Film Review – Shazam! (2019)

With this technically being the second Captain Marvel film within a month, I’ve already seen a lot of people comparing the two, even before seeing both of them. There was already a divide online between some Marvel and DC fans which seems to have escalated as we drew closer to these two films. But having now seen both, I can officially say that they are such vastly different films, with completely different intentions and messages, so they just can’t (and shouldn’t) be compared to each other. The world is big enough for two Captain Marvels – but at the end of the day, this is Shazam!, and it deserves to be seen in its own right.

DC enters a bright, new age

A superhero version of Big, DC’s latest offering Shazam! follows Billy Batson, a 14-year-old foster kid who is mystically imbued with the powers of an ancient wizard. If that doesn’t sound bizarre enough, these powers grant him multiple abilities, from super strength and speed to flight and invulnerability, all by shouting the wizard’s name, Shazam. This also turns him from a teenage boy into a grown man, decked out in a super cool costume. Of course, there’s a villain vying for his power, and with innocent people at risk, a mighty battle ensues.

This may sound familiar, and that’ll be because it’s pretty much your run-of-the-mill superhero origin story. However, writer Henry Gayden and director David F. Sandberg know this, and they’ve added so much distinctive wit, charm and action that Shazam! is instantly elevated into a league of its own. They also acknowledge the comparisons to previous movies, with multiple nods scattered throughout the film, including a great reference to Big. That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect film, but there is so much to enjoy that any negatives are pretty much forgiven.

Runtime wise, it clocks in at 132 minutes, which puts it practically dead-centre with the rest of the DCEU, but it doesn’t feel its length at all. There is a slight dip in the middle with the pacing, although the third act picks right back up and turbo charges the pace right until the final moments.

No weak links

One of the greatest parts of this film is the casting, which is absolutely magical across the board. Asher Angel is a breath of fresh air as Billy Batson, playing the character with more depth and emotion than a lot of seasoned actors in Hollywood today and truly positioning himself as someone to watch. Bouncing off of him perfectly is his best friend, Freddy, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, who nails the balancing act of being comical whilst adding a certain pathos to the character.
Other standouts include Faithe Herman as Darla, one of Billy’s hilariously adorable foster sisters and the foster parents played by Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans.

But without a doubt, the heart of the film is Zachary Levi as Shazam himself, who flawlessly captures the spirit and mannerisms of Asher Angel’s Billy Batson here, whilst also putting his own superhero flair on the character. He brings so much wonder to an already wonderous film that no-one could help but smile whenever he was onscreen.

Mark Strong also nails the villainous role of Dr Thaddeus Sivana; chewing the scenery just enough when needed while managing to keep a menacing streak that sometimes sways into the truly frightening. When there is such strong character development for the hero, the villain often loses out and, to a degree, that does happen here with Dr Sivana. There is a great start to the villain’s story, fleshing out his motivations and mindset from the opening scene, but there does come a point where the character devolves slightly into a generic ‘evil for evil’s sake’ type of bad guy. That said, it’s still an enjoyable role and Strong brings enough to it that he became one of my favourite superhero villains of recent years.

The harmony of humour and horror

It may seem like a strange juxtaposition, but horror and comedy have gone hand-in-hand throughout the history of storytelling. David F. Sandberg has mastered this throughout his feature film career, usually leaning heavier into the horror elements with his films Lights Out and Anabelle Creation, but with Shazam!, he shows his mastery of this balancing act by lightly sprinkling his own brand of horror into an exceptionally hilarious film. While the majority of the runtime is filled with humour, there are a few scenes that are truly quite terrifying, yet never feel out of place. There is a particular scene that did stand out as potentially being too frightening for a younger audience, but it still works perfectly in the context of the story and only heightens the threat of the villain.

Overall, there aren’t enough unique words to praise this film. With a great story, a truly heart-warming message and fully three-dimensional characters, it just can’t be missed. On top of that, it features a third act that I was just not expecting, even as a major comic book nerd. Zachary Levi and Asher Angel are beyond incredible along with the rest of the cast. In my opinion, this is the best film in the DCEU so far and is just a bundle of joy that I could watch again and again. We truly have been spoiled with great superhero films in the past year and with the cast and crew working their magic, Shazam! could soar right to the top.

Jordan Duguid | ★★★★½

Shazam! comes to cinemas worldwide on Friday 5th April 2019

Action, Adventure | 12A | Worldwide 2019 | 5 April 2019 | Warner Bros. | Dir. David F. Sandberg | Zachary Levi, Angel Asher, Mark Strong, Djimon Hounsou