“Look Up In the Sky – it’s a bird? It’s a plane? It’s… who? What the hell is a Shazam, and why does he look like Superman only in red and with a white cape and big collar?!” If you, like many across the globe, haven’t got the faintest idea of who or what Shazam is then here’s a quick rundown. Created in 1939, the character was originally known as Captain Marvel until 1972 when he was re-branded, this was the biggest-selling comic-book for a time in the 1940’s so it’s something of a surprise that this is the first time he has been give the big-screen treatment. After the poor responses all round to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, DC has charged some of its other characters with resuscitating their flagging expanded universe – Wonder Woman and Aquaman pulled in huge business – but if they had started here instead, we and they might not be in this predicament.
Planting its foot in its own backyard (no real sign of the DCEU in here), Shazam! is part buddy comedy, part horror, part superhero, part family drama all brought together in a big blockbuster melting pot of energy and flamboyance that, quite frankly, was much needed after the recent debacles of Dark Knights and Men of Steel. That’s not to say Wonder Woman and Aquaman didn’t contribute such things, also, but you immediately feel in a different space and time with this one, removed from the shackles of interconnectivities and tones, able to branch out into a new world and time that allows it to shine.
At the helm here is David F. Sandberg, acclaimed filmmaker who brought us effective chillers Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation – the latter of which is easily one of the best horror films of the last few years – and here he gets to keep his toe dipped into all things creepy with some pretty gothic moments though that may be a little too intense for some little ones watching but in doing so adds a real dread to proceedings that is rare in such endeavours. Sure, Mark Strong’s Dr. Thaddeus Sivana is as generic as they come but the extra dimension of terror really works alongside the more comedic elements, themselves very reminiscent of the body-swap comedies of the 1980’s and with Levi, Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer (aka Eddie in I.T.) at the fore, the dynamic works tremendously on both the situational side and the “poking holes in all the holes in comic-book films” side.
The film does suffer from the usual comic-book/blockbuster notions of less-is-more, with its 2hr 12min runtime a little on the chunky side and, with a bit of a trim, we could have been in X-Men 2/Spider-Man 2 levels of greatness. Indeed, the aforementioned villain doesn’t help matters but then again, that’s kind of the point of the film, to place its humour and its pulse in pulling apart those tropes of the super that we have become accustomed to. None of these movies are perfect, really, but Shazam! is the most perfect version of itself there could have been, and that deserves all the praise it can get.
Action, Adventure | 12A | USA, 2019 | 5 April 2019 | Warner Bros. | Dir. David F. Sandberg | Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Djimon Hounsou, Jack Dylan Grazer