Genre: Superhero Running Time: 2 hrs. 12 min.
Release Date: April 5th, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: David F. Sandberg Actors: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Faithe Herman
roubled 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) continually bounces from foster home to foster home and in and out of trouble. Having never given up hope of being reunited with his biological mother, Billy keeps an emotional distance from everyone around him. But all that changes when he arrives at the Vasquez’s (Cooper Andrews, Marta Milans) house, a home to a loving family of misfits, including Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Mary (Grace Fulton), Pedro (Jovan Armand), Eugene (Ian Chen), and Darla (Faithe Herman). After sticking up for Freddy when he’s bullied at school, Billy is mysteriously transported to a magical cave where he encounters a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who claims to be an ancient guardian tasked with protecting mankind against deadly personifications of evil. Initially skeptical of the old man’s ravings, Billy soon learns that they’re all too real when he’s given the power to transform into Shazam, a red-and-gold-suited, adult superhero with astonishing abilities.
It may begin in 1974 – a good year for these kinds of films, since the technology was more limited – but that has no bearing on the onslaught of sci-fi and fantasy elements soon bursting onto the screen. Any hint of realism is gone in the first few minutes, what with dimension-teleportation, wizards, anthropomorphized vices, glowing orbs, and other magical concepts. The brief yet absurd legend-based introductions are similarly flighty, though they soon transition into a darker, secondary unveiling, this time for a young teen with tragic familial conundrums. A slipshod construction involving an immediate flashback could have been handled better, but Billy’s new brothers and sisters transform the occasion into something lighter and fun-loving; with an exceptional collection of the most overly precocious children, the goofiness of “Shazam!” is finally established.
The eccentrically diverse foster family is tailor-made for comedy – and this is where the film’s strongest moments arise (adopting the hysterical vibes of “The Mask” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”). Despite some flagging asides for mass hysteria studies, details for the adult villain (Mark Strong, continuing the annoying trend [along with Hounsou] of having the same actors appear over and over again in different roles in new superhero films), and reiterations of magical nonsense (the search for the strong in spirit and the pure of heart – as if every superhero must be sought out like Neo from “The Matrix” – as well as proclamations from the Keeper of the Rock of Eternity), “Shazam!” investigates the natural humor of a scenario reminiscent of “Big.” The main protagonist may be physically mature on the outside, but he contends with the mindset and intelligence of a child, coping with some awkward, exploratory adolescent notions right alongside the believable experimentations with spontaneous superpowers.
Unfortunately, the humorous innocence soon gives way to obligatory superhero tropes, such as destructive battles, complex rescues (a bus disaster is, amusingly, instigated by Billy himself), and computer-animated monsters wreaking havoc. It’s here that the laughs come in handy the most, as tossing out the seriousness effectively serves to mitigate the ridiculousness of superhuman confrontations and abilities. Mischievousness goes a long way in breaking up the humdrum nature of meaningless, protracted clashes between immortals spewing lightning bolts from their hands. Comparably, themes of bullying, independence, blame, guilt, what it means to be family, and standing up for the meek feel more significant when separated by well-timed zaniness.
Utilizing humor doesn’t quite work for the finale, even when it’s frequent, thanks to the terribly drawn-out climax, which finds heroes and villains doing battle across the city and through the stratosphere, repetitiously trading punches and hurling one another into the scenery. Flying and fighting are just as silly as ever (a sad staple of many superhero properties), but they’re slightly more palatable with intermittent gags and slapstick; the conclusion, however, just doesn’t want to end. Part of the problem is with the villains, who must continually pull punches, due to the restrictive MPAA rating and the inclusion of children. Rather than altering the script, the writers force the antagonists to conspicuously refrain from using the most effective and sensible (though severe) methods of coercion. Still, the movie contains considerable entertainment value, standing out from the studio’s paltry superhero brethren; it’s a low bar, but “Shazam!” is one of the best of DC Comics’ theatrical adaptations.
– The Massie Twins
The DC Extended Universe