I’ll be honest, I am most certainly not this films target audience. I can enjoy superhero films as much as anyone, but Shazam marks the time where if I weren’t reviewing it, I’d probably skip it. With that being said, I exercised fair judgement and I was pleasantly surprised when I started to have fun with the story, but those expecting a goofy tone throughout are going to be surprised by its maturity.
What I liked the most about Shazam is how well director David F. Sandberg has completely nailed the childlike attitude of its titular character. When you look at the film in the bigger picture, you can quickly draw comparisons with other films who like Big and 13 going on 30 which have tackled the kid in an adult body scenario. This is much like an updated version of those film with superpowers thrown into the mix. Just like those films, the comedy comes down to how well the adult actor can separate his adult mind from adult body and think like a kid. In Shazam, Zachery Levi nails it perfectly, it feels like champagne casting throughout the film, but that may be because of his history with light comedy roles. The outlandishness of the jokes doesn’t miss a beat making a genuinely fun experience.
The comedy that hits does come from what Billy does with this opportunity he’s been given. You see Billy and his foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) discover the capabilities of his superpowers. To view this, you have to put yourself in the mind of a kid and once you do that, the way Billy uses his powers at the beginning feel exactly how a kid would use them. You see Billy and Freddy buying beer, charging peoples phones on the go, using lightning to get money from an ATM etc. in a way, the filmmakers of Shazam are taking that old school approach to superheroes and putting its own spin using modern elements like uploading videos of the superpower tests to YouTube.
But for all its jokey tone, it never sidetracks from the maturity of its main character. Billy Batson (Asher Angels) and Shazam are two characters that contrast massively in their maturity, whilst Shazam is in a story of discovery to test the limits of his new abilities in a carefree attitude, Billy Batson has moved from foster home to foster home whilst searching for his real mother. We realize his maturity in the first few scenes, Billy is playing pranks on cops but does so to find the addresses of people who share the same name with his real mother in the hopes of reconnecting. Having sat through a myriad of films with plenty of sub-plots that disappoint, it was rewarding to see one done flawlessly and with a lot of heart to back it up.
For those who don’t know David F. Sandberg, he is a director who has made a short but sweet impact on the horror genre. Lights Out was fantastic and he managed to breathe a little bit of life into The Conjuring spin-off Annabelle: Creation, films with a plethora of dark scenes. To my surprise, Sandberg has brought what he has learned from horror into Shazam with a couple of scenes that seem a little too dark for the audience the film is targeting. Provided entirely by the films sadistic antagonist Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) and his accompanying seven deadly sins, I say sadistic because his first major antagonist move is to murder his brother, father and their board members in a way that pushed at the boundaries of its 12A rating. When you get past the initial surprise, it does reveal a lot of flaws between the transition from heavy drama to light comedy, especially when it leaves a huge time window from child Thaddeus to adult Thaddeus where we just have to accept and not ask questions between then and now.
This leads on to a problem with narrative pacing. You have a decently consistent tone but the way the audience travels through one action scene to another. Immediately after discovering the responsibilities that come with his powers by saving a bus crash he caused, he is introduced to Dr Thaddeus and we have our first fight between the two. To me, the film gives a very short window in which the audience can process the previous sequence and it overspent its energy into the action scenes because some outstay their welcome causing the film to drag a little.
But despite the odd tone and pacing issued, Shazam is still a big step forward for the DCEU. It seems to me that the gritty realistic tone that commenced this extended universe has all but been abandoned, but whether this is a decisively good choice on their part still remains to be seen. Shazam, no matter how goofy or playful the film may seem, there is maturity in its immaturity. I know that sounds contradictory but there are no cheap gags, almost every joke land well to tickle funny bones, but also has moments that can tug at heartstrings. Every time I talk to people about the superhero genre, I often say that it disinterests me, however, I’m not ashamed to admit that I enjoyed Shazam and there’s nothing guilty about having an enjoyable time at the cinema.