Shazam is the perfect DC film to release after Aquaman. DC has got their winning formula at last.
Well done DC! My congratulations to you! You’ve FINALLY woken up!
Let’s not beat about the bush, DC has failed miserably trying to beat Marvel at its own game on the big screen. Marvel opened their account with Iron Man and never looked back. Their output and strategy are pitch perfect. Look at the recent news regarding Avengers: Endgame. Even I, in lowly England, had trouble booking tickets for their final film for a while. The world has gone crazy for the movie. Its the culmination of ten years work and over twenty movies to get us to this point. Everyone now is desperate to find out the culmination to the stories of these heroes and are jockeying for position to be the first in line to see it. I may not have been the first in line to get my tickets but I’ve got them, for a double bill alongside Infinity War and the evening after to see Endgame by itself. I’m stoked for the film.
In contrast, DC tried to get in on the act with one of their biggest guns. It couldn’t fail, could it? Marvel have pushed out Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. DC has Superman, one of the most beloved characters they own. After the success of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight Trilogy‘, it wasn’t that much of a gamble. They would wipe the floor with the Marvel upstarts, they would show them who’s the big boss of comic book movies. But they missed the boat and more seriously, the point. Marvel’s films had HEART. Marvel’s films had SOUL. Marvel’s films actually cared for their characters, not just throw them into any old film, they created their universe with passion. DC gave us Man Of Steel in response. Not only did it attempt to reboot the Superman saga but it was their attempt to take back the crown Marvel had rightfully gained. And it was terrible. Henry Cavill tried really hard as Superman/Clark Kent but the film was empty. Soulless. It boasted a big cast and crew like the 1978 film but here is where the similarities ended. The film had no real redeeming features. Yes, I DO think Superman’s killing of General Zod at the film’s climax was a shock but it felt justified and added an unseen dynamic to the character for once. But that’s just one bit in a disjointed, uneven, heartless jigsaw puzzle. The film may have made money but it wasn’t justified. I, like many other people across the globe, came out of the film with a sense of deep unsatisfaction. If this is the best DC could offer in reply to Marvel, then you can keep it.
Things didn’t improve with Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. Again, Henry Cavill and this time, Ben Affleck did their best with the material given to them and Affleck DID make a good Batman but the film was so gloomy and soulless that again, I left the screening unsatisfied. It’s only redeeming feature? Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Ms Gadot made the best mark in the film in a relative cameo role as the Amazonian warrior.
Patty Jenkins then pulled out a masterstroke and wrote and directed Gadot in a standalone Wonder Woman film. Now, THIS is what we expect from a DC film. The movie had heart, it had a soul and it hooked us from the start and never let us go. It was a pairing that DC could never have dreamed of and to their joy, struck a chord around the world and propelled the film to global success and praise. Now you’ve got your perfect template, stick with it. That makes sense, yes? Obviously not. They unleashed the mediocre Justice League on the world. OK, so the film did suffer from tragedy behind the scenes which led to the film being uneven and the tone is all over the place but it doesn’t excuse the fact that the film is a total mess. Fans abandoned the film in droves. Marvel was pulling out Billion Dollar grosses per film for their universe, DC was struggling to pull in half a million dollars for theirs.
Avengers: Infinity War stormed to the box office crown last year. Again, Marvel dominated the battle of the comic book universes. And what did DC have? Aquaman. The film didn’t pull in the dollars that the Avengers grabbed but DC had hit upon a goldmine again. Aquaman was a completely engrossing and enjoyable film. The performances fitted the material to a Tee. And the film was FUN. It had the heart and soul we wanted. Jason Momoa was brilliant as Arthur Curry AKA Aquaman. The supporting cast was fantastic and embraced the script well. It had the perfect blend of action, horror and humour that the DC universe desperately needed. And again, it was a standalone, not an ensemble piece. DC had found its niche finally. Behind the scenes, there was upheaval. Affleck departed as Batman. Cavill (reportedly) stepped down as Superman and the Wonder Woman sequel was pushed back by a year. Warners even went as far as to cancel any plans it had to make any more team up movies, focussing on standalone only. And, to my mind, made the best choice they could. Around the same time, they started releasing trailers for their next film in the DC Universe. Shazam was last seen in a live-action film back in 1941 in the serial ‘Adventures Of Captain Marvel’. Captain Marvel was indeed the characters original name! Now that would have been confusing if they had kept his original name and released a movie this year! Obviously, Marvel would have had to change the name of their female Superhero who gained her own standalone film earlier this year. She has so far gone on to make over a Billion Dollars at the worldwide box office. Will Shazam do the same? If there’s any justification, YES!
