Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Premise: An adaptation of the DC comic book. An orphaned teenager (Asher Angel) is bestowed magical powers that turn him into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi). He’s pursued by a villain (Mark Strong) who wants those powers.
What Works: The DC Extended Universe film franchise, which started with 2013’s Man of Steel, has gone through a deliberate transformation in style and tone. Starting with 2017’s Justice League, the whole approach to the series has been overhauled in a deliberate course correction following the dour and joyless Batman v. Superman. Subsequent films like Wonder Woman and Aquaman brought a new visual style to the series and that transformation comes to a conclusion with Shazam! Following the lead of its immediate predecessors, Shazam! focuses on characters who are likable and engaging and it emphasizes friendship and heroism. The best aspect of Shazam! is the relationship between teenage orphans Billy (Asher Angel) and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). The two boys are bunkmates in a foster home and much of the movie is about them becoming friends and how Billy’s superpowers complicate that friendship. This is done well and Shazam! is one of the better examples of a common theme in superhero movies – the responsibility that comes with power. Adult actor Zachary Levi plays Billy in his superhero form and Levi is very funny. His performance mirrors Asher Angel and Levi sells the illusion of a boy trapped in a man’s body. Shazam! is a lot of fun with its physical comedy and self-deprecating jokes but also its sense of adventure. With its cast of misfit teenagers, Shazam! has a similar appeal as The Goonies or The Monster Squad and it delivers action scenes that prioritize heroism over property destruction.
What Doesn’t: Shazam! is an origin story and the narrative never strays too far from that format. The story adheres to the boiler plate of a movie like this although the engaging characters and the comedy distract from the familiarity of everything else. The single most notable weakness of Shazam! is its inconsistent tone. The feel of the movie is all over the place. The superhero antics are in sharp contrast to some of the domestic scenes and both are mismatched with the frightening supernatural monsters. The young cast and lighthearted humor feel intended for a young audience but the monsters that inhabit the villain are grotesque and scary and probably more than very young viewers can handle. The transitions between these different pieces are jarring.
Bottom Line: Shazam! is a fun superhero adventure. Its story may be a little familiar and the tone is inconsistent but the movie is a lot of fun and it’s a satisfying piece of entertainment.
Episode: #745 (April 14, 2019)