Shazam, more than anything, is just really good. There is no getting around that.
First things first, Shazam was just surprising in how it presented itself. It’s ostensibly a kid’s film, or at least has really tried to sell itself in that sense. All of these comparisons to Amblin Films or BIG…which, on reflection, wasn’t that bad a comparison. I mean, the kids in ET get guns pointed at them and Tom Hanks has sex…and Shazam really does push the envelope with its PG-13 rating as far as it can in the same way. It’s more or less a family film. With a light, fun, and very moral story for the littler kids, and then some more extreme gags and even darker scenes for older kids and the adults. They say shit as much as they possibly could, and have a recurring gag about a Strip Club. It has something for everyone. Two things that really stood out to me are those extreme gags and darker scenes. Like, the movie opens up with a very stark scene about Sivana’s origin - and it is just so raw and honestly depressing. David F. Sandberg really was a good choice for this movie, because given his horror movie background he’s able to set perfectly uneasy moods for a lot of bits of the movie just like that opening. Hell, there’s also this huge bit that is framed and shot exactly like a horror movie and it is…unsettling to say the least. It’s very nerve wracking, especially if you were looking for something…well…Big Red Cheese. But nope, this opening has emotional abuse, blood, and a lot of cursing. In fact, the whole movie has a lot of that. Sometimes used for comedic effect, but mostly to underscore the tension and drama of both Sivana as the outside antagonistic force…but also the subtextual emotional arcs. It’s why I find it so laughable that people are using this movie as a bastion for how the DCEU is “moving away from Snyder”…because it’s honestly doing the same thing as he was attempting atmospherically. Just a whole lot more entertainingly.
Hell, in Shazam there is this insanely sorrowful scene where Billy has to confront with the truth about his parents and it’s definitely treading along the same lines as any of the parental stuff from MoS or BvS…but it stops just short of being overwrought. Being played for exemplary pathos instead. It’s genuinely great and engaging, and kudos to Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, and David F. Sanberg…and all involved. Because they hit the landing perfectly.
Of course none of this is meant to say that the movie isn’t without it’s light or fun moments. Not at all, in fact both aspects help to reaffirm each other. It’s like night and day, but complimentary. Perhaps best personified through how Sivana and Billy contrast each other. There’s this plot beat in the movie where The Wizard tests his candidates for champion with the Seven Sins, and in a way both Billy and Sivana fail this test. However Sivana decides not to grow as a person, he withdraws from any sense of connection, and never reaches out to others. Only his internal single minded goal. Billy similary has a singular goal, but also doesn’t shy away from building connections and bonds with others. They both sin…a lot, but Billy realizes that it’s only a bandaid for what is really missing in his life. Emotional tethers with other people. There’s this wonderful beat that really sells this, where Sivana has just finished severing these ties…and Mark Strong exudes in his body language and facial expressions this perfect aura of distraught and confused rage. It’s self-defeating and destructing. That’s what makes Billy worthy…because he grows, and lets go, and has the capacity to let others into his heart. It’s something he has to overcome by himself, but he does. It’s quite lovely.
It helps that Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Zachary Levi bounce off each other immaculately. Billy’s connection to Freddy is the strongest out of anyone else in the cast, and they needed each other for these moments to be as realized as they were. When their relationships start to rise or breakdown…you feel it. And, well, awesome. They were great.
This is also the perfect segue into my…issues with the film. Before we get to the real nitpicky stuff let’s start off with some general problems I had. The first of which is that, well, Freddy is the only character of the Marvel family to get anything to do. The rest don’t really have anything of note. They’re pretty interchangeable, except for maybe Darla - but only because she’s the focal point of several punchlines. It’s a shame, it really is, and it lessens the impact of the finale. Because when the other foster kids get their powers and become the Shazamily - because that happens and it’s a great moment - it’s hampered by the fact that you don’t really know anything about them. They’re caricaturish blank slates. Thankfully the Freddy stuff works because it helps you not notice it, but it is a missed opportunity for a film and franchise that has a core theme about family.
Another thing is that this movie does confirm that Johns only made Mary 18 in his new series for Synergy reasons and that she and Billy are not related. Not a mark on the movie, but it will reflect my opinions on the new Shazam! series moving forward.
My next two complaints are tied with the comic that this movie takes chief inspiration from - Curse of Shazam! The first of which has to do with Billy’s character arc. Now before I’ve said that Billy has this real development and journey throughout the movie. And it’s true. But it also feels like it comes way too late. The actors and the writers make it work, but it still feels like we’ve spent way too much time on Billy not really growing as a person, or really what makes him a hero outside of generally being a decentish kid at heart. In Curse of Shazam, Billy’s first fight with Black Adam happens in a crowded public place, a mall, and one of Billy’s first reactions is his concern that Black Adam is going to cause collateral damage and injure people in this path of destruction. It’s a small one panel beat…but it speaks volumes about Billy’s character. The same scene happens in Shazam…but Billy has no such moment. Throughout the scene he only is concerned about getting away from Sivana, who takes Black Adam’s place within the narratve. It just feels like a weird decision to not include a moment that would have added to the scene. Because it feels kinda empty without it, if you knew about it, and the movie in general can feel kinda lopsided.
But, honestly, that’s kinda it. Not enough development or misused development. And even then mostly understandable. Not bad, not bad at all. It’s not only surprisingly faithful to Curse of Shazam in every other respect, but also brings back the “he can’t say it without changing” and has way too much fun with it. By the end of the movie Billy has no superhero name. At all. It’s fantastic. I swear, just go out and call him Captain Marvel for the sequel. Just do it.
Overall, it was a fun, well made, entertainingly acted, and really effective film. About growing up, letting go, but never shutting or cutting yourself off. Not from life, and not from family or friends. Who ever you feel like calling either.
I really hope Black Adam is a villain, he’d fit right in.