When orphan Billy Batson says the name ‘Shazam’ he is transformed from teenager to superhero adult, using his powers just as a child would, enjoying himself rather than fighting crime. It is a joyous and fun-filled time to watch Billy (Asher Angel) and his foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) explore the limits of this new superhero and have unsupervised fun. The film benefits from being set in a world where superheroes already exist, appealing to an audience who want to be superheroes rather than watch them.
The film starts with the backstory of the main villain Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) who is on a quest to claim the magic of Shazam for himself so he can prove his worth to his family. The opening scene is startlingly dark, as his father and brother belittle him – setting up a vulnerable and traumatised villain. Mark Strong does a great job making the character interesting, but he becomes less of a presence as the film continues, focusing on Billy and Freddy and their adventures.
The emotional core of the film is about family, Billy was separated from his mother as a child and has been on the hunt for her ever since, moving from foster home to foster home in the hopes of tracking her down. At his latest home, he meets Freddy – a nerdy superhero-fan who most young people can relate to, keeping memorabilia of all of DC’s finest from Aquaman to Wonder Woman. The film explores the spectrum of superheroes, parodying the stories audiences have come to know with a childish glee rather than the cynicism of Deadpool. When Billy is invited to become the new Shazam (a brilliantly cast Zachary Levi) by an old wizard (Djimon Hounsou) the film spends a good portion of this time having fun and shirking any responsibility to his new family.
As Dr. Sivana begins his rampage through the city, the film continues its stark contrast in tone between the horrific and the terrific. It helps show how out of his depth Billy actually is. Spending his time running away rather than fighting. Up until the two magical beings meet, Shazam breaks the mould by enjoying the superhero stories that have come before it and by creating a unique place for itself. The finale may feel familiar, but it doesn’t take away from the joyous two acts which precede it and it doesn’t reach the dour notes of previous DC films. I watched this film in an IMAX theatre and as the film moves into superhero territory the action does leap off the screen, but it is the family relationship which really sticks with you.
Shazam! is an infectiously youthful film, tapping in to the main leads charm and comic timing. Jokes are never in short supply. The tonal inconsistencies when Dr. Sivana is on screen can be quite jarring; but thrilling none-the-less and a nice change to have a villain who is truly terrifying. Regardless, Shazam! brings together the best part of superhero films, celebrating and satirising the genre in equal measure. The film comes with two post-credit scenes, teasing a wackier adventure if a sequel ever happens. By the time the film comes to an end there is only going to be one DC superhero on your mind and you’ll remember to say his name.
Shazam! is out now.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam.
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