After a rocky start to their cinematic universe, DC are slowly starting to find their feet. After initially aiming to counter-programme Marvel by creating more bleak and dark superhero movies, 2017’s Wonder Woman was released to near-universal acclaim and proved that they could do charming and upbeat after all. Although Justice League was a disappointingly mixed bag (particularly due to reshoots, change of directors and that moustache situation) the tone of WW was still there, as was the case in their last outing Aquaman, one of the most outrageous superhero films in recent memory. DC’s newest adventure Shazam continues the franchise’s light-hearted approach, doubling up on humour and fun, but overall I couldn’t help feeling a little underwhelmed.
Certainly one of the funniest superhero films in years, Shazam has a lot going for it, particularly Zachary Levi’s insanely likeable performance in the lead role, but it feels awfully flat at times and a boring villain and an overlong running time does dampen things.
The story follows a 14 year old foster child Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who thanks to the magic of a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) transforms into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) and can change between child and adult in one simple word… Shazam.
The film takes a while to get going, as the early stages struggle for laughs or any sense of direction, feeling oddly rushed. However, once lightning strikes on Billy and Levi enters the picture, the film goes up a gear. Levi (from the TV show Chuck) perfectly portrays a teenage boy living the superhero lifestyle. Easily the best part of the film, the way he discovers his powers and learns to use them was hilarious and a joy to watch unfold. Jack Dylan Grazer (IT) is fantastic too, bouncing off both Levi and Angel (also great) with ease and fans of the genre will certainly laugh and relate to his superior knowledge of superheroes.
The problem is Mark Strong’s villain. I really like Strong as an actor, but Dr. Thaddeus Sivana is pretty mediocre and boring. He also relies heavily on his CGI demons to do his dirty work, all of which are fairly unmemorable. The motives for his actions, notably a pre-title sequence with him as a child, makes sense and are straight forward enough but the whole villain arc is totally forgettable.
Whilst Shazam is DC at its most exuberant, the film still suffers from a number of the usual problems we associate with the franchise. Firstly, it is way too long. A film like this should be no more than 110 minutes, but the film clocks in at around 130 and you can certainly feel it. Although the third act is fun and different, it overstays its welcome and they overdo it on the slow motion too. The visual effects are also inconsistent and ropey.
Director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation) understands the ridiculously goofy tone that is required for a hero like Shazam, and the film is packed with nice references to fellow DC heroes. This is certainly a crowd-pleaser, one for all the family to enjoy, but personally I just wish it had more action and a more focused story to go alongside the laughs. Still, I look forward to seeing more from this character.
Verdict: Shazam is a hilarious and likeable new superhero, so it’s a shame his origin story didn’t have a better villain or story. Nothing the inevitable sequel can’t fix.
Best Moment: Shazam gets shot in a supermarket