Shazam! looks set to be the most senseless superhero movie that I’ve ever seen, and it is still on track to become one. Billy Batson’s origin superhero-slash-comedy story took out seriousness and throw it into a sea of ridicule, never to surface again. And who said that they are shy about it?
Never did the studio intend to bend your perception that it is a serious superhero film. Just take a peep at the trailer. Billy Batson laughing at the wizard who tries to give him enormous power. Shazam himself tries to fly but ends up landing himself on his butt. What else can go wrong? No one has the answer that I had been seeking before the release of the movie: does Shazam! still hold any significant entertainment value after the reveal of its funny scenes in the trailer?
On the surface, what’s there not to like about Shazam!? Super-charming smile of Zachary Levi, his cape-suit that generates laughter just by looking at it, Mark Strong in his super-villain mode, lots and lots of nonsensical-cum-hilarious scenes of a clueless superhero and his cheeky friend. And it proves to be true even after I have watched it. There’s literally nothing in Shazam! that is worth hating.
The crazy, bubbly and innocent story follows the life of young Billy Batson, who is struggling to search for clues which might give him the chance to reunite with his long-lost mother. Along the way, he frequently lands himself in trouble, and end up living the life he hates in an adoption home, with a couple of newfound, weird friends. Of course, life changes when he finally meets up with a mysterious wizard who forces Billy to hold his staff and say his name. If you re-read that sentence, which I suspect you already do, there is a chance that your mind will bend you towards an unsightly scene.
Congratulations! If you have imagined anything unpleasant just now, you now have a sampling taste of what makes Shazam! a crackpot. Please don’t read the last sentence again, I promise you that it will go into a vicious cycle of discovering more and more gross things. To put it briefly, yes on the surface, Shazam! looks like a naive superhero film that emphasized on newbie-superhero kind of humor, in which, it still does.
The good news is, the adult, perfect form of Billy Batson (played by Zachary Levi) and his paraplegic schoolmate, Freddie Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) still ooze out tonnes and tonnes of boy silliness and childish antics that bite themselves back in many humorous ways. And the writers have no problems putting them in odd situations where the adult Billy (hereafter referred to as only Shazam) perpetually failed to conceal his true age towards the confused world. And only his best mate Freddie, and the cinema audience know the truth. You won’t believe how much giggles the scenes can create based on this simple leverage alone.
Now, back to the ‘staff’ thing. As naive as the plot might come across to you, there are a few contrasting flavors towards that naivety that establish that distinct character of Shazam!. Ever heard of the saying that, if it ain’t dark, it’s not from DC? Well, it still rings true here. Don’t be surprised to find scenes where people get thrown out of a high rise building, or someone gets ejected out of a flipping car in a road accident. Also in Shazam!, people literally get vaporized into ashes right before your eyes. If you’re used to seeing the ‘Thanos’ snap’, then, well, the scene of someone disintegrating in Shazam! seems like it’s captured in 4k, whereas the Marvel version looks like it’s shot in HD at best.
Okay, now we will go into the details of the ‘staff’ thing, for real. Similar to those darker scenes of Shazam!, if you pay enough attention to the dialogues, you might find occasions where the humor may be directed at gross materials, with the ‘staff‘ being a great example. Finding such occasions within Shazam! is like scoring a critical attack in your favorite MOBA games; it’s comes unexpectedly, and it multiplies your laughter volume by 1.5x to 2.0x.
And then, we have the somehow unconventional superhero plot. Straight away, I have to commend the studio behind Shazam!, for orchestrating a perfect conceal of certain elements from the final trailer. These elements vary from unforeseen villainous figures, to a massive, pleasant twist in the end. Though I have to make a disclaimer here, that if you’re an avid DC comics fan, you might have seen it coming. But yet, for those who are less informed, like myself, I found those surprises to be hugely satisfying.
Towards the end of its screen time that stretches past the two-hour mark, Shazam! managed to hit several notes perfectly, by large when engineering the comedic routines Things get silly, mindless, dark, and adorable at a certain point, even. However, if there’s something that Shazam! didn’t manage to pull it off gracefully, emotional scenes have to be in the list. It’s simply undeniable that during those scenes, Shazam! lost it’s magic. It feels like when the story inevitably arrives at a point when it’s high in emotion and low on humor, the film decided to just plummet through that point like an annoying hurdle and be done with it.
To top off the list, if you divide the audience who have watched Shazam! into two groups: one group which is wholeheartedly satisfied with the final act, and the second group who feels there’s something lacking in it, I definitely fall into the latter. I couldn’t help but to feel that the final resolve is very generic, and resembles a device built from stuffs taken out from the universal parts bin. To the untrained eyes, the final battle between Shazam and the villain can be easily mistaken as a re-edit from a Superman film.
Apart from Shazam’s final battle, an equally important event takes place simultaneously in a debatable location, that it’s quite impossible to shake off that Goosebump vibe after seeing those scenes. The final moments of Shazam! seems to run dry of creativity which it was so blessed with in the beginning.
That being said, it’s not all gloom and doom with Shazam!, and together with the surprising bright color palette as a DC film, the film still have a slew of hidden magic to brighten up the day. For one, Grazer’s act as Billy’s close buddy, Freddie, is just pure class. Nobody else can make a paraplegic, superhero nerd, foster child look so cool like Grazer did. His performance indeliberately outshined Asher Angel’s act as young Billy Batson, and it’s even more pronounced each time when Angel passed the baton to Zachary Levi when Batson transforms into Shazam. Levi’s overdose of chemistry with Grazer made the adult Batson believably more buddy-like with Freddie than the young Batson did, ironically.
Addict Verdict, AV:
If you do check into the cinema, hold a box of popcorn in your hands while letting the Shazam! power flow through you, you will be pleasantly jolted with the cracking humor and obscene amount of silliness not found in many superhero films. Still, the final conflict’s abrupt decision to cut the magic and trying to look like someone else did utterly dilute that distinctive character of the film. Yes, it is a wickedly hilarious and unique experience through the first half of the film, but the lack of a truly punchy final act sends Shazam! flying high within the unfortunate list of forgettable movies. Even then, Shazam! is definitely a film which I will very much hate to forget. — The Film Addict
*This review was originally published on The Film Addict