“Say my name”
RELEASED: April 5th 2019
DIRECTED BY: David F. Sandberg
WRITTEN BY: Henry Gayden & Darren Lemke
PRODUCED BY: Peter Safran
MUSIC BY: Benjamin Wallfisch
STARRING: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mark Strong & Djimon Hounsou
Since its premiere, Shazam! has garnered critical acclaim, and is being touted as perhaps the best film in the ‘Worlds of DC’. It’s well directed, features a strong cast and has a well-written story that hits poignant beats and pulls off funny gags with ease. It’s a good film, without a doubt. But personally, I’m not sure it lives up to the hype that everyone else seems to think it does.
Shazam! is the story of Billy Batson, a foster kid who finds himself transported to the magical Rock of Eternity – the home of the ancient wizard Shazam. With a threat to the Earth on the loose in the form of Doctor Thaddeus Sivana and the personifications of the seven deadly sins, Shazam hopes to bestow his powers on a champion who is pure of heart and spirit. But having run out of options, he instead chooses Billy. Now gifted with a superpowered adult body, Billy is forced to become a superhero and stop Sivana from destroying the world.
There are several reasons that I think this film didn’t resonate with me. For one, it’s another origin story, and while it’s a fun one (I love the comic it’s based off), it doesn’t really do all that much to differentiate itself from the myriad of other superhero origins we’ve had over the past decade or so. Superhero gets powers, has to fight his antithesis, learns a lesson, saves the day. It’s not a bad formula, but it’s one that is handled here in such a simple way, and for the most part is beat for beat the same as the comic it’s based off, with a few changes (I read said comic a few hours before seeing the film, so admittedly that may be why I’m not as impressed as everyone else – there were no surprises for me).
One of those changes is the omission of the supervillain/anti-hero Black Adam; Shazam’s (the hero) ancient evil counterpart. In his place, Dr. Sivana steps up to become the superpowered threat, gaining magical powers of his own to take on Shazam. It’s here that I think the film falters the most. In the comics, Sivana is on a quest to find magic because he’s run out of scientific options to save his ailing family, so he seeks out magic and the entombed Black Adam to help him. Here, however, Sivana seeks out magic for other, weaker reasons. They’re fine, and they tie into the film’s theme about the importance of family, but it gets to the point where it seems like he just wants power for power’s sake. What’s his endgame? I couldn’t tell you.
Still, while I have my grievances with the movie, I can’t deny it is well made. David F. Sandberg more than meets the challenge of moving from smaller horror pieces to big superhero blockbusters. Similarly, his writing team manages to make a great adaptation, remaining mostly faithful to the comic, but giving the story enough new spins that it works as a movie.
The cast are all extremely likeable, with Zachary Levi exuding a youthful innocence that differentiates Shazam from other heroes such as Superman. Mark Strong, despite my issues with his character, does a great job with what he’s given – presenting an extremely threatening presence that always feels like he’s a match for our hero. The personification of the Seven Deadly Sins that aid him are less impressive in terms of character and power, but they look suitably creepy – not unlike those dog-monster-things from Ghostbusters (I’m not going to look it up. Zuul or something, maybe?).
The film does have times where it seems to not really know what tone it’s going for (80s film references aside) – is it a kids film, or is it for adults? It seems to straddle the line, never fully landing on something for either demographic. But for the most part, it works and shows some real maturity amongst all the goofy superhero gags.
Personally, this film didn’t grab me as much as Aquaman, so unlike that film, I probably won’t revisit it in the cinema. But I look forward to seeing the character of Shazam again, whenever that may be.
All-in-all, I give it: