If there’s one thing that can be said about the DCEU, it’s that their release schedule is very inconsistent. There was three years between Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman (2016), then over a year between Justice League (2017) and Aquaman (2018) and within five months of that film we now have this one to tide us over another eleven months until Birds of Prey (2020). The point I’m trying to make is the DC release schedule is as inconsistent as the overall tone for this cinematic universe. I personally loved the dark and moody approach they were going for in those early days, but with this and the last couple of movies, it’s clear they want to pretty much abandon the moodiness for a lighter tone akin to what Marvel usually has and by the end of this film, it’s clear they are not looking back.
Shazam is without a doubt the most self-aware and child-like of the DCEU movies so far. Not in that it’s childish, but in the awe and wonder than comes from the main characters (probably because they are children/teenagers). The real joy of this film is the reminder of why superheroes and their stories are so enticing and timeless in that it presents it a simple story of hero versus villain and the joyous wish fulfilment of it all along the way. We’ve all had conversations about what kind of superpowers we would want and what we would use them for and here, kind of like Kick-Ass (2010), we get to see wonder of a young protagonist be blessed with being a superhero. Also note that both of these movies feature Mark Strong as the primary antagonist.
Shazam follows a teenager named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) as he struggles to navigate life as an orphan, constantly running away to search for his lost mother. Once he is taken by foster parents (Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans), who are probably the coolest parents ever, he finds himself living with five other foster kids and attends the same school as them. While evading some bullies he finds himself transported to another realm where a dying wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) bestows him with all his powers, which transform him into an adult version of himself (Zachery Levi). He must then learn how to use these powers to battle Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) who has gained some powers of his own, including the supervillain team of the seven deadly sins.
The highest points of this movie are every time we get the adult Billy, played by Levi. Much like Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, Levi is best known for comedy roles and that is quite clearly where his biggest strengths lie here as he smoothly makes that transition into this kind of universe. Of course not his first experience in a superhero landscape, see the first two Thor movies (2011 and 2013) and Heroes Reborn (2015-16). Unlike those projects however, here is a given centre stage and really able to show off his talent and play up exactly how we would feel as a kid who suddenly has all these amazing abilities. Asher Angel as teenager Billy is also good in the role, able to sell us the hurt of losing his family while simultaneously learning to love and accept his new family. Speaking of which the other five kids are all great, with Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy being the most prominent of the bunch and has good chemistry with both young and older Billy.
What I found to be the weakest aspect of the movie is though, is Mark Strong’s villain. It might just be that I’ve seen him in so many villain roles and enjoyed seeing him play against type in the Kingsman franchise (2015 -), but here it seemed a little overplayed. He’s perfectly serviceable in the part and does a few good moments and gags, but ultimately he doesn’t get much to work with. This is a common problem for a lot of superhero movie villains so it’s one of those things you expect at this point. The seven deadly sins don’t do much outside of an early boardroom scene and the climax, but their designs are cool and they serve their purpose.
Again this is by the far the most funny and brightly coloured of the DCEU movies. The colours on Shazam’s suit pop and the costume has a great design. This is a simple, fun origin movie with a lot of heart and effortlessly tells an engaging and relatable story about family and self-belief. The most fun and wonder comes from Billy testing what powers he has and the delight in seeing him harness them properly or the amusement in watching him discover that no, he can’t turn invisible. Not to mention we all know we’d totally use them to get back at a bully if we were back in school. Everything flows very nicely and story progression is so well paced that you’re at the start of the climax before you know it. It’s just a bit of a misstep that said climax starts maybe 30/40 minutes before the end of the movie and as a result feels like it drags a tiny bit.
Despite a minor issue like that, which could’ve been ironed out with a tighter edit, Shazam is another great movie not only for DC, but for superhero movies in general. Unlike Aquaman though, it embraces the larger universe a bit more with Batman and superman cameos but not necessarily in the way you might think. Zachary Levi nails it as a teenager in an adult’s body with the ecstatic curiosity of not only what he can do with his powers, but what an adult can do too.