Spoilers will bring down the lightning.
It’s been a while since I’ve had so much fun watching a movie, much less one about superheroes. Yes, I’ve seen a good, enjoyable movies with comedy thrown in, but it’s been ages since I’ve laughed out loud in the theatre. Fun has been, up to this point, mostly a Marvel thing. DC has been doing dark and gritty superhero drama epics where humans are the mortals and superheroes are compared to gods. And now, for something completely different…
Shazam! is directed by David F. Sandberg with a screenplay and story written by Henry Gayden. Street smart orphan Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has fled from every foster home while trying to find his long lost mother. He finally ends up in Philadelphia where a group home takes him in. There he meets Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), a superhero fanboy who gets picked on at school. Although Billy prefers to remain distant, he chooses to defend Freddy at school from the local bullies. As they chase him down, Billy ends up being summoned by a wizard, the last wizard of his kind, who bestows upon him the role of champion. He just has to say his name.
Enter Zachary Levy, casted against type, in the role of the titular superhero. Director David Sandberg has abandoned any idea of maturity and has focused on pure, unadulterated fun. Since Philadelphia’s own superhero is literally just a fourteen-year old, this allows the movie to follow suit. The superhero movie manual has been thrown out the window, the light is shining in, and what we get is a comedy that only gets dramatic when it really, really has to. There’s no reason for this hero to behave like an adult and the plot is doesn’t act any different.
The movie begins in a somewhat darker tone, introducing us to the wizard’s way of bringing people in and testing them for worthiness. We also see the same, over-the-top broodiness when the villain appears. Fortunately, the kids soon take over. Once we get Levy on screen, there’s no doubt that the adults are not in charge anymore. And I can’t deny that show belongs to Levy as the hero and Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy. Grazer does manage to steal the movie quite a few times, but he’s glad to give it back.
I can’t quite judge if Zachary Levy makes a good champion since the hero formerly known as Captain Marvel has rarely been depicted on any screen in ages, much less accurately. In all fairness, we never call Levy “Shazam” since that’s really the wizard’s name. He does have unmistakable chemistry with Grazer as he literally gets trained by the young kid into what it means to be a superhero. Okey, mostly they test for superpowers but it’s just too fun not to laugh. Does it work? Yes. And no, I don’t think it would have necessary work the way it was made. The director has basically captured lightning in a bottle, and Levy is a huge part of it.
And yes, it’s not perfect, but it outshines DC’s other properties. There’s more laughs than the rest of DC’s superhero films combined and I am including Wonder Woman (2017). The dark materials of this comedy mostly belong to the villain, Dr. Sivana as played by Mark Strong. Strangely enough, the supposedly fearsome deadly sins are actually the weakest part of the film. Have you guessed they’re cgi? Yeap. Also they conveniently vanish in a cloud of smoke that reminded me of the vampires from the Buffy TV show when they were killed. Strong does turn up the creepy factor as a threatening villain which makes me wish he had remained the only threat.
Highly recommended as a fun movie and a superhero comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously until the stakes are high and the world needs saving. Yes, it has the action and the adventure to meet the quota for a superhero film, but the comedy outshines them both. You are cheering for Billy to make it. Making the suspension of disbelief that the superhero character that Levy plays is also Billy Batson as played by Asher Angel is extremely easy. With enough action and humour, I’d say this one will work for both the kids and the adults who are still kids at heart.
That will do for now.