Shazam is the perfect DC film to release after Aquaman. DC has got their winning formula at last. Forget the dreary, heavy plodding, dark approach, the film is funny, light and totally entertaining. Thanks in no small part by Henry Gayden’s screenplay, based on his story alongside Darren Lemke, the film is a standout. The direction by David F. Sandberg is spot on, bringing the character to the screen and making us laugh, frown and finally cheer throughout.
The film starts in 1974. A young boy, Thaddeus Sivana is travelling in a car along a snowy highway road along with his older brother and his father. After getting into an argument with his brother, he is magically transported to the rock of eternity. This temple is in another dimension and is the lair of an old, ancient wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). Shazam has been searching for centuries for someone who is pure of heart, to take on the mettle of champion. Shazam’s previous champion turned against him and unleashed the seven deadly sins upon the world. After defeating his former protege, Shazam has trapped the sins in seven stone statues. The wizard is growing old and weak and needs to pass on his magic and powers to someone new, to keep the sins contained. Thaddeus is seduced by the promises of the sins. Shazam banishes him back to earth, angry that the boy isn’t pure of heart and is so easily tempted by the promise of power. Upon his return, the car he and his family are travelling in crashes and his father is seriously injured. His father blames Thaddeus for the accident and so sets off the path his young son will follow later in life.
In present-day Philidelphia, 14-year-old foster child Billy Batson has run away again from a foster home in search of information pertaining to his mother. His mother lost him in a crowd of people when he was a toddler and he has been searching for her ever since. He is placed with Victor and Rosa Vazquez in a group home they run. The couple has five other foster children with them: Mary, Pedro, Eugene, Darla and Billy’s new roommate, Freddy Freeman. Billy doesn’t take to his new ‘family’. Pedro discovers Billy’s notes regarding his search for his mother and decides in secret to aid him in his search.
Thaddeus has now grown to be a hard-hearted and cruel man. He is obsessed in finding a way to return to the rock of eternity and collects the testimonies of other people who also were rejected as Shazam’s new champion in an attempt to find his way back. After finally deciphering the secret and the way to return, Thaddeus steals the eye of sin from the rock, freeing the seven sins and becoming their champion. Thaddeus uses his newly acquired powers to attack the wizard and continues back to earth where he attacks and murders his father and brother using the sins.
At school, Billy saves Freddy from a pair of bullies. He leads them away from his ‘family’ into a subway station where he jumps aboard a train and leaves the bullies behind. During the journey, he is summoned by the dying wizard, Billy is chosen to be the wizards champion. After being ordered to place his hands on the wizard’s staff and to say his name, Billy is transformed into an adult with an array of different superpowers at his disposal. Billy can transform between his real form and his superhero alter ego simply by saying ‘Shazam’. With Freddy’s, who’s a massive superhero geek and investigator help, Billy learns what powers he has and how to use and utilise them. Freddy films the test sessions and posts them to YouTube where Shazam becomes an internet sensation. After preventing a liquor store robbery in hilarious fashion, Freddy starts to brag about his friendship with Shazam. However, Billy abandons Freddy at school where Freddy has said he will be having lunch with Shazam to entertain crowds of admiring people for money. Freddy tracks him down and admonishes Billy, causing him to cause a bus accident. After having saved the bus and its passengers from certain death by his own failings, Shazam is confronted by Thaddeus who demands that Billy gives him all of his power. After a vicious fight where Thaddeus gives Shazam a brutal beatdown, Billy transforms himself back to his teenaged self to escape. However, Thaddeus has seen it all and comes after Billy and his new family.
