For many, myself included, Shazam! seemed like a bastion of hope for the DCEU. After the disaster of the Justice League film, the new wave of entries into the franchise helmed by fresh directors seemed to signal a changing guard. One of the films that seemed like it would accomplish this was David Sandberg’s Shazam!; the comedic elements in addition with the relatively niche hero to lead the film seemed like it could end up being the next Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool, and this was definitely something that I felt/hoped for in the run-up to its release. And while for many this seems to be the case, from what I’ve seen this was the most well regarded film (aside from maybe Birds of Prey once you factor out all the misogynist fanboys) but I seem to be in the minority that found that Shazam! is yet another weak entry into a continually disappointing franchise.
Shazam! certainly makes a bold distinction from the other entries in the franchise by injecting some much needed levity into the franchise when compared to the generally stoic and serious predecessors. But one of my main issues is how cringey and infantile the humour ends up being. Now I know what you’re going to say: “It’s a film about young teenagers, the humour is meant to represent that”, but even with that in mind, and I can assure you that I’m far from too mature for some immature jokes to be lost on me, but compared to other films aimed at similar audiences the jokes in this one fell completely flat. You’ve got Zachary Levi doing the floss which I can’t imagine anyone finding hilarious, there’s an awful joke that is along the lines of “I’m not a hacker but I have played Watch Dogs and Uplink so I’ve picked up a few things” which both times I’ve watched this film have made me wince with how cringe-inducing that line is. There’s a Big reference that isn’t even pulled off well, a joke about Mark Strong being too far away to be heard during his traditional “bad guy” monologue which is the funniest of the bunch but is still pretty lacklustre and only good for a brief chuckle. It also doesn’t help that the performances from the child actors leave a lot to be desired, making a lot of the deliveries of the jokes noticeably lacking.
Out of the child actors I must admit that Asher Angel does a good job as Billy Batson, conveying the broken and cold character that slowly warms up and begins to care for his adopted family, while Angel is far from the best child actor I’ve seen I must admit he’s one of the stronger elements of the film. On the other hand, I thought that Jack Grazer was incredibly grating throughout the entire film, I didn’t think he delivered his lines very well which, in turn, meant that despite being the comic relief he wasn’t funny in the slightest, and even in his more ‘heroic’ moments I rarely felt he was doing the script any justice. His performance in this felt pretty much lifted from his role in It except instead of a hypochondriac he’s got a physical disability. Zachary Levi does a little better as Shazam himself, he does embody the idea that he’s actually a child in a fully-grown body, but for me it’s the script that lets him down.
I do think that the premise and set-up of the film is really interesting, and the ideas of family for both Billy and Mark Strong’s Thaddeus, the film toys around with the concept of families both by blood and through choice in a really interesting way that I haven’t seen a lot of films consider. Similarly, Thaddeus’s motivation after initially being rejected by the Wizard that ultimately gives Billy his powers is an interesting twist on the traditional comic book villain origin story. But I will say the Seven Deadly Sins concept has been done to death in media, and a big failing of this film is its presentation of the sins. For a film with a budget of upwards of $100 Million dollars, I was shocked at the boring and bland design of the sins, they look like something out of a mid-2000’s PS2 game. They’re just 7 slightly different looking brown, sludgy creatures, with a tenuous, at best, connection to the sin they represent, it feels super lazy and in a film that is meant to be so fun and colourful compared to previous entries in the franchise there’s no reason for them to look as bad as they do.
While a lot of people seem to really love this film, for me Shazam!’s only strengths are its character arcs, special effects (7 Sins not included), and decent cinematography, outside of that its bogged down by terrible dialogue, subpar acting, and poor pacing. By the end of the film I found it was really dragging, especially the final fight which aside from the way in which the sins are eventually defeated, which is something I found really interesting and would love to see developed deeper in the sequel, it all felt very safe and by-the-books. There’s no denying that there’s a lot of interesting ideas that feel fresh and new in the CBM genre, like Billy and Freddy making the youtube videos of the superpower trials, the film ultimately finds itself treading familiar ground under the guise of trying something new. I really wanted to like this film when I first saw it, and was severely disappointed when I didn’t, and again going into this rewatch I was really hoping that maybe I was wrong the first time and had unfairly judged it, but alas while I enjoyed it more this time it was only marginally and I still found the film average at best. It’s definitely top-tier DCEU, which shows how low the bar is, but I really hope that the sequel develops some of the more interesting ideas and concepts that were introduced but not fully explored in this one.