who isn’t necessarily pure of heart. I like the idea that represents. I like the idea that someone who is worthy isn’t necessarily pure of heart, in fact, they can’t be. It gives me hope for the idea that we could all be that person if we chose to be.
I haven’t said enough about the comedy. Shazam! is almost first and foremost a comedy. Along with the effervescent Zachary Levi, who can carry a comic scene all by himself, the film has some really intelligent comedy writing. It feels really great to see that kind of writing in the context of a film that has juvenility in its core, I like that those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. Make no mistake about it, this is a pretty hilarious film with a light hearted sense of humour (another thing you wouldn’t normally think possible).
All in all, I really liked Shazam!. It’s far from a perfect film, and it’s far from sophisticated, but that’s not the promise of the film. It wasn’t trying to be a higher cinema piece of art, so I don’t measure it by that yardstick. What it ended up being was quite a light hearted appeal to human connection, and, while it was by no means done exceptionally, it was a lot of fun. It feels all kinds of weird to think that they might try to incorporate this into the DCEU, in fact, I kind of wish they don’t even make any sequels to this one. It feels pure enough as a stand-alone, and I really hope DC has the sense not to ruin something good they’ve got.
– Aman Datta
Aman’s Score – 72/100 Aryamaan’s Score –