Walking into Shazam! as a DC Comics fan should have you feeling anything between cautiously optimistic and downright giddy with glee. But – hold your horses – all that excitement might be in vain.
Shazam! tells the story of young Billy Batson who grows up in foster care after getting separated from his mother at a carnival, and ultimately becomes the chosen one to gain the mysterious powers of the magician Shazam.
We follow this 15-year-old in a 25-year-olds body as he tries out his newfound skills in the most obnoxious way possible – by chronicling his experiments on YouTube. Shazam quickly rises to fame in Philadelphia, but with his loss of anonymity bad guys come creeping, but they are nothing against Billy, his alter ego, and his foster siblings.
Shazam! wastes a lot of time explaining the villains origin story in its exposition (almost more so than Billy’s) but it offers little to no insight as to why he has turned to the dark side – other than the usual greed for power. This may be fitting with the theme of 7 Deadly Sins (yet another seemingly random choice that is never really elaborated on), but at this point in the development of superhero films is definitely not enough to make one identify or even barely empathize with a villain.
The movie also feels tonally all over the place. It doesn’t even bother trying to fit into the general broody and moody DC Comics vibe (which it even makes fun of at times with fun references to Batman and Superman), but it doesn’t quite nail Aquaman’s effortless ‘so bad it’s brilliant’ tone either. Instead it feels like a bad mix of any teenage super hero ever combined with aspects of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. It doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be when it grows up.
It is indeed difficult not to draw comparisons to Aquaman, the only other ‘lighter’ DC title, especially in light of the references in the post-credit scenes. But where Aquaman felt purposefully silly at times, Shazam! just felt forced. And where Aquaman looked like a bad video game at times, it seems that from a VFX point of view, WB didn’t even try with Shazam!
While Shazam! offers some genuinely heart-warming moments (almost exclusively in relation to Billy’s relationship with his foster family) and even elicits the one or the other chuckle, most of the jokes that the film is meant to deliver fall flat – just like our hero himself does quite literally.
It is especially this ragtag group of siblings that gives the movie a special something. They seem like an odd mix, but are so wonderfully diverse and unique that it is especially irksome that, as they ultimately all turn into their adult super hero alter egos, they also turn into buff, traditionally beautiful super humans. This in itself wouldn’t be too bad if these lovely characters weren’t completely stripped off of their uniqueness and streamlined into what society perceives as “perfect enough” to be admired and put on a pedestal. It’s 2019. Thank you, next.
All of the above would hurt so much less if it wasn’t for Zachary Levi. Levi can do no wrong, and he is definitely the right mix of charming and goofy for this role. Sadly, the film lets him down by not utilizing him as much as it could or should.
And still, Shazam! has one very positive surprise in store – Adam Brody. It certainly feels like coming full circle to see him take on this role. Captain Oats would be so proud.
Never has there been a starker contrast between the quality of the Marvel cinematic universe and the cinematic universe that DC Comics has created. Having seen Captain Marvel just a few weeks ago makes the disappointment that is Shazam! feel even harsher.
Shazam! will be released in UK cinemas April 5th.