Here we go with another superhero film for the masses. It’s Shazam’s (Zachary Levi) turn, who’s also known as Captain Marvel. Shazam! was directed by David F. Sandberg, while Henry Gayden penned the script. Shazam! is an origin story and is a lighthearted look at superheroes.
Shazam! also focuses on children as teenager Billy Batson (Asher Angel) inherits powers passed on to him by the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). Billy, a foster kid who just moved into a group home, uses his new powers to have fun and show off. Little does he know that Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who years ago was given the same opportunity to inherit the powers Billy now has, is looking for the boy to steal those powers. Oh yeah, and Sivana has access to the evil powers of the Seven Deadly Sins, so now he’s a supervillian with the ability to rule the world.
With its comedic slant, it’s easy to discard this DC film because I didn’t find all of the humor funny. A lot of it is childlike humor where Billy abuses his powers all while discovering what he can do. It’s understandable and even expected that a teenager would use his superpowers in mischievous ways all in the name of fun. Since Billy turns into an adult when he utters, “Shazam!” we have to imagine a kid in an adult’s body acting like a kid all while wearing a ridiculous costume. All of it is there to chase away any seriousness and highlight its campiness. Going that route can backfire when it’s not funny. Shazam! is mildly humorous but constantly using kid humor and sight gags quickly get old. Plus, it kept me from caring about Billy and thus I couldn’t buy him as a superhero when the time came for him to grow up and stop thinking only about himself.
Shazam!, though, is a fun movie and should work well with children. That may be the reason why it didn’t work for me; there wasn’t much available for adults to latch onto. The successful kid-centric films work best when there’s something for everyone; The Lego Movie, Shrek and a myriad of Pixar films come to mind. Although they are meant for kids, their creators provided inside jokes which only adults will pick up. Shazam! didn’t do that, although they referenced films and video games which adults would recognize. The most obvious reference is Big, the Tom Hanks comedy drama which scored big with everyone. Big has a tremendous amount of heart where Josh Baskin wasn’t a jerk like Billy Batson is, so it was easy to identify and root for Josh. I took into account Billy’s orphan status and the fact we see him searching for his mother whom he lost years ago, but despite that, being belligerent isn’t endearing. By the time Sandberg and Gayden gave audiences something about Billy to feel for it was too late as they missed their opportunity to win us over.
The other foster kids are fun (albeit stereotypical), the best one being Darla (Faithe Herman). Darla is the youngest of the foster kids and she is easily the most lovable. Upon meeting Billy she gives him a big hug. In fact, she’s a hugger because she's a caring and trusting person. If Billy was a little more like Darla I would’ve been more invested and rooted more for him, but naturally I’m going to like the friendlier Darla.
Shazam! is a superhero film for kids and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s light and breezy, which is something that DC sorely needs, but they and Warners again overcorrected. Neither can find the middle ground that balances seriousness and camp; only Wonder Woman succeeds in that respect. Besides, Marvel’s shadow still looms large. Their films set the bar so high for superhero films that even a serviceable film like Shazam! fails to impress.
3 stars out of 5