Landon Roberts, Contributing Writer
The 1940s introduced us to the Golden Age of Comic Books, offering simple but cheesy stories of good vs. evil. “Shazam!” takes all the charm straight from the pages and plasters them unapologetically onto the screen.
The DC Extended Universe started off rough due to the pretentious delivery of films like “Man Of Steel” and “Batman V. Superman.” Within the last two years, however, this cinematic universe has hit its stride with the critical, commercial successes of “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman.”
The main reason for the success of these films was due to a tonal shift away from seriousness and toward pure blissful entertainment. And nothing epitomizes this idea of embracing fun more than “Shazam!”
The film follows the orphaned 14-year-old Billy Batson — played by Asher Angel — in his new foster family where he builds a friendship with his new brother Freddy Freeman. However, Billy’s life is turned upside down when the Wizard Shazam imbues Billy with mystical powers. This is after the mad scientist Dr. Thaddeus Sivana is possessed and controlled by an ancient evil called the Seven Deadly Sins.
While the conflict itself is integral to the overall plot, the interactions between Billy and Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy are so hilarious and realistic that their friendship steals the entire show. This chemistry truly shines in the scenes where Billy first receives his powers.
Zachary Levi is stellar in his performance as the super-powered version of Billy. He keeps a childlike innocence and immature sense of humor throughout the film.
The pair’s immaturity leads to so many scenes of guttural laughter as they test the limits of Billy’s superpowers through hijinks only kids could imagine. A scene I will not soon forget is when Billy tries to stop a robbery and finds out he has “bullet immunity.” Levi’s portrayal of Billy’s awkward bumbling through this situation while trying to retain this faux superhero confidence offers a moment of pure comedic bliss.
“Shazam!” reaches its true heights in its relatability. The kids speak realistically, with perverse humor and false confidence. The children’s fanatic conversations about heroes in this film get to the root of the superhero phenomenon. The execution of this obsession gives great insight into what a hero truly is to today’s children. This recognition is so heartwarming and authentic that it gives me hope for DC’s future.
Mark Strong plays Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, and his dialogue and presentation are so ridiculous that the character encapsulates the pure camp of the golden age comic book villain. The cheesy charm of this character in a modern setting makes so many scenes laugh-out-loud hilarious due to dumb one-liners met with accurate reactions to their outlandishness. Strong commits fully to this campy characterization, making him a real scene stealer.
While almost every aspect and character is perfectly executed, some emotionally driven scenes skate on the edge of melodrama. This mostly comes near the end of the film when Billy and Freddy’s friendship is tested. Levi handles these scenes well, but when Angel has to carry them they come off forced and flat. His stiff acting paired with his whiny dialogue are hard to watch and derail the fun aesthetic of the film.
While this is a small criticism, “Shazam!” is DC not only at its best, but at its most sincere. The comic book nature of the film paired with the childhood innocence gets to the root of the superhero phenomenon while remaining joyful.