SPOILER WARNING – THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR WARNER BROS. PICTURES’ NEW FILM SHAZAM!
Plenty has been said about Warner Bros.’ DC movies over the past six years since Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel kicked off a planned connected universe of films. I’m not going to rehash any of it here other than to say most of the movies were not done the way I would have done them, but that I have enjoyed all of them to one degree or another.
Shazam! is part of a new initiative to release movies that aren’t quite so grim and miserable and visually oppressive. As a matter of fact, the trailers for Shazam! made it look like a straight-up comedy. After the swashbuckling action of Aquaman it looked like WB was really trying to do different things with their beloved and potentially lucrative DC Comics characters.
The superhero now known as Shazam was called Captain Marvel for years. I don’t know the whole story behind this, but I’m sure you can Google it. I spent most of my life thinking he was called Shazam. Given that, you can probably guess that he isn’t really one of my guys.
Regardless of my level of familiarity with Captain Shazamvel, I do have a tendency to get excited about superhero movies. And because of what’s been going on with the DC movies I have a particular interest in seeing just what the heck they’re doing at any given time. Switching gears and producing what seemed to be a superhero version of Big was a bold move, and possibly a brilliant one.
Last Thursday night I took the family to the local Regal RPX – which, by the way, is now my favorite format for seeing movies – to see this newest entry into the DC Extended Universe. Was it what we expected and will it carry on the successful trend set by Aquaman? Read on and find out!
NOTE: I married myself to the idea of using seven bullet points – S-H-A-Z-A-M-! – and it resulted in a little less cohesion than I would have liked. But gimmicks are fun so it was worth it.
1 – Strong Villain – Mark Strong is awesome. We all know this. His mere presence is enough to give any movie more punch.
As Thaddeus Sivana he is a ruthless, truly evil human being. I found the decision to make him just a flat-out villain very refreshing. He’s not sympathetic, there’s no twist revealing his inner pain – he’s just bad.
Sure – he experienced trauma as a kid and had a lousy family, but the indication was very clear that the kid was just a bad egg, destined to look on with a smirk as his loyal assistant is gruesomely disintegrated by a magical door.
I would have liked to see Strong go even bigger with Sivana’s villainy, but I realize it would have been too much to put a huge, scenery-chewing performance in the same movie with Zachary Levi’s goofballery. Strong had to provide a counter to the silly fun.
As far as Sivana’s story, it’s very much like Dave Bautista’s current WWE storyline – he just shows up yelling for his opponent to give him what he wants. There’s not a lot of nuance or even explanation – he just wants Shazam’s power and keeps showing up making demands. It’s… kind of monotonous. Especially by the final battle, which drags on for far too long and doesn’t really deliver, even when the other members of the Shazamily get their powers.
As is telegraphed from the beginning of the film (and through the action figures that have been in stores for two months now), each new hero squares off against one of the Deadly Sins. The Deadly Sins are the villains of the movie alongside Sivana and it’s apparent the filmmakers didn’t think any kind of story or background was necessary for them because everyone knows about the Seven Deadly Sins.
This battle comes about after Shazam realizes he can share his powers with his foster family and results in what I thought was the funniest joke in the movie – he tells everyone to hold onto the wizard’s staff and say his name, and everyone yells, “BILLY!” and I laughed until I had tears rolling down my face.
It’s a good gag.
But then, once the Shazamily is powered up, they kind of just have a slap fight with the Sins. They all get to show off their powers, but just like every other fight in the movie everything feels oddly inconsequential. In Shazam! people seem to fight until it’s not time to fight anymore.
2 – Having Fun – The parts of this movie that work really work. When Shazam is doing Shazam things Zachary Levi looks great, the action is fun and bombastic, and you feel like you’re watching a real superhero.
Billy Batson’s would-be family, the Vasquezes, are wonderful. There are five kids – Eugene, Mary, Pedro, Darla, and Freddy – and they’re all just as cute as can be. They each have their own defining, stereotypical quality, but not in overbearing ways.
Freddy and Billy/Shazam have most of the fun and I actually feel like that’s part of the problem with the movie. Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy is one of the most compelling characters in the movie. Probably the most. But even though he and Zachary Levi have good chemistry, the shtick between them wears out its welcome eventually. It would have been a good idea to have Billy or even Shazam interact with the other kids more. Maybe they all could have taken turns helping him be heroic.
That would have also given his final acceptance of the family more weight rather than feeling like it happened because it’s what was in the script.
3 – A Movie Divided – I felt like I was watching two different movies that had been clumsily spliced together. I felt that way about Billy and Shazam, too.
There are times when Shazam! gets as dark as any Snyder film. There are grotesque murders and deaths, fratricide, patricide, the antagonist is involved in a graphic car accident to open the movie, and there’s far more foul language than is necessary. Including Santa Claus dropping (bleeped) F-bombs at the end of the movie. Portions of Shazam! feel like any other DC film.
