Billy Batson is a streetwise 14-year-old who can magically transform into the adult superhero Shazam simply by shouting out one word. His newfound powers soon get put to the test when he squares off against the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana.
Another DC film with another tone change, but the DCEU seems to be done with forcing continuity into their film franchise instead focusing on making a good film. Does it succeed though? Let's take a look.
If you have seen the trailer, you will know that this film has a lighter tone, more in line with 'Suicide Squad' than 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice', and that was a brilliant choice. They have gone all in on this, using the true age of Billy Batson to create some delightful comedic moments playing out the whole "what would you do if you were X-age" fantasies; providing an adult with the mind of a 15-year-old teenager.
The writing, in general, is outstanding, with many jokes getting me to murmur out a laugh or two (and I am a very difficult person to please), but having most of the audience in hysterics at at least one point or another. The most important aspect of it all being that while jokes are written in quite frequently, it never comes across as cheesy or hammy (now I want a sandwich). There is a sense of subtlety to it, and it doesn't linger on it because the movie has other plans it needs to get on with, so the success of the film doesn't rely on the jokes hitting home. It's just a bonus; that's how these things need to be written.
The whole family of the cast are really well chosen. Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer do a top-notch job as the duo of Billy and Freddy, and while some of their conflicts do feel unduly forced, their chemistry otherwise feels legitimate. The remainder of the family of siblings (Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Grace Fulton, and especially Faithe Herman) all have minor roles but they really help create an authentic family vibe and prevent an otherwise sterile set. Each scene feels like a lived-in environment.
I really did enjoy the build-up and character development in the first act of the film. Care was taken to ensure that all the pieces were in place, as that connection is vital to subsequent protagonist development later in the film.
'Shazam!' does have a bit of a pacing issue though, not where the film feels slow, but from where the audience doesn't get a chance to take a break. There is a very strict and consistent level of plot that keeps ticking along, and you don't get a chance to think about what is going on before it jumps into the next set-piece. While it keeps you transfixed to the screen, it means the storyline does make a sharp turn and accelerate quite considerably in the second act, before a third act that almost feels like the writers were unsure how to pull the arc off.
It has the usual DC struggle where it relies too much on CGI villains. It's one of the reasons why Batman has always done so well on the movie side of things; his scale is much smaller so the villains aren't necessarily as grand and, as a consequence, they usually have a better character development than "I am powerful". 'Shazam!' has a mix of that, with a human villain and some CGI mini-ghost-doomsday monstrosities.
That isn't to say Mark Strong is that much better. While his character does get some development early in the film, it all gets a little one-dimensional and campy. It's as if he was stuck in 'Kingsman' mode (or maybe that is his only acting ability, just like the one character Johnny Depp keeps playing) He is just an outright villain, whose goals don't actually intersect with the hero at all, so it feels rather out-of-place and unnecessary.
The strength of the movie comes from the foster family arc and an exceptional performance from Zachary Levi. Much like Batfleck, I was initially concerned at Zachary Levi being cast in this role, but he really fits the role perfectly, encapsulating that naivety and innocence that comes with youth. The combination of Strong's campy performance and high levels of satirical comedy gives 'Shazam!' a similar tone to that of 'Aquaman' meets 'Deadpool', so you could certainly say this is in the better half of DCEU films.
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