Film Review: SHAZAM! - "An Enthustiastic Palette-Clease To A Formally Much Darker DCEU"
With the arrival of SHAZAM! comes the hope from many fans that DC's has continued the momentum of their tonal change started by AQUAMAN last year. Though all promotional material for the film seemed to indicate that this change was indeed the case, for many - including myself - there was still concern that this film might revert back to the tone seen prior in earlier films featured in DC's cinematic universe. So again, with that said, has this character hit the mark and continued the pivot change from DC's formally dreary and gritty aesthetic last seen in JUSTICE LEAGUE? Well, I can wholeheartedly say yes!
Adapted from the DC Comics superhero of the same name, the film follows the story of young orphan, Billy Batson (ASHER ANGEL), who - courtesy of emotional baggage inflicted by his biological parents (more on that later) - finds himself hopping from foster to foster home, due to his inability to connect to any foster family he's placed in the care of. Eventually, Billy gets taken in by Victor (COOPER ANDREWS) & Rosa Vasquez (MARTA MILANS) - themselves former orphans growing up - who already are raising a full household of orphans that include Freddy, Eugene, Pedro, Mary, and Darla. Though Billy is initially hesitant to warm up to his latest family, an inciting incident - involving his sibling, Freddy - not only starts to cement his bond with his new family, it also convinces an ancient wizard (DIJIMON HOUNSOU) - who witnesses the incident - to bestow Billy with his powers (i.e. the powers of Shazam). Now, while the description here might sound relatively "run of the mill" to the casual superhero movie fan, for comic fans, we all know that there is more to Shazam than meets the eye. You see, as Shazam, there are two caveats that make him unique as a character: 1) as Shazam, the mentality of the young Billy remains, 2) Billy is able to transform back and forth between his identity and that of Shazam by simply muttering the name of the superhero.
It is due to these caveats (mentioned above) that we come to one of the primary elements that the film offers in great doses, and that is, situational comedy. With that in mind, there are a multitude of moments that play on the fact that the lead character is "a kid (GRAZER) in the body of an adult (LEVI) superhero." Though some of these moments might have been featured in trailers or TV spots, there are many more moments on display to enjoy which play on this idea. In addition to the situational comedy, another nice touch provided by the film is its courage to tackle "mature" themes and ideas. For example, I won't spoil it here, but there is a gut-wrenching reason why Billy ends up being an orphan. Therefore despite the fact that the film is geared towards younger audiences (besides, of course, comic book fans), it doesn't dumb down the issues that it tackles for the sake its younger viewers who are likely watching. Aside from that, while we are on the topic of "mature" elements, I will also say that the film surprised me with some of the other "mature" content that it showed (i.e. the manner in which the villain dispatches enemies, some of the nightmarish imagery provided by some of the characters, etc.).
In addition to the situational comedy, is the great ensemble that filled out the Vasquez clan. While Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews are quite good as the parents, Rosa and Victor Vasquez, the true stars are the Vasquez children (JOVAN ARMAND, AVA PRESTON, FAITHE HERMAN, JACK DYLAN GRAZER, GRACE FULTON) - who each are provided a moment to shine over the course of the film. In fact, there's a HUGE moment that they have in the third act (which I won't spoil, of course) which caused the audience of the screening that I attended -as well as myself - to go NUTS!
Still with all the terrific things that this film accomplishes, no film is perfect, and SHAZAM! is no exception. With that said, I'll start first with the dialogue. In an age where we have films like the Nolan BATMAN Trilogy, the MCU, and DEADPOOL (all of whom have relatively sharp dialogue), there is no excuse for some of the wooden dialogue that the film features. Though there are terrific actors who are tasked with delivering these lines (see HOUNSOU and MARK STRONG), the script, on occasion, does them no favors.
Another issue I had with the film was the action. Considering all the films I had mentioned before, many of the action sequences featured - minus what happens in the third act - are all things that we have seen before (i.e. the superhero catching a vehicle, the superhero/villain battle in first-person view, etc.). With the power set that Shazam has at his disposal, I feel that very little was done to take advantage of what the character was capable of.
Overall, aside from some wooden dialogue and some mediocre action, SHAZAM! is still a great deal of fun thanks to its two leads, the supporting ensemble, as well as its sense of humor.
SHAZAM! swoops into theaters today.
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