With the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), Warner Bros. has not only tried to copy Marvel’s success with their own cinematic universe (MCU), but with a more grim and dark tone in an attempt to set it apart. The MCU is all about fun, quips, and bright colors, with the DCEU occupying the gritty, cynical, and more muted colors side of things. Needless to say, it hasn’t worked out well for them. Sure, it makes sense for folks like Batman to be all brooding and sad, but Superman? Wonder WomanAquaman? Aren’t they supposed to be fun (disclaimer: I still love Man of Steel)? Well, Warner Bros. finally realized it should all be a bit more fun by going in the most entertaining direction possible. 

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a 14-year-old juvenile delinquent who likes to move around from foster home to foster home. He finds himself under the care of new foster parents where he meets and befriends comic book nerd Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). While out alone one night, Billy finds himself in an encounter with a wizard Shazam!, who bestows upon Billy his powers. Now in the body of an adult (Zachary Levi) and granted with super strength, speed, etc., Billy works with Freddy to hone his new powers and become the next hero that the world needs.

With Warner Bros. trying their damndest to salvage their embarrassing attempt at a cinematic universe, they’ve been trying to reinvigorate interest in any way they can. Aquaman embraced the silly over the top spectacle that wasn’t totally dour, and now Shazam! takes things in a totally comedic route and it works 100%. I mean, the entire concept revolves around a kid saying a magic word to turn himself into an adult superhero who’s basically a nerfed Superman. It’s already silly and with teens being your main character, it makes sense to treat it how they would: like they’re having fun. This doesn’t happen often with superhero films, but this is a comedy first and an action film second. Since Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a satire and totally different from this, Shazam! is by far the funniest traditional comic book film I’ve ever seen. I don’t think 5 minutes went by where I wasn’t cracking up because it was just so charming. It takes the comic book elements 100% seriously, but uses them to give us a lot of humorous situations and fun action setpieces. 

The anchors of the film are the performances from Asher Angel and Zachary Levi, and the script they’re given to work with. The film working completely relies on accurately representing a child in an adult’s body and they totally pulled it off. Of course, they’re played by two different actors, but there was never a moment I didn’t believe that the Shazam! hero was still Billy deep down. Shazam! may be bulletproof and can fly, but he’s still immature and doesn’t know how to use his newfound powers for good. Both actors are incredibly charismatic and perfectly embody their respective personalities. Jack Dylan Grazer has equally good chemistry with both of them and watching a friendship develop between the two was charming. The rest of the stars, which are mostly kids and teenagers, do the best job with what they’re given, which isn’t a whole lot. The sadistic bullies especially were right out of a Stephen King novel and felt woefully out of place with the rest of the movie. I did enjoy the rest of the younger cast, who all had their own personalities to at least set them apart, each actor playing them well. Honestly, a lot of this reminded me of 80’s kids movies like The Goonies, where younger audiences can enjoy it, but it still treats them with respect to handle some of the more mature elements. 

It’s a good thing that the characters and story are so charming and endearing, because without them, this is pretty much your typical superhero film. Director David F. Sandberg comes from a horror background which he effortlessly translates to comedy with great timing and delivery. It’s a shame he needs to work on his dramatic direction, though, as every dramatic moment was either met with indifference or unintentional laughter. I did appreciate that he embraced the silly sensibilities of a comic book, never shying away from being cheesy when he wants to. In his 19th role as a movie villain, Mark Strong does his typical, yet effective, bad guy schtick with the thin role he’s given. He’s got a bit more going on than other comic movie villains, but he still feels like he’s there because there of course needs to be a supervillain. While the climax had some nice twists and was welcomely not over the top, it really overstayed its welcome. Oh, yeah. You of course gotta have the obligatory connections to the DC comic universe. While some of them work and make the world feel more connected, the others, especially one in particular, are pathetic in how they try to connect these films. The film already looked somewhat cheap in terms of effects and costumes, but this just made seem even worse. Honestly, with the overall tone of this, it would have been perfectly fine as a stand-alone film,

Shazam! is a movie that I can simply describe as the most delightful comic book film I’ve ever seen. I don’t think a smile left my face the entire time watching this and it was all thanks to the committed performances and fun script. You’re not going to find anything in here like The Dark Knight or Logan, which tries to push the genre forward, but that’s not what Shazam! was trying to be. From what we got, it seemed to aim for being a tasty pallet cleanser from the bland and bitter taste of the DCEU. Unfortunately, though, I don’t see the recipe changing too much. Who knows where it will go next? I know Warner Bros. sure doesn’t.


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