Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Written by: Henry Gayden
Starring: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou
Runtime: 130 min
We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson's (Asher Angel) case, by shouting out one word - SHAZAM! - this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi), courtesy of an ancient wizard. Still a kid at heart -inside a ripped, godlike body - Shazam revels in this adult version of himself by doing what any teen would do with superpowers: have fun with them!
Can he fly? Does he have X-ray vision? Can he shoot lightning out of his hands? Can he skip his social studies test? Shazam sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of a child. But he'll need to master these powers quickly in order to fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).
First of all, I didn’t know anything about Shazam. What his powers were, what story did he have … Basically, I didn’t know who he was. This is what David F. Sandberg‘s movie does best: introduce the audience to a new DC superhero, by delivering an uncommonly well-structured comic-book screenplay, packed with laughter and entertaining action. Zachary Levi is undoubtedly the standout! Not only is he hilarious, but he perfectly captures the childlike personality that a kid-turned-adult would have. His expressions of absolute surprise and awe of his powers are extremely precious, and he effortlessly carries the more lighthearted tone on his shoulders.
Asher Angel is brilliant as Billy Batson. His character has a notably well-written and well-explored backstory, which eventually justifies the person he has become. It’s the most emotional and heartfelt subplot of the film (probably the only one, really), and Henry Gayden did a fantastic job writing its script. It doesn’t feel cliche or over-the-top, it actually feels grounded and quite realistic. Jack Dylan Grazer plays his best friend, Freddy Freeman, and he’s the primary source of self-aware comedy. He knows all the cliches regarding superheroes and supervillains, so his jokes constantly land and play seamlessly into the last act.
Usually, villains tend to be hollow characters with paper-thin motivations, but since a few years ago, this issue has gradually been corrected. The latest comic-book movies have incredibly well-developed villains, who carry a compelling backstory that entirely supports their beliefs, but not their actions. This type of villains work because not only the audience can understand where they come from, but in some cases, they can even connect with and care about them. Dr. Thaddeus Sivana is not exactly someone the audience ends up caring about, but his backstory is emotionally powerful enough for us to understand where his motivations originate from. Mark Strong delivers a menacing performance, and his costume/make-up looks pretty badass.
The first act is kind of a mixed bag. It starts in a very captivating way, and once you understand who’s the character at the center, it gets even better. However, the film’s tone takes long to establish itself, and the beginning of the movie struggles to find which jokes land and which don’t. The humor is on-point throughout the rest of the runtime, but those first few jokes not so much, which threw me off a little bit. The action sequences are amazing, and the sound design allows the audience to feel every punch, kick, a fall on the ground or a Superman-ish take-off. The fight sequences are seamlessly edited, and you know how much I love well-choreographed or well-edited action scenes.
Shazam‘s search for his powers provides the funniest and most entertaining moments of the film. Each test that he puts himself through is both hilarious and informative. This is another aspect of the screenplay I love so much: they had several ideas of how to approach this segment, and they nailed every single execution. From the pop-culture references to the hero-villain cliches, Sandberg did a terrific job exploring those concepts, and he executed them flawlessly. The best jokes are the ones that can be funny on different levels for different people. If people can laugh at a particular scene solely due to it, but other people can laugh even more because that moment means so much more to them, that’s when you know a joke is perfect. Shazam is not only funny for comic-book fans, everyone can leave the theater entertained and jolly.
It’s still a straightforward superhero movie. There’s still a villain to defeat, and the film goes through all of the cliches that it makes so much fun of. Everyone knows how it’s going to develop, plot point by plot point, a few minutes in. Not that I consider this a flaw, it’s just … It is what it is. The final battle drags too much, and it keeps ending and restarting every five minutes. It does have a pretty cool conclusion, but it takes a bit too long to get there. Also, and I know that this is one of those logical nitpicks that CinemaSins are known for digging, but the flashbacks and time-jumps could have received better treatment concerning the age of the characters. One thing is to think that the characters would look much older/younger than what they display on-screen, but when they make them look exactly the same in the span of 30/40 years … Not so acceptable.
All in all, Shazam is a blast! It’s the most entertaining movie I’ve seen so far this year, and it’s freaking hilarious. It continues the comic-book films trend to change how villains are written, by delivering a well-developed bad guy, menacingly portrayed by Mark Strong. Every member of the cast gives a strong performance, but Zachary Levi steals the show. His whimsical attitude, reckless personality, and rich facial expressions are guaranteed to entertain you for most of the runtime. Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer are outstanding as the young kids, and the former’s backstory carries emotional impact which passes on to the big guy he transforms himself into.
The action is packed with beautifully-edited sequences, powerful sound design, and cool, unique moments, but the supposedly climactic final battle drags too much. The first act struggles to find its rhythm and its tone, but once it gets going, it’s an exceptional journey. The best praise I can give Sandberg‘s movie is that I didn’t know anything about Shazam before entering the theater, and now I can’t wait for its sequel. Well-directed, well-written and remarkably entertaining. What more can I ask? Go see it!