Since the DCEU started focusing on solo stories, I feel the franchise has been better for it, Wonder Woman was great, Aquaman was entertaining and now Shazam has come along to see if it can keep up the streak.
Shazam has an interesting enough history even before considering the film adaptation, the hero was in fact first called Captain Marvel, so, in a way, this month has seen TWO Captain Marvel films.
A lot of the films appeal seems to lie in its lightness of tone, which considering where the DCEU started is a bold step, not a new one though, as Aquaman was also a step in a lighter direction for the franchise, but where Aquaman leave the baton, Shazam runs with it like Usain Bolt after a Red Bull.
Billy Batson is a 15-year-old foster child on the look-out for his birth mother. One day after a confrontation at school, he is transported to a different realm where the ancient wizard Shazam transfers his powers to him. From there Billy learns the meaning of being a superhero, and being in a family.
My usual rule of exposing myself to as little knowledge about the film worked a treat again, as without knowing much about Billy Batson and Shazam, I found myself almost instantly endeared to the outcast teenager suddenly given superpowers.
There’s a tendency for films surrounding the narrative of family, and specifically finding a family, to come across as cliched and overly-sentimental, and while Shazam doesn’t fully escape these trappings, it makes up for it by providing a broad palate of characters to grow into a family that makes it impossible to hate.
This is juxtaposed by the villain’s story arc in many ways, in fact the villain almost comes close to sympathetic in some respects, but he’s just too much of a wicked bastard to feel sympathetic for, not that that’s a point against it, I very much enjoyed the irredeemable power-hungry tyrant, in many ways he is like Killmonger from Black Panther, but without even the slimmest of justifications.
While the story isn’t mind-blowingly original, it’s delivered with such life an tenacity that makes it impossible to not enjoy. The characters are well-rounded, the dialogue is snappy and often very funny and the action set pieces are very stylish. Even the effects, which many find lacking in the DCEU, were a huge improvement, they weren’t perfect, and if I’m being very pedantic they were a touch over-designed, but their designs were eye-catching (or stomach-churning, depending on your outlook) and it felt as though they were adding to the narrative rather than taking away from it.
The performances were another impressive aspect of the film. Lead by the incredibly charismatic Zachary Levi as the titular hero, he oozes likeability and every witticism bounces from him very effectively, he shares a very effective chemistry with one of the cast’s teen actors Jack Dylan Grazer (who cinema-goers will recognise as Eddie from The Losers Club in IT) who was one of my favourite characters in the film I must admit, he was almost an audience surrogate the way he idolises this universes heroes, it’s a winning combination for a film relying on the lighter aspects of DC canon.
Elsewhere, Mark Strong is the lead antagonist, certainly a step up from 2011’s abomination Green Lantern, his character isn’t particularly deep, but he brings a cool menace to his performance, and seems to revel in it, his fight scenes with Levi’s hero are incredibly watchable, and they too share an interesting chemistry.
The direction remains clean and sharp throughout, when compared with the dark and dingier scenes from the franchise they shine all the brighter, the climactic battle in particular was very well shot, if a tad over-long, and the film as a whole just radiates a bright, jovial nature, even during its darker moments.
Overall then, Shazam is a massive triumph for the DCEU. It found a niche that the franchise needed and made the most of it while it could, I expect follow-ups to not be far behind, and with this debut outing for the hero, I’d say the excitement was worth it, it might not be the biggest comic book movie release this year, or the most hyped, but it may well be the most charming.