Ever since Christopher Nolan moved on, DC have really struggled to make their movies work. From a bad start, to a dreadful middle and a strangely fishy end, their franchise so far has only delivered one great movie. Though Shazam! is probably the second-best film in the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) after Wonder Woman…it’s still not great.
It’s clear that this film got stuck in the studio system for longer than expected. The ENTIRE film is set in the lead-up to Christmas, which is very off putting. More off putting, however, is the truly bizarre plot. Billy Batson is a 14-year-old boy who, after being visited by an ancient wizard, has the powers of a superhero thrust upon him. Billy learns he must fight the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, a magic mastermind with the power of the seven deadly sins…
The film never quite leans into accepting how weird the premise is, and this felt a shame. It plays it all off as too normal, and this felt like a problem.
Playing the adult Billy, and the superhero Shazam!, is Zachary Levi, and he absolutely carries the film. His charm, personality and humour is the main thing that makes the film entertaining to watch. This screen presence is challenged only by his sidekick Freddy, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, who is Billy’s foster brother and is also absolutely hilarious. The two of them spend most of the film either fan-girling over superpowers or bickering like a married couple. The rest of the cast, headed up by Mark Strong as the main villain (obviously), are all engaging to watch, but none of them are ever given quite enough to do.
The film’s tone switches very quickly from threat to humour, and these changes never quite work. After a dark start, the films tone lightens somewhat, but the early jokes don’t really land. It’s only after Zachary Levi turns up that the film really starts to be entertaining. A funny montage of him ‘being an adult’ provided the high point of the film, showing him tasting beer, visiting a strip club and trying to set up a mortgage for ‘a superhero lair’. The whole film is very self-referential to the fact that it’s basically Big but with superheroes, and even at one point includes the famous floor piano that Tom Hanks played in the 80’s hit.
Unfortunately, even though it’s a new superhero with a different filmmaking approach, DC still fall into the usual cliché trappings, such as the climax of the film being a big CGI smash-fest and the soundtrack having a couple of jukebox hits, just as basically every superhero film since Guardians of The Galaxy has.
Overall, the film is an entertaining romp which will entertain the masses. It’s a step up for DC, who clearly still want to cash in on Marvel’s HUGE box office numbers by adding some comedy to the proceedings. They didn’t quite hit the mark, but they’re getting ever closer. After watching the weirdest End Credits sting I’ve ever seen, it seems we’ll be getting a sequel, so hopefully they’re able to improve on their mistakes.