Directed by horror expert David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation, Lights Out) and screenwritten by Henry Gayden, Shazam! is the seventh instalment in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and of course, it’s based on DC Comics’ superhero character that was actually named Captain Marvel before it was changed as it had the same name as Marvel Comics’ character (whose movie was released a month ago; coincidence?). This is an origin story and introduces Shazam into the universe.
In the story, there’s an alternate dimension called The Rock of Eternity that lives an old wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who’s the original Shazam. There, he keeps the creatures of the Seven Deadly Sins imprisoned in the form of statues but he is getting older and weaker. There isn’t much backstory provided in the movie about them and I’m not familiar with the characters either as the comics were not popular here. So he desperately tries to find a young person with pure heart worthy to take over and receive all his powers and responsibility. He finds not Clark Kent, not Bruce Wayne, but Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a troubled 14-year-old teenager foster kid with mummy issues (but then again, all of them have mummy daddy issues, including the antagonist here).
With the magical powers transferred to him, Batson can transform into a grownup in costume (Zachary Levi) with various super abilities but the original Shazam fades away immediately without giving him any proper direction or instruction. With the help and guidance of his new foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), he explores his superpowers and finds ways to use them, only in ways teenagers know how. Little did they know, a baddie named Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) is hunting for Shazam’s powers.
So DCEU has really ditched the whole dark and gloomy tone and doesn’t not seem to be looking back. And it continues to prove that it’s the correct decision as they got this one right as well despite going full comedy this time. Shazam! is a very fun, humourous superhero flick with heart. It reminds of the 80’s, 90’s campy fantasy adventure movies with the young chosen to save the world and all. But this has young teenagers as the main characters in modern setting so just as you expect, it has a lot of energy, jokes and pop culture references. There are two references I really liked, the subtle one on the 1988 film Big (1988) which starred Tom Hanks and has the same concept minus the superhero stuff, and the cool one on the video game Street Fighter.
The film is a lot of fun with the characters exploring and abusing the superpowers innocently. The performance by the cast is committed and highly convincing. Zachary Levi (Thor films, Tangled films) acts really well as a young kid stuck into a grownup’s body and he has a great chemistry with Jack Dylan Grazer (It). I had a concern when I watched the trailers that seemed to show personality inconsistencies between Levi and Asher Angel (Andi Mack TV series) as the same character. Levi seems to talk and laugh a lot as Shazam/Batson while Angel is constantly moody and doesn’t make as much gestures. But this was sort of addressed in the movie during a dialogue between Batson and Freeman. The actors that portray Batson’s foster family is fantastic as well. They made the side characters very likable and understandable despite limited screen time (unlike the likes of Big Hero 6).
Immediately from the very opening scene, you can almost immediately tell that the film is better than most of the DCEU instalments as it has focused storytelling style. The plot may not be unique and is filled with tropes and cliches, the film certainly makes good use of them. The action sequences are enjoyable to watch as it has a lot of wide angle shots and some really cool slomos that really allows the audience to see how the characters are fighting and using their powers.
There’s only two other things that I didn’t like apart from the lack of backstory and history of the original Shazam, Rock of Eternity and the Seven Deadly Sins. The antagonist Thaddeus Sivana feels like he’s just another forgettable, by-the-numbers bad guy who’s obsessed with power despite having his backstory and daddy issue set up. Lastly, the character development, CGI and design of the Sin creatures are poor. They’re all in grey, it’s hard to tell them apart and they don’t seem to have their own personalities which makes the part in the final battle a little unearned.
In overall, Shazam! is a very good, entertaining teen superhero comedy and I thought it got the right balance. Looking at the other better DCEU instalments, Wonder Woman falls apart completely in the third act while Aquaman is a bit too bloated and rushed. Shazam! got it just about right.
Post-credit scenes: There’s a mid-credit scene, which is a teaser of the sequel, and a post-credit scene which is a brief, funny scene.
Malaysian censorship: Only middle fingers are noticeably censored (by blurring the hands).
Verdict: Definitely one of the best instalments in the DCEU thus far. I think I even liked it more than MCU’s Captain Marvel (2019).
Rating: 4 / 5
Based on: DC Comics series “Captain Marvel”
Genre: Superhero comedy
Running Time: 132 minutes
Director: David F. Sandberg
Screenwriter: Henry Gayden
Cast: Zachary Levi, Jack Dylan Gracer, Mark Strong, Ron Cephas Jones
Malaysia Release Date: 4 April 2019
Local Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Malaysia
Production: New Line Cinema, DC Films, The Safran Company, Seven Bucks Productions, Mad Ghost Production