It is unfortunate that I am old enough to remember the old 70’s Saturday morning live-action of the series, Shazam. That show, which is currently available on DC Universe, was my first introduction into the character. In that series, it was a kid that was clearly out of high school that became the iconic character. Now, we get more of what the comic character was actually about and put in an actor that can be an adult but artfully play off a kid convincingly.
In 2019, Warner Bros. has managed to carry the success of their lighter and less fanboy movie success of Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Unfortunately for those fanboys that killed off the Snyder-verse Batman and Superman, were forced to remember those characters in this movie. Unlike the other films, which focused less on even mentioning those characters, Shazam embraces them through the eyes of teenage kids.
Billy Batson is an abandon child that is searching for his mother after he gets lost at a fair. Obsessed with finding his original birth mother, he runs through a series of foster homes and refuses to get close to anyone. Simply using the logic that when he finds his birth mother, he won’t need any of those other people. Unfortunately for him, once you catch your dream, it isn’t what you always expect it to be.
Asher Angel, who plays Billy, manages to straddle that line of being a jerk to playing on the injury that his character suffered as a child. He manages to convey his struggle with abandonment. What did he do for her not to look for him? Clutching to the hope that once he’s reunited with her, their lives can pick up where they left off. He struggles with his new foster family that embrace him with open arms, even with Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) trying to be his friend. Not to mention Freddy’s obsession with super heroes.
Balancing that with Zachary Levi’s performance as Shazam, Billy’s adult alter-ego. While physically, Levi manages to convey that he is cut for the superhero genre, but his playfully pre-teen mind makes him come across as a child and not an idiot. Playing a child in a man’s body is difficult. Too little and it isn’t believable. Too much and he’s obnoxious and annoying. Levi manages to tap into that adolescence that we vaguely remember and comes off genuine.
Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivana was a well-played villain. It was miles more subtle than his last turn in Green Lantern. Some people have called it a well-played villain, while others accuse him of chewing the scenery. For my tastes, I thought he was dominate without screaming like Al Pacino in Dick Tracy. Or, over the top like Stanley Tucci in one of those Transformers movies. If anyone was chewing the scenery it was John Glover as his father and Landon Doak, who played his older brother in 1974.
As far as visual effects go, it was better than what we saw in Wonder Woman and some areas of Captain Marvel. One thing that I did notice is that Shazam was released through New Line Cinema instead of the main Warner Bros. division, which seems a bit odd considering all the previous movies were under the main banner. Some of the weaker points was the score. There was no iconic themes or something that resonated with the action. Aside from that brief Superman iconic score. I believed that the script was better than most. However, it is through the lens of teenagers, so it can’t all be Dawson’s Creek level intellect. I think the runtime could have been trimmed. It was a bit over two hours, which focuses more on his personal journey to find his mother. However, it could’ve used some trimming to tighten the pace.
All in all, Shazam is a fun comic-book movie that will appeal to kids, but have some laughs for adults. How many of us, as kids, wanted to be a super hero. This is nearly slash fiction for the kid in all of us. The movie is a stark reminder that, in the right hands, Warner Bros. is capable of doing fun films that can appeal to all audiences. Yes, just like Marvel. The last few releases have enjoyed more success because they weren’t weighed down by the grit, dark universe Scott Snyder attempted to create. Yes, Marvel succeeds in making these movies not for fanboys (which Snyder did), but for the parents that have to watch it with their kids. Fanboys can get the Easter eggs, but if you don’t – it doesn’t take away from the experience. I’m not a huge Shazam fan, but I did enjoy the movie without being a fanboy. You will too.