Shazam! (2019)

A brilliant cocktail of coming-of-age story, superhero origin, Christmas movie, and hilarious comedy with a lifetime-casting in Zachary Levi, dark villain in Dr. Silvana, & nostalgic heart – expertly handling the Seven Deadly Sins comics mythos. 8.7/10.

Plot Synopsis: Billy Batson is a streetwise 14-year-old who can magically transform into the adult superhero Shazam simply by shouting out one word. His newfound powers soon get put to the test when he squares off against the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

Review

80 Years: The Real Captain Marvel is Here

Picture Courtesy Of: DC Comics

S-H-A-Z-A-M. Solomon-Hercules-Atlas-Zeus-Achilles-Mercury. Once the biggest/most popular superhero in the world, even over Batman and Superman for a brief stint in the 1940’s, a being mired in Greek mythology was concocted with the radical notion: what if a kid got to be the superheroes he/she reads so much about in comic books? It sold like hot-cakes and mesmerized millions of youngsters seeing the red, white, and gold comet race across the sky, stopping bad guys and becoming a connectable hope-symbol and wish-fulfillment for young and old audiences-alike. The *original* Captain Marvel – he donned the name decades before Marvel stole it for their subservient Green Lantern-clone – he was a hero I related and looked up to for years growing up, who finally got his movie. And I’m here to tell you, it was worth the wait: A brilliant cocktail of coming-of-age story, superhero origin, Christmas movie, and hilarious comedy with a lifetime-casting in Zachary Levi, dark villain in Dr. Silvana, & nostalgic heart expertly handling the Seven Deadly Sins comic mythos, Shazam! is one of the best superhero films in recent years.

The Cocktail Of Different Genres

Picture Courtesy Of: Warner Bros.

The cocktail of different genres on display. Director Adam F. Sandberg has mixed up a dazzling array of ingredients to reinvigorate and innovate the increasingly-tired superhero genre: It works as a coming-of-age story with immaculate character development and emotion-writing, superhero origin with powerful theme explorations and villain action, Christmas movie with holiday calibrations I have a suspicion might elevate itself to the top of some All-Time yuletide watchlists, mythology adventure masterfully handling and palatably-presenting the iconic/intricate Shazam/Seven Deadly Sins-lore built over 70+ years, family and orphan drama, and most of all: comedy. It is a peculiar, refreshing, brilliant mash-up of elements I’ve never seen presented in such a mixed, curated way – and an impressive achievement equally as innovative as the titular hero’s creators in something that shouldn’t work on paper, but does. It *really* does.

Zachary. Levi.

Picture Courtesy Of: Warner Bros.

Zachary Levi. I’m at a loss for words trying to relate the amount of sheer joy and presence he brings to this canvas. I will guiltfully admit: I was not sold on the casting when it was first announced. I was even *gasp* disappointed. I’d heard buzz about everyone from Derek Theler to Zac Efron to even John Cena at one point, and was delightfully intrigued (except Cena) about the prospects to take on the iconic Captain Marvel mantle. However, when they announced an ~unknown presence of Chuck backstories, I did not know how to react.. I sincerely apologize for doubting and will exercise extreme caution doing so again: Zachary Levi was BORN FOR THIS ROLE. In fact, I might need some convincing he’s not actually a teenager in a man’s body. He has an effortless delivery, comedic power, irreverancy, and fun atmosphere/vibe that brings honor to the lore and exudes an old-world, nostalgic, classic-Superman class and aura that is like the comic book hero incarnate, leaping off the pages into the real-world. This is a LIFETIME-casting I couldn’t possibly be happier with the results of the needle in the haystack they’ve found here. Beyond Levi, his support is perfectly cast as well with phenomenal performances all around, especially Asher Angel playing a *perfect* Billy Batson in search of the truth and purpose, Mark Strong’s sinister Dr. Sivana (will get to later), Dijmon’s haunted wizard-Shazam, Jack Dylan Grazer’s side-splitting comic relief Freddy Freeman, and the rest of the Captain Marvel family (!!!!!!). Incredible.

The Cinematography, Score, & Tone

Picture Courtesy Of: Warner Bros.

