Here’s our review from ‘Shazam’ starring Zachary Levi, which lands in theaters on April 5…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
If we’re starting to learn one thing about superhero movies during this golden age of comic book related films, it’s that the biggest characters aren’t always the best — much less always necessary.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe launched 11 years ago on the back of Jon Favreau’s ‘Iron Man’ based on a mid-level character that the majority of casual fans had no emotional attachment to much less that he was even close to a household name. A decade later, actor Robert Downey Jr. is a beloved star again with fans sporting Iron Man shirts all across the globe.
‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ ended up with a similar result after Marvel decided to introduce them via director and writer James Gunn and now through two blockbuster films, those characters are some of the best known superheroes in film.
That formula always depends on a delicate balance of building rapport with your audience and constantly churning out great films. Marvel’s reputation is sterling with moviegoers outside of a couple somewhat lame duck films released in the past 11 years.
Unfortunately, DC has built up no such good will with audiences after three films by Zack Snyder that were not exactly critical hits with anybody. Following a disastrous attempt to introduce the ‘Justice League’ through a bad CGI filled movie, DC opted to gut the plans for a connected universe and opted to just focus on making watchable movies.
The results have been outstanding at least through the first two movies based on that format.
‘Aquaman’ — a much maligned and often mocked character — ended up making more money than any DC film in history (Batman movies included) and a sequel is already on the way. While ‘Wonder Woman’ loosely connected to the other DC related films before and after that movie, the original film told a self-contained story that didn’t rely on anybody else showing up to make the story work.
That brings us to ‘Shazam’ — the newest DC film opening on April 5 starring Zachary Levi in the bulked up lead role as well as Disney star Asher Angel playing the younger version of the same character.
‘Shazam’ may not be as unknown as the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ were ahead of that films’ release but it’s not that far behind. Originally known as Captain Marvel (not the same as the movie that was just recently released) back in 1939, Shazam has been a part of the DC Universe for nearly 80 years with powers and abilities that rivaled Superman but he’s just never been an ‘A’ list character in the DC Universe.
Thanks to a passion project from DC guru Geoff Johns, the character was re-introduced in recent years with a new origin story and transformed into a more relatable, modern superhero that served as the basis for the new film about to land in theaters.
The result is a truly fun-filled film with plenty of laughs, a ton of heart and a star-making performance from Levi, who is best known as the nerdy super spy from ‘Chuck’ rather than a beefed up superhero type that you’d find buried amongst the dumbbells six times a week at your local gym.
DC just went for it with this movie and while there were still a few key elements that fell short — most notably a worthwhile villain — ‘Shazam’ shines in a really enjoyable superhero movie for all ages.
With that said, let’s get to our full review of ‘Shazam’ out in theaters on April 5…
Billy Batson is a 14-year old orphan, who has spent most of his life looking for the mother he lost at a carnival when he was just a little boy. His attitude and desire to constantly run off has left Billy with limited options for a new home until a pair of former foster kids now running a home in Philadelphia offer to take him in.
Billy meets his new ‘family’ and immediately resists getting close to them because he only wants to be reunited with his real mom. Everything changes for Billy one day on the subway when he is transported to a strange mystical cave where he meets a dying wizard, who wants to pass along all of his powers to the teenager so that he can be the champion for all magic in the universe.
Yes, it sounds rather ridiculous — and that’s exactly what Billy says when he’s offered these superpowers but regardless, he is eventually granted those extraordinary abilities when he is transformed into ‘SHAZAM’.
Unfortunately what Billy doesn’t know is that he’s not the first kid who was tested and tried as a potential conduit for these superpowers. In fact, one of the kids who wasn’t deemed worthy has spent his entire life searching for vengeance and he will be none too happy when he runs into the new SHAZAM.
It seems like ‘Shazam’ was a role specifically made for Zachary Levi.
The former ‘Chuck’ star has always embraced his child like exuberance for all things nerdy including the week long party he used to host every year at San Diego Comic Con. Levi himself has been a part of the pop culture zeitgeist surrounding superhero movies and television shows for years and now he finally gets the chance to star in one.
Levi’s ability to portray a 14-year old kid suddenly living in an adult’s body — with all the powers he could ever imagine — is a performance that Tom Hanks would surely applaud after he perfected that role in ‘Big’ more than 25 years ago. Levi brings a real joy to this role and he shines in every scene.
Asher Angel also plays his counterpart by hitting every beat as the actual 14-year old kid before transforming into SHAZAM. By the time this movie is finished, you’ll be convinced that Angel and Levi are one and the same.
The rest of the cast supports him well including the rest of the foster kids who are growing up in the house alongside Billy Batson. Jack Dylan Grazer — best known for his role in the horror film ‘It’ — also stands out as the foster brother to Billy who knows anything and everything about superheroes and becomes the mentor of sorts to a kid suddenly granted these incredible abilities.
Now it must be stated that Mark Strong is a very good actor but he needs to stop being cast as bad guys in DC movies. His first turn as Sinestro in the highly-forgettable ‘Green Lantern’ movie was tough enough to watch but his one note performance as Dr. Thaddeus Silvana — the bid bad coming after SHAZAM — was one mustache twirl away from actually wearing a sign that he was the villain. Obviously not all of that is his fault because Strong can only work with the material he’s given but overall, he was probably the least watchable part about the entire movie.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE MOVIE?
Like so many superhero films before it, the biggest problem with ‘Shazam’ comes from the ill-fated attempt to give him a worthy adversary.
As ‘Last Week Tonight’ host John Oliver might say — Dr. Silvana is the picture you’d find in the dictionary if you looked up the word ‘thud’. There’s just nothing compelling about the character despite a half-hearted attempt to give him a backstory that stretches back to his childhood as well.
Instead, Dr. Silvana is just a power hungry bad guy who doesn’t really want anything other than the actual power he’s seeking. He has no grand plan or design. He just wants all the powers and there just wasn’t anything compelling about him.
Thankfully the strong parts focused on the creation and evolution of SHAZAM take center stage for the majority of this movie and you don’t get stuck spending a lot of time thinking about the villain.
The good news is if ‘Shazam’ gets picked up for a sequel — and that’s almost a foregone conclusion so long as the movie doesn’t completely bomb at the box office — then we already know he’s likely headed for a confrontation at some point with his greatest villain Black Adam, who will be portrayed by mega-star Dwayne Johnson. Hopefully if we get that far, Black Adam will get a better storyline to serve as the opposition to Levi’s SHAZAM in a future sequel.
Here’s the thing — ‘Shazam’ is just a movie filled with fun, hope and heart — three extremely lacking qualities in many past DC films. Levi shines as SHAZAM, Billy Batson’s new found family would fit perfectly into any 1980’s sitcom (the golden age for family led comedies on television), and the story is just infected with real joy as a boy becomes a superhero.
Honestly, I didn’t expect to enjoy ‘Shazam’ as much as I did, which is a big reason why this movie is definitely recommended viewing.
‘Shazam’ gets 4 out of 5 on the Skolnick Scale