To go any further would be to spoil the rest of the film which I won’t do. All I shall reveal is the film gets even funnier, more energetic but with a sad twist before the eventual final showdown. All the cast play their parts to perfection but Asher Angel as the teenage Billy Batson and Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy are the real standouts and revelations here. Angel plays Batson with perfection, making us feel sorry for him one moment then wanting to give him the hiding of his life in the next. But of course, his character undergoes the whole journey and we journey with him. We want to offer him advice, we want to share his pain and burden with him but his attitude at times make us want to hold back a bit, to let him make his own mistakes and to learn from them. Grazer as Freddy has a great career ahead of him. His comic timing is exquisite. We feel sorry for him as we know that Billy doesn’t (at first) really care about him or his adoptive family but he continues to try and find something he can hold onto, to bring Billy into the fold and to befriend him. These two young actors will go far in the future if they continue to put in performances of this kind.
English actor Mark Strong makes for a fantastic villain as Thaddeus. Ethan Pugiotto plays the character as a child and, to start with, we feel for the boy. We can understand the youngster’s pain as he is tormented by his brother AND his father. We get the feeling that he is being tormented by both men every waking second of his life and that makes their eventual deaths at his adult hands all that more satisfying. But Strong, as the adult Thaddeus is a force to be reckoned with. With one gleaming eye and a nasty facial scar, Strong makes us believe that the man is beyond redemption of any kind. He oozes evil from every pore of his body and makes him one of the best villains of all the DC films so far. He’s no Darkseid or Steppenwolf but he fits into the rogue gallery of villains with ease.
But now we come to the films ultimate success. Zachary Levi excels as Shazam. He embodies the character from the second he appears on the screen. The screenplay plays off his strengths as an actor and comedian to great effect. Levy doesn’t just bring his ‘A’ game, he IS the whole game. His comic timing, facial expressions and whole demeanour make him one of the best incarnations of a comic book character ever. Shazam’s ‘birth’ reminded me very much like Christopher Reeve’s first reveal as Superman in the 1978 film. In that film, Reeve flew towards the camera before pivoting and flying past it. Here, Levy stands up as Shazam and the moment feels fitting like it was meant to be. Of course, then the hilarity starts to come out and we don’t look back. Levy is such a likeable man and his turn as the character is inspired.
The film does have its fair share of dark and scary moments but these feel justified in the film’s context. They are never gloomy or heavy and plodding, they fit in seamlessly within the film’s narrative. And, to some extent during Thaddeus revenge against his now wheelchair-bound father and self-centered older brother, we feel not fear but some smug satisfaction at their eventual fates. A lot of this is due to the acting of the legendary actor John Glover as Thaddeus’ father. Glover’s role is a thankless one but an essential one in the storyline. His performance as Mr Sivana makes us feel anger towards him at first and open hostility at his reunion with his youngest son. Glover has form in the DC world, having played Dr Jason Woodrue, the creator of Bane in the abysmal 1997 film ‘Batman & Robin‘ opposite Uma Thurman as Dr Pamela Isley (Poison Ivy).
The film’s 132 minute run time seems to fly past rather quickly, never outstaying its welcome. And that’s a shame as even though the film crams a lot into its running time, you leave the theatre wanting more. I certainly could easily sit there for a further half an hour and enjoy myself even more. If the new Avengers film can sustain our interest during its mammoth 182 minute running time, then Shazam could easily sustain our attention for just a little bit longer.
I recommend this film to everyone. It’s the perfect film for families to attend together and may just bring them that much closer. At the end of the day, for all its super heroics and battles between good and evil, underneath is a simple story about family. And it’s so fitting to have that underlining the events on screen.
Keep your eyes peeled throughout the film for the little nods at the DC universe and the film has two mid-credits stingers, in the vein of Marvel. The first one sets the tone and gives us a brief glimpse into what could be the story for a sequel. The second is hilarious. DC has the guts to make a joke at their own expense and its a satisfying conclusion to a completely satisfying and enjoyable film. Well done DC, you’ve finally managed to hit two home runs in a row. Now sustain it! Grab your ticket, grab a large soda and popcorn, seat yourself in the theatre and allow yourself to be completely entertained. And then do it all again. Shazam is a triumph and one of the best films so far this year.
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Until next time.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Entertainment/Books and Literature Correspondent for The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!