Heck, the most brutal scene involved Billy finally finding his mom after searching for her for years, only to discover that she had intentionally abandoned him. And then she pretty much tells him to get lost. If the movie had spent more time exploring Billy as a character instead of just making him a snarky stereotype I might have actually cried when that happened.
Other parts of the movie are goofy and silly to the point of becoming tiresome. I know that sounds harsh, but to me it felt like the filmmakers let their desire to do jokey stuff carry them away from the plot. Shazam! is 132 minutes long and probably could have been cut to 100 but definitely shouldn’t have exceeded two hours. It should have been edited much more ruthlessly. At no point during this supposedly light and fun movie should I have been bored or aggravated with the lack of story progression.
Asher Angel did a great job with what he was given as Billy and Zachary Levi was fun as Shazam, but I never felt like they were the same character. I think having a 14-year-old Billy was a bit of a problem, as Levi’s antics skewed a bit younger. We never saw Billy behave in any way that suggested he’d do the silly things that Shazam did. He was almost reserved and serious.
I realize this could be explained away by saying that as Shazam he had powers and a different body and was more carefree, but it didn’t come off that way to me and the performances simply didn’t line up. Much of the Shazam comedy came off like it was a younger kid.
4 – Zap! – With the exception of one scene, Shazam! had great special effects.
The one questionable scene had Sivana and Shazam flying through a mall. It wasn’t quite Rancor in Jedi bad, but it sure wasn’t good.
All of the lightning, the Seven Deadly Sins creatures, and stuff related to Shazam was effective. Nothing else took me out of the movie, and that’s as much as I need.
The wizard Shazam, however, is another story. Djimon Hounsou is under literally the worst wig and beard I have ever seen in my life. Every year my son’s school has a day where all of the kids dress up like old people and I have seen more convincing costumes there.
What I could have used A LOT more of was the Rock of Eternity. The wizard Shazam’s lair was one of my favorite things about the movie. There’s a scene towards the end where the entire foster family is escaping Sivana and we get just a peek at how weird and interesting it is. I feel like that place would have been a phenomenal setting for either the last battle or some training montages.
Now that I think about it, part of my disappointment with the final battle may come from seeing that wondrous environment and then being taken to something as mundane as a carnival for the big finish. It was like playing Spider-Man on PS4 for five minutes and then finding out you’d spend the rest of your night with Superman 64.
But maybe they were wise to save the Rock of Eternity for a potential sequel. I think exploring that setting could be a movie unto itself.
5 – Amazing John Glover – John Glover is the greatest actor who ever lived. Every moment he is on screen in everything he is in is a gift from above. And now he has become the first ever Grand Slam Champion of the DC multiverses by portraying Lionel Luthor (Smallville), Dr. Jason Woodrue (Batman and Robin), voicing Riddler on the various DC Animated shows, and now playing Thaddeus Sivana’s Father Who Apparently Didn’t Even Rate A Name!
Truly, John Glover is a national treasure.
6 – Music –Benjamin Wallfisch’s score was magnificent.
I had a lot of problems with Shazam!, but I have to admit that it had the feel of a movie from the era I love the most – the 80s. And the grand, sweeping music reinforced that feel. It was upbeat, heroic, and dynamic in the way that Alan Silvestri and John Williams’ work was. I’m not claiming it was quite as great, but it conveyed that sense of action and wonder.
7 – ! – Like the end of a sentence needs punctuation, a superhero movie needs a post-credits scene. Maybe more than one!!
The first scene is tied to a little something special from earlier in the movie. When young Thaddeus Sivana first visits the Rock of Eternity, we see a jar that contains a very familiar-looking caterpillar thing. The camera just pans past, but sharp-eyed comic fans probably recognized Mister Mind, an evil telepathic worm who is one of Shazam’s primary foes.
During the credits we find Sivana in his prison cell, madly scribbling on the walls. Eventually a voice gets his attention and he turns to find none other than Mister Mind, complete with his little voice box and ready for an epic team-up to take over the seven realms! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
I want a sequel just so we can have more of Mister Mind. I’m dying to know who voiced him, but I can’t find a credit anywhere. It should’ve been BD Wong, but every part that isn’t played by John Glover should be played by BD Wong, so that goes without saying.
The other scene – that actually is after the credits – is dumb and makes a joke about talking to fish. It is not worth sitting through the credits.
I feel like I might have been overly harsh here, but the more I wrote about Shazam!, the less I liked it. My son loves it and said it’s his favorite DC movie, but my wife agrees with me.
Several other people I respect enjoyed it, so don’t let my negative reaction sway you if you want to go see it. At the very least you’ll get a look at how WB has loosened the reigns on its DC Comics-based films and see some really fun performances.
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