DC movies took a break after "Justice League," then came roaring back with "Aquaman's" bizarre, beach bro vibes — is this movie of Shazam (formerly known as Captain Marvel, played here by Zachary Levi) tagging in to officially start a hot-streak for DC, or will fans be shouting out a different word that begins with "sh"? Here's what critics have to say about "Shazam!" (out April 5):
'Shazam!' Provides Origin Stories For Its Hero And Villain While Making Time For Billy Batson's Adoptive Family
In a world where Superman, Batman and Aquaman are known superheroes, Shazam! introduces the 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a troubled foster kid who spends more time looking for the mother who abandoned him than trying to acclimate to any of the foster families he's been placed with. That all changes when he's placed with the Vasquez's, meets superhero buff Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) and is turned into a superhero himself.
While Billy is on the hunt for his mom, an aging wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) is looking for someone worthy and pure of heart to carry on the good fight against the demon forms of the seven deadly sins. And the wizard and his powers are desired by one Doctor Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), a man who was rejected by the wizard when he was just a boy named Thad […] Billy is Shazam's chosen one, destined to inherit all of Shazam's power and responsibility to keep the evils of the world at bay.
The Movie Leans Into How A Teen Might Really Act If They Were Granted Superpowers (Very, Very Irresponsibly)
At first, the prospect of becoming a flying, bulletproof, invincible superhero is really cool, especially as his nerdy new foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) helps him test his newfound powers.
Shazam! doesn't pretend that two teen boys suddenly dealing with superhuman abilities would suddenly gain some sort of moral imperative to fight crime. There's a little bit of that, sure, but it's mostly coincidental. Mostly they use Billy's newfound powers to create what are essentially the superhero equivalent of skate videos, posting their exploits online for all to see. For a movie that clearly operates on a heightened plane, it actually feels relatively realistic.
It Feels Like A Bit Like An '80s Movie, In A Great Way
Director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) doesn't reinvent the wheel — rest assured, this is superhero filmmaking by way of Amblin Entertainment, Billy Batson's adventures more reminiscent of The Goonies than The Avengers. There's a refreshing '80s-throwback feel to the proceedings, with wide-eyed child protagonists navigating their way around the machinations of scowling villains, with more than a puzzle or two to solve in the film's climax.
"Shazam!" harkens back to the slightly dangerous pleasures of what PG-13 implied in the '80s, and does so without any of the cheap tricks that characterize nostalgia porn like "Stranger Things."
Levi's Performance As Shazam/Billy Is Delightful…
Like Tom Hanks in Big — a movie to which Shazam! owes a lot, including a jumbo piano reference — or Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday, Levi gives a great "kid trapped in an adult's body performance." He conveys the boneheaded, out-of-his-depth energy of Billy, while still radiating a sort of Old Hollywood charm.
It's the rare case in which a costume that rounds an actor's shoulders and arms to almost cartoonish contour enhances the character. Add in Levi's frantic physicality and easy transitions from confidence to panic, and the illusion is complete: not an adult acting in the role of a child, but a kid trapped in an adult's body.
… Even If It Isn't Totally Compatible With Asher Angel's Scenes
Levi has the very tricky role of playing a literal image of arrested development, pretending to be a teenager whenever Billy activates the Shazam identity. He doesn't exactly pull it off—I had to remind myself more than a few times that he's meant to be thinking and acting like a teenager, instead of how he presents himself, as an excitable, slap-happy adult whose voice squeaks in the face of shenanigans or danger.
Where the actual kid, when he's a kid, is pretty cool and calm, but when the adult is playing the kid, he's just a big dumb dope. I get it's a tough thing to pull off. The kid version has to be smart; the adult version can't be "cool." But these are not the same characters. But, also, whatever! This is a Shazam! movie!
Billy's Foster Family Is A Great Ensemble…
From the moment Billy walks in the door of Victor and Rosa Vasquez's (Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans) crowded foster house, you hope that it will become his forever home. There's a palpable, Hollywood-calibrated warmth to that place, and everyone under its multicultural roof is essential to the mix. Faithe Herman is unspeakably cute as the pipsqueak Darla Dudley, Jovan Armand crushes it as the shy Pedro Peña, Ian Chen is a delight as the bookish Eugene Choi, and Grace Fulton is an understated force as the big sister who's threatening to leave for college.
These characters — most of whom are ripped from the pages of DC Films producer Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's 2011 Shazam! series — turn out to be an unexpected treat, instantly charming and almost never cloying.
… But Jack Dylan Glazer's Freddy May Be The Standout
Screenwriter Henry Gayden gives Grazer the movie's funniest lines, knowing that humor and comedy are ways to approach sensitive ideas, like children talking about feeling unwanted after being abandoned by their parents, or what it's like to live with a disability. Grazer shows glimmers of vulnerability — sometimes it's just a small slowdown in delivery or a tense lip — beneath his character's scrim of sarcasm and irreverence.
A sarcastic, disabled superhero fanatic who's sadly in touch with his place in the world, Freddy would give anything to be Shazam, and Freeman marvelously conveys the bittersweet pleasures of second-hand excitement; Shazam is still the coolest thing that's ever happened to him, even if it didn't happen to him.
The Movie Tries Some Interesting Things With Its Villain That Don't Quite Stick The Landing
Shazam! does its best to elevate Strong's Dr. Sivana to a foe subtextually worthy of the film's family-friendly messaging […] Still, his moments are the film's weakest, especially since his army of baddies (in the form of the Seven Deadly Sins) largely amount to grey CG globs with a slight theme behind them. He functions best as a dark mirror for Billy's own cynicism — the kind of person the young man could become if he doesn't have the right people around him. The Amblinesque climax, in which Shazam, his family, and Sivana have their final showdown, largely works despite Sivana.
There's a wholesale quality that nearly defeats "Shazam!", regardless of whether some lore is related to previous iterations of the character. Were the Seven Deadly Sins the only ones available from the villain rolodex? And why are they so rote, these gloopy gray-green demon beings who look like someone didn't finish visualizing them? Then there's Shazam's dull powers, that he can run really fast, has super strength, or he can fly—the super basics.
Still, DC Can Chalk Up 'Shazam!' As Another Winner
It doesn't break the mold so much as it plays with how flexible the mold can be. Warm, witty, and bursting at the seams with great characters, "Shazam!" is easily one of the most fun superhero movies ever made; even after the euphoric "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," that's still a low bar to clear, but it's worth celebrating all the same.
The pacing is bouncy, the jokes are goofy, and the colors are vivid. The ponderousness and ambivalence that hang over many of the "grown-up" entries in the genre are absent here; Shazam! is a big open sky inviting you to come on up and test out those flight powers you just acquired.
It's not that the movie's buoyancy alone makes it so stellar; fun doesn't always outweigh grimness. Nolan's The Dark Knight is grisly, powerful, and the pinnacle of superhero storytelling. This is instead a matter of execution, and Shazam's hilarious script and unflinching commitment to the earnestness of its comic book source material work in tandem to deliver the joyous high notes it's going for. Had it been deficient in either, the experience wouldn't have been as charming or entertaining, or as touching.
Shazam! doesn't inspire awe, and its de rigueur post-credits scenes don't leave you desperate to know what happens next (although one will leave you wondering what the hell it's about). But there's a warmth and generosity to it that feels genuine and non-algorithmic, an outgrowth of the story rather than something shoehorned in to fit a plot point in some other film.
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