Shazam! (2019) Review

The massive success of last year’s Aquaman proved that Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is better off making tonally-diverse superhero movies rather than sticking to the restrictive doom-and-gloom formula previously spearheaded by Zack Snyder. In the case of Aquaman, the overall campy nature of the movie worked very well in its favour.

And now, Shazam! continues the trend of adopting different tonal shifts by making its movie in the vein of 80s and 90s-style of a kid-friendly superhero blockbuster that doesn’t afraid to let loose and have fun with the genre. It was considerably goofier and lighter in tone as well, which actually suits the movie well enough, given the Big-like premise (remember that 1988 classic where Tom Hanks plays a boy trapped inside a grown man’s body?).

The story basically goes like this: 14-year-old foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel) finds himself becoming a “chosen” one to inherit the magical superpower granted by an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou).  After shouting the name “Shazam!”, he gradually turns into a muscular grown-up adult (played by Zachary Levi) dressed in flashy red spandex with a white cape. As he tries to embrace his newfound fate as a superhero with the help of his friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Billy/Shazam soon discovers a villain in the form of Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) desperately wanted to obtain his superpower at all cost.

Shazam! is basically a Big version of a body-swapping comedy in a superhero-movie template, complete with a nice callback of the famous foot piano scene. If that’s not enough, director David F. Sandberg (2016’s Lights Out and 2017’s Annabelle: Creation) along with screenwriter Henry Gayden (2014’s Earth to Echo) inspired most of their storytelling beats and tones from the old-school filmmaking style populated by the 80s and 90s Hollywood movies. At times, it even feels like I’m transporting back into those eras upon watching Shazam! on the big screen. Setting the story during the Christmas season is a nice touch as well, given its underlying themes that primarily focus on the importance of family values.

The movie also works because it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a superhero movie aimed at younger demographics, combining a sense of childlike wonder with enough spectacle. The real fun, of course, lies in the amazing chemistry between Zachary Levi’s Shazam and Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy. They are no doubt the heart and soul of this movie. The supporting actors are just as fine, with Faithe Herman’s talkative younger foster sister Darla and Ian Chen’s nerdy younger foster brother Eugene Choi worthy of a mention here.

Given this is the first time Sandberg handles a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, he manages to prove himself quite a visual stylist in orchestrating effects-heavy action sequences. It also helps the action is neatly choreographed that you are able to see what’s happening on the screen. Then, there’s the obvious Ghostbusters vibe in the form of the Seven Deadly Sins monsters that instantly reminds me of the demonic animal Zuul in the original 1984 supernatural comedy classic.

While Shazam! manages to impress in many levels, the same cannot be said with the antagonist played by Mark Strong. It’s a pity that his Dr Thaddeus Sivana role is nothing more than a generic supervillain with a serious daddy issue. The movie’s extended third act poses an issue as well and even though it does offer some exhilarating action moments, the climactic finale drags on a tad too long to the point of exhaustion. Streamlined editing would be a good idea. Finally, Sandberg’s attempt to infuse a full-on horror element in one particular scene doesn’t exactly mesh well with the rest of the kid-friendly tone of Shazam! It was inappropriately too violent for its own good, making that very segment all the more jarring and awkwardly misplaced.

Likewise, do not leave your seats once the end credits start rolling and stick around for two post-credits scenes.

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