A Surprisingly Good Superhero Film
Shazam! has no right to be be a good movie. It’s cheesy and over the top whilst blending a dark undercurrent of seriousness that’s always in danger of offsetting the tone. Yet somehow it blends these elements together perfectly, delivering a funny, action packed superhero film that’s enjoyable from start to finish.
Admittedly the film does open on a pretty dark tone. A young boy in a car gets into a fight with his Dad which results in them being involved in a car accident. Nestled in the midst of this conflict is a dream-like sequence that sees this boy whisked away to another dimension where he’s told by a wizard he’s not worthy to be given super powers.
From here the film cuts to our main protagonist, 14 year old Billy Batson. A troublesome foster child with a desperate desire to find his biological Mum who he lost at a carnival years earlier. After being acquainted with his new foster family, Billy’s life is turned upside down when he’s given superpowers from the very same wizard who rejected the boy at the start of the film. This boy, now all grown up, is Dr Sivana, a man obsessed with finding a way back to the magical world to steal the powers for himself. This really sets up the overarching plot of the film but it’s really Shazam’s superhero journey that makes this such an enjoyable story.
If you were 14 years old and given superpowers, what would you do? It’s something every kid has thought about and Shazam brings this to life in the best possible way. From drinking beer and visiting strip clubs through to hustling money in the streets, the concept is consistently harvested for comedy and for the most part, works beautifully throughout the film. Props to Zachary Levi though who does a fantastic job with this character, bringing him to life in a believable and grounded way. You really feel like he’s a 14 year old playing an adult and this certainly helps sell the premise of the film.
A lot of Shazam! walks a fine line between comedy and dark, moody drama and it’s something that’s quite hard to pull off in a film like this. Much like DC’s flagship superhero show Doom Patrol, Shazam manages this really well. The jokes are consistently funny all the way throughand even during the film’s climactic showdown, there’s a good balance of traditional superhero action with humour to keep this one feeling fresh and unique.
Part of Shazam’s appeal comes from the various characters and their motivations. Almost every supporting character has an established arc in the film whilst Billy Batson’s quest to find his Mum and being given these powers juxtaposes nicely next to Dr Sivana’s desire to find Billy and seize power for himself. It’s something that superhero films don’t always do well but the motivations for the characters are clear and add some real depth to this one.
Overall then Shazam! is a surprisingly good film. It balances comedy and drama in a believable way with enough originality and unique quips to avoid it falling into Marvel’s slapstick trap. The characters are well written too and Zachary Levi’s performance really helps elevate this one. Whisper it, but Shazam! may just be one of the best DC films released.