By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
After receiving some mixed or negative critical responses with some of their recent DC films, it seems like Warner Bros. Studios has been working hard to salvage what they can from the DC Extended Universe. They did manage a big win with Wonder Woman, and achieved some moderate success with Aquaman; so the new direction of this movie franchise has proven to be a step in the right direction. Well, DC, Warner, and their fans can breathe a little bit easier because they have scored another major win with their adaptation of Shazam. Directed by David F. Sandberg and starring Zachary Levi, Shazam! is not only the most entertaining and funniest movie of the DCEU, it is also the most heartwarming one so far.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has spent most of his childhood as an orphan always on the run. After getting separated from his mother at a carnival, Billy, social services, and law enforcement have been unable to find his missing mom. He has never given up hope, though, as he has continued to search from her, even if it involves running away from several foster homes. As Billy enters his young teens, he is starting to run out of options, so he reluctantly agrees to live in another foster home where he befriends fellow orphan Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). On one fateful day, Billy gets summoned by an ancient magical wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who endows him with great powers. Thus, the superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi) is reborn through Billy. However, because Billy is somewhat immature and unsure how to handle these new powers and responsibilities, his new career as a superhero gets off to a rather shaky start.
With a screenplay and story by Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke, based on the comic book character created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck, David F. Sandberg has made a genuinely wonderful superhero movie with Shazam! Not only does the film deliver plenty of hearty laughs in a huge way, it also hits plenty of emotional beats as the audience follows the journey of a hero new to the DCEU franchise. Though some of the elements and beats are familiar, the filmmakers put their own creative spin on the mythology and this works well in fueling both the comedic and dramatic sides of the movie. Sandberg also succeeds in offering audiences thrilling action sequences, and darker, slightly creepy material when it comes to the dark magic of its villain.
The superb performances by the cast also really drive home the movie’s heart and comedy. As Billy Batson, teen actor Asher Angel brings a real versatility to a character who is obviously hurting inside, but wants to remain tough and undaunted in his quest to find his mother. As Billy’s heroic alter ego, Zachary Levi shines brighter than ever before. He captures the wide-eyed wonderment of the teenage mind discovering his superpowers and is able to elicit the giddy excitement and joy of using them. He also is able to channel into the fearful and timid feelings a teenage superhero would have when faced with the challenges of fighting an equally powerful villain.
Mark Strong is perfectly cast as that villain. Strong portrays Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, an intelligent scientist hungry for power after getting a glimpse of real magic and its power as a child. I also enjoyed the work of Jack Dylan Grazer another young actor who portrays Billy’s new friend Freddy Freeman. Freddy, who is an orphan who obsessed with superheroes, happily helps Billy discover his powers and hopes to guide him in the right direction. The movie also features great performances by Djimon Hounsou, Marta Milans, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Cooper Andrews, and John Glover.
So, it gives me great pleasure to write a highly favorable review for a comic book inspired movie whose origins is from the DC universe. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously love a good Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, but a great DC Extended Universe film is a wonderful and unexpected surprise. The fact that this movie accomplishes so much through its drama, comedy, action, and emotions is a huge leap in the appropriate direction for the DCEU and is thusly, a big win.