by Elijah Varner
With the movie market significantly increasing in size, studios have to try new things in order to up the stakes. This, in turn, results in stories getting darker, characters having to rise to higher challenges, and the fate of a monochromatic world hanging between oblivion and self-cannibalism. In short, movies as of late feel an overwhelming need to put their characters in terrible, lifeless worlds where everything is a matter of life and death. Shazam! does none of these things. It fails to take anything seriously, has relatively low stakes and also has an overplayed message of family. In other words, it’s a great movie.
This movie is by no means perfect, but it brings to the table something oft missing from the cinema: a sense of wide-eyed wonder. It never takes itself too seriously because it’s having as much fun as the audience. What would life with superpowers be like? So many movies feel as if they have to showcase the burden that superheriocs bring, but this movie fully embraces the silliness that superheroes once represented. In a lot of ways, this movie reflects the Golden Age of Comics. Nowadays, pick up a Batman comic, and it will likely be a psychologically haunting tale about a serial killer with some insanely creepy call card that Batman has to push his own moral boundaries to defeat. In the Golden Age, Batman fought Zebra-Man and the Crazy Quilt in Spandex. Guess which era had better sales? We watch superhero movies largely because we want to be inspired; we wish we were superheroes. So why does everything have to be so darn high-stakes?
This movie is perhaps the only accurate answer to the question: what if someone got superpowers? When Billy Batson (portrayed by Asher Angel) receives his new gifts, he’s not wanting to assassinate the president or enter into a galaxy-threatening war, he’s wanting to light up his textbooks with electricity and do photo ops with pedestrians, much as most of us would. There’s no moral conundrum explored because the movie is having far too much fun.
Props to the acting on this one. Asher Angel shows a significant amount of range given his Disney Channel background. He pulls off the lone wolf routine excellently while also still maintaining a likable personality. His friend, played by Jack Dylan Fraiser, might have to challenge Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Ned (played by Jacob Batalon) for “Most Likable Friend in a Superhero Movie”. For the comparatively small roles they play, all the child actors do much better than most their age. The actors who play the foster parents(one of which looks like Westlake’s own Mr. Adkinson with a ponytail), also do a great job. Of course, none of these characters are winning Oscars anytime soon, but every actor in this movie does a great job putting their all into whatever small role they’ve been given. The MVP award goes to Zachary Levi’s performance as Shazam!. He captures childlike mischief and wonder with impeccable skill. It’s strange that we pay grown men to act like children for our entertainment, but it’s so great I can honestly look past it. The matching of personality between Angel and Levi is a bit clunky at times, but it’s close enough to where it’s not too distracting.
Plot wise, this movie is pretty simple. Almost everything shakes out the way you think it will. Trying to pick this movie apart for hidden meaning will likely result in disappointment. That being said, it’s my firm belief that no what happens in a movie, a good movie is a good movie. It’s all about delivery. And this is a good movie.
This movie was largely marketed as a comedy, and the humor does not disappoint. It is a very specific brand of humor, so I can believe that some people might not find the humor in a child transforming into a man-hero super entertaining. The tone is very much like the trailer’s; if you liked any of the jokes in the trailer, there’s definitely more where that came from. I personally found most of the juvenile humor hilarious, although I know there were those in my theater who did not laugh at a single joke. As is with refined brands of humor, you can’t always please everyone.
A cheesy, over-muscled superhero requires an equally cheesy villain. Some movies now like to delve into their villains and what makes them tick(looking at you, Infinity War), and there’s nothing wrong with that. This movie makes a smart choice, and creates the villain to simply be opposition to the hero. That’s not to say that Mark Strong’s Thaddeus Sivana is a bad villain. In a particularly terrifying scene, he establishes himself as a legitimate threat for our hero to face. If you’re looking for the amount of explanation for evil deeds as spent on Thanos, you will come up short. He shows up simply to play his part, which is challenge the hero.
Overall, the movie takes pride in being cheesy and over the top at times, and that risky is more often than not paid off. The light tone of this movie pokes out like a much-welcome sore thumb against the bleak and dreary movies of the day. It is not perfect, but it is a good movie, and is enjoyable from start to finish. Final Verdict: 8/10.