As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This isn’t usually a comment on their quality or our willingness to enjoy them – sometimes, we’re just a little late to the party.
Amid the saturation of modern cinema with the constant release of superhero films, I’ll admit to having avoided Shazam! solely because it seemed like a transparent attempt to refresh the genre with its inherent quirkiness. Making use of a hero with primarily magical powers, who also happens to be a boy trapped in a muscle-bound superhero’s body, and with the effortlessly charming but vaguely exhausting Zachary Levi in the lead role, Shazam! did not seem like a film that I could stomach at the time. Having now finally watched it, I’m willing to admit how wrong I was.
That isn’t to say that my initial analysis was wrong. In fact, every preconception I had about Shazam! was essentially correct, although none of it hurt the film in the slightest. (Although I was very wrong about Zachary Levi, he was brilliant in every way as Shazam.) Shazam! sets about proving early on that it’s exactly the film that the DCEU needed. It has its darkness, and the stakes are appropriately high, but it does away with the ridiculous and unnecessary grittiness that mars the DCEU. However, though this works for Shazam!, it’s a double-edged sword.
Shazam! actually feels so far removed from the DCEU’s tone that even its references to Superman and Batman feel like they’re talking about different heroes. That actually makes its place in the franchise feel inorganic, even if that does occur through no real fault of Shazam!‘s. In that sense, it’s just a film tied down by its own wider universe.
Shazam! extensively features a cast of young actors, all of whom play their roles brilliantly. Perhaps the stand-out is Jack Dylan Grazer, who not only nails his role of Freddy Freeman, but also manages to subtly mirror aspects of Adam Brody’s personality, making his later transformation feel all the more rewarding. It’s the small touches in Grazer’s performance that make him stand out, even among a cast as comedically talented as Shazam!‘s.
Zachary Levi is tasked with played a child in the body of a superhero, something which no other actor could have carried off quite so convincingly. Levi’s talents are especially suited to the character, making him the perfect choice to play Shazam in the DCEU. In many ways, Shazam acts as the sort of hero that the DCEU’s Justice League needs most – idealistic, light-hearted, and above all else, fun.
Shazam!‘s action looks great, even the scenes that make extensive use of computer-generated effects. The set and costume design also look excellent, making Shazam! feel every bit as magical as it should without ever breaking the immersion that its rich world creates. However, the utter ridiculousness of its story and characters’ decisions within it does feel more than a little far-fetched at times.
Even though Shazam! has its shortcomings, there’s little to dislike. It’s so much fun that it’s hard to take it too seriously, and that fills a significant hole in the DCEU. It’s delightfully goofy and ridiculous in a number of exciting ways, and even at its weakest moments, it’s still an awful lot of fun. Though Shazam! does fall a few too many times into pure cliché, it’s still exactly what the DCEU needs if it’s ever going to compete with the films of the MCU.
Summary: Fun, funny, and ridiculous in all the best ways, Shazam! is a breath of fresh air for the DCEU. It may not be the greatest movie ever made, but it hits all the right notes for a superhero flick, underpinned by a number of talented performances.
Highlights: Seeing Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer repeatedly squabble on screen simply never gets old.
I was late to the party on this too, and even though I still like Aquaman more, I think Shazam! is the best crafted of the DCEU so far.
It’s well-written, old fashioned comic book fun. It’s the only time the DCEU has openly embraced the sillier aspects of its characters, and I think that’s what makes it such a standout. Completely agree that Aquaman was great, though!