There are really three different movies at work in Shazam!, the latest effort in the DC film universe. It’s part family drama, part horror flick, and part superhero fluff, and really only the superhero part of that works to some degree. Thankfully, eschewing the broody nature of the Zack Snyder era of films, and echoing the lighter approach of Wonder Woman and Aquaman, the film is cute and fun, but also convoluted and forced, elevated by two main performances, and hindered by nearly everything else.
The film opens with the bad guy Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) and his origin story, involving wizards and monsters and a car accident with his family. Then we get introduced to Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a foster kid regularly bounced from home to home, as he is placed with a new family full of fosters. Batson is chosen by an ancient wizard, and when he says the magic word (Shazam!), he is transformed into a fully-adult superhero, in the form of Zachary Levi. It’s Big meets Superman. While there’s a lot of humor to mine from this situation, and most of works based on the chemistry between Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer, as Batson’s new BFF Freddy. Grazer is damn-near perfect in the role, and brings an energy and an infusion of joy that is mostly absent any time he’s not around. The film rushes through any actual character development and thus a climactic moment involving his new foster family falls mostly flat because it kind of came out of nowhere.
While Levi does a great job at capturing the boy in an adult’s body, as well as newfound super hero with endless powers, there’s a real disconnect between superhero Billy and teenager Billy who feels like a completely different character. The horror movie aspects may add a bit of darkness but do little to keep the movie from feeling like a disjointed mishmash of styles and tones. The movie coasts on the charm of Levi and Grazer, and puts too much heavy lifting on the shoulders of Angel, who just doesn’t have the same energy. While it’s fun in a way, it’s mostly forgettable. Cameos by Adam Brody and Meagan Good also liven things up, but come a bit too late to really make a difference. All that said, it’s still a step in the right direction for DC, to establish their own identity first instead of trying to rush into the being the MCU without the proper groundwork being laid.
My Grade – C+