I’ve not had the best history with DC films. I loved Wonder Woman but part of me suspects that I just got caught up in all the celebration. I mean, she was the first female superhero to get her own film. I was already going in feeling excited. I haven’t seen Aquaman yet and I’ve only made it halfway through Justice League. However, I’m pretty confident in saying that my relationship with the DCEU is dicey. So, when it was announced that they were going to release Shazam! I remained unconvinced it would change my opinion. Then I saw the trailer. And it looked really good. I was still kind of skeptical of DC trying to go down the Marvel route after so much Zack Snyder but it seemed like it could work. I mean Zachary Levi as the lead and Mark Strong as the villain? Both of those things sounded great to me. And it’s about time DC had a little bit of fun, right? Shazam! looked like it was going to be a great change of pace.
The character of Captain Marvel/Shazam has had a bit of a turbulent history. He started out in Fawcett Comics in 1940 but they were forced to cease publication in 1953 after DC sued for copyright infringement. Although, after deciding that the character was a copy of Superman, DC acquired the rights to the character in 1972 and has continually tried to revive the character. Although, thanks to the Marvel characters of the same name, they decided to rebrand him as Shazam. So, I guess it could be a little awkward that the Shazam! film was released only a few weeks after Captain Marvel‘s debut. But, he’s not letting it bother him. He’s just having a great time.
And it’s not like the two films are really alike anyway. Shazam! has way more in common with the film Big. Although, thankfully, no grown women end up having sex with a boy in Tom Hank’s body. And, really, isn’t that all we can ask from a film these days? Instead of a young boy making a wish at a carnival, Shazam sees young Billy Batson being kidnapped by a lonely old wizard. The wizard asks Billy to touch his magic staff and say his name… hang on, are we sure this film is less creepy than Big? It’s fine, the wizard imbues Billy with his magical powers before he turns to dust. Nothing too creepy. With these powers, Billy is able to turn into a totally ripped and powerful adult superhero who looks a bit like Zachary Levi.
With the help of his fellow foster child and roommate, Freddy, Billy works to discover what powers he has. He ends up having a lot of fun and doesn’t take his calling as seriously as Freddy does. But that’s before he has to deal with Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) who has revenge on his mind. As a child, Thaddeus was rejected by Shazam for not being good enough. When he grew up, Thaddeus found his way back to Shazam and released the Seven Deadly Sins. The Sins inhabit Thaddeus and encourage him to destroy the world. Will Billy be able to understand his powers enough to stop him?
So, there is a lot of goodness in Shazam! especially in comparison to what’s come before. The best scenes are, by far, the training scenes between Billy and Freddy. The two have great chemistry and I really wish there had been more training montages. It’s a lot of fun and the Big concept adds a great element to the normal superhero tropes. Then there is Mark Strong. Do villains get any better than Mark Strong? I love that guy. I loved him in this and I hope to see him again. He’s pure evil and has a whale of a time. And, with his kind of tragic backstory, he’s one of the few superhero movie villains who has some depth.
Yeah, so good stuff. I had a lot of fun with Shazam! but there was something kind of meh about it. I went on quite a long time and tries to do too much. There are way too many tragic backstories crammed together and most of them go nowhere. Billy is searching for his lost mother and, once the story is resolved, nothing has really changed. It didn’t add anything to the story. Then there are the side characters who aren’t really developed enough. And I don’t care what the filmmakers say, that attempt to introduce an LGBT character was as pathetic as Marvel’s in Endgame. Don’t brag about your inclusivity unless you make it abundantly clear (take note JK Rowling).
Although, I do appreciate that this film is a change of pace. The final showdown is much more self-contained than most superhero films. It feels more Black Panther than Civil War, say. Which is a good thing. And then there’s the look of the film. It has a certain grit to it, cause DC. However, there is a definite lightness and colour to this film. It knows how to have a bit of fun. The film just needed to be tighter. It feels like even a small edit could massively improve things. And a slight rewrite of the script would mean it could almost stand shoulder to shoulder with Marvel. But I have hope in the future of Shazam! After all, Marvel didn’t always get it right in the early days. Iron Man 2 anyone?