The cinematography, score, and tone. *This* is how you do a superhero comedy. DC has captured lightning in a bottle with its tonal craftsmanship here. The film is first and foremost a comedy, wearing its heart on its sleeve in that regard and backing it up with absolutely hilarious gags that are realistic and expected for the character, and might be the funniest I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie; even over Deadpool. From the “I can fly” revelation while getting hit by a bus.. multiple times, to Billy’s police-trick intro to the screaming Santa to superpower-testing slapstick and Captain Sparkle Fingers, it truly gets the essence of joyous wish fulfillment and childlike wonder the genre first became popular for almost a century ago; like Big-with-superpowers. Even with all this laughter, however, the film maintains an edge and seriousness about it when needed, letting you know it doesn’t mix business and pleasure. Heck, it even borders into dark at times, but balances the line perfectly. The biggest problem cinematic audiences (myself included) cite with many of the Marvel movies – colloquially known as the ‘MCU-trap’ – is that they inject unnecessary silly humor into serious situations to prevent it from ever feeling weighty or scary and appease kids at the expense of adults and anyone with a wide film library/reservoir to compare it to. But here, that problem is masterfully avoided by keeping clear boundaries between its comedic stylings and weighty contemplations. It doubles as a family drama with serious emotional gravitas and pathos in its coming-of-age story of Batson’s searching for a home and learning the rejection of his awful family’s abandonment, while wrestling with self-worth, purpose, and heroism themes as well. And that’s nothing compared to the inherent sinister qualities and auras of its villain’s backstory. Before that though, the cinematography by visual auteur Maxime Alexandre is stunning with a plethora of wow-inducing shots like the blue-tinted roof-jumping Shazam yell, Sin-testing amidst Biblical statuettes, and final fight scene rendered with some of the best CGI in many-a-superhero film (surprising since it had one of the comparatively-lowest budgets to work with) amidst triumphant orchestral themes and score mixing reminiscent of DC’s victorious, expansive 1970’s-80’s genre-defining offerings’ soundtracks.

Dr. Sivana

Picture Courtesy Of: Warner Bros.

Finally, Dr. Sivana and the handling of the mythology. Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivana is an incredible villain, having a seriously dark presence and backstory, power-exudance, sublime characterization, and the (new) notion of a villain that was given the chance to become the hero but failed before spiraling down the other trajectory of childhood eaten up by his failure/rejection and self-doubtful “why not’s?” From the opening 8-ball tragedy scene (whole film is impeccably-locationed as well to add to its Christmas-y feel), I knew they got one of Shazam’s best comic-villains & Rogues right. Testing kids with Biblical-feeling temptation trials to see if any are pure of heart and sin-cleansed enough to wield the mantle and powers of the Shazam mythos is *brilliant*, starting with it to introduce us to Sivana and adding gravity to the situation by revealing it’s a second attempt after a tragic fate befell the last champion leading to our current sin-riddled humanist societal state. Sandberg’s handling of the complex 70-year mythos (and powers; can you imagine him going head-to-head with The Rock as Black Adam?!?!) is downright impressive and a triumph, being entirely comic-accurate while also skillfully-presenting a great, palatable, and newbie-understandable curated version of the complex arc for mass audiences (even teases Mister Mind and the Seven Realms in post-credits, F*** YEAH!). Lastly, deciding to dive head-first into the Marvel-family arena in the end is one of the ballsiest and most shocking bets perhaps ever attempted in an origin film – but one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in the genre with a whole gang of superheroicism I’m shocked the marketing team was able to keep under wraps. Fantastic.

Flaws

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The only minuscule flaws I can think of are that they didn’t name Shazam in-film, Sivana’s place alongside legendary DC Villains, and a somewhat-lackluster final post-credits scene. It’s simply an expectation in an origin film – and one that makes complete sense – that the titular hero gets his name from himself, friends, family, or bystanders somewhere during the 2 1/2 hour saga. There was talk going into it he’d be named in a clever way poking fun at the Captain Marvel-issue as well with something like “how about (naming you) Captain Marvel?! Nah, that’s lame.” This would have been perfect to include and I can’t imagine why they left out that opportunity to name him while also sneaking in a jab at the theft of the IP. Sigh. Even in the post-credits scene (first one was sublime but second Aquaman one was lame) would have been another perfect place to include the name-bait-and-switch setting up the rest of the inevitable trilogy and years’ of appearance of this titular hero. Beyond that, Sivana isn’t exactly the same level of villainy as say a General Zod, Doomsday, Joker, or Black Manta – don’t get me wrong, he is a phenomenal villain for how he’s presented as a dark mirror reflection mired in hate and envy of the hero he could’ve been had fate not been so cruel, but lacks that certain umph or name recognition of the others – overall an extremely minor flaw it’d be ludicrous to nick points for.

Conclusion

A Superhero Comedy For The Ages

Picture Courtesy Of: DC Comics

Overall, Shazam is a masterful product that transports you back to the childlike wonder that made you fall in love with superheroes in the first place. It’s not only one of the best DC movies, but might be one of the best *superhero* movies in recent years. A brilliant cocktail of coming-of-age story, superhero origin, Christmas movie, and hilarious comedy with a lifetime-casting in Zachary Levi, strong villain in Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivana, nostalgic Reeve-like genre-original highs, and impressive direction and character writing, DC has captured lightning in a bottle here and the perfect what-if-a-kid-could-be-Superman film (oh and stay through to that last scene’s easter egg!!). This new partnership with New Line Cinema is off to a miraculous start. SHAZAM!

Official CLC Score: 8.7/10