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Shazam! (2019) Review

Time: 132 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Asher Angel and Zachary Levi as William “Billy” Batson/Shazam
Mark Strong as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana
Jack Dylan Grazer as Frederick “Freddy” Freeman
Djimon Hounsou as Shazam
Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley
Grace Fulton as Mary Bromfield
Ian Chen as Eugene Choi
Jovan Armand as Pedro Peña
Marta Milans as Rosa Vasquez
Cooper Andrews as Victor Vasquez
Director: David F. Sandberg

We all have a superhero inside of us — it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In 14-year-old Billy Batson’s (Asher Angel) case, all he needs to do is shout out one word to transform into the adult superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi). Still a kid at heart, Shazam revels in the new version of himself by doing what any other teen would do — have fun while testing out his newfound powers. But he’ll need to master them quickly before the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) can get his hands on Shazam’s magical abilities.

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Shazam was one of my most anticipated films of 2019. While I wasn’t familiar with the comic book character, I’ve liked most of the DCEU thus far, and seeing this very different character introduced to it, as well as its different tone, had me interested to see it. Plus, I liked the cast involved and the trailers were pretty good. I expected a fun comic book movie, and Shazam surpassed my expectations, a surprisingly emotional yet entertaining and heartfelt superhero movie.

There’s a couple of standout things to note right out of the gate. The movie is very much standalone from the rest of the universe, while there are definitely references to other superheroes like Batman and Superman (mostly from Jack Dylan Grazer’s character) and it definitely exists in the DCEU, it doesn’t rely on it too much. Parts of the movie leave room to explore teased characters and aspects for sequels without outright sequel baiting. In fact, I’d say that you don’t need to have seen any of the other DCEU movies to get the full experience with Shazam. Another thing is that despite all the magic involved, it’s a pretty grounded movie. At its core, it’s a coming of age story with a kid having superpowers. Even with the climax with Shazam flying around fighting the villains of the film, none of it feels world ending, the stakes feel a lot more personal. It might also genuinely be one of the best written comic book movies. As you could probably tell from the trailer and the rest of the marketing, it’s a bit of a comedy. However, it’s not a spoof like you’d expect it to be, all the elements are very well balanced in fact. Now while some might be quick to think that this might be just a MCU movie, a non R rated comic book movie with comedy doesn’t inherently mean it’s going to be that. This is not to slam the MCU, but there’s something about the comedy here that was just really great, with all of the comedic beats just really working for me. Make no mistake, it is lighter than the other DCEU movies but at the same time still firmly in this universe. It’s a bit darker and scarier than you think it would be, in a way that served the story. It’s also a surprisingly emotional movie, as often as you probably hear this about movies, at its core the movie is about family and is a lot deeper than you’d expect. Although Shazam seems like a familiar comic book movie, there some surprises that you don’t necessarily expect (especially towards the third act), so definitely go into it not knowing too much about it. And I’m obligated to let you know that there are some credits scenes, the first being a setup for parts of the Shazam sequel (albeit a really weird and obscure one), the other being more comedic.

The cast all played their parts very well. Asher Angel plays Billy Batson, a troubled orphan who would gain the power of Shazam, and he plays his role very well. Zachary Levi is perfect as Shazam, I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. He’s definitely a little kid in the body of a full grown man, and is probably even more childish than Batson as the kid, and the difference between the two seemed to be a deliberate choice. The development and character arc of Billy Batson/Shazam was great and was one of the highlights of the movie. Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman stole every scene he was in as one of the foster children that Billy knows and first reveals his Shazam identity to. He plays off of Angel and Levi incredibly well and even has his own character arc. Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand and Faithe Herman as the other foster kids, and the foster parents played by Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans were also good. Djimon Hounsou as the wizard Shazam does well in the few scenes that he’s in. Mark Strong plays the villain of Dr Sivanna and he works pretty well. They set him up and give him clear cut and believable enough motivations but he’s nothing special, there’s not much development he goes through after he’s established. I guess they didn’t want the villain to overshadow Shazam, and a character as major as his primary comic nemesis Black Adam would certainly overshadow him. With that said, he was a threatening antagonist to Shazam and was also pretty ruthless (I mean he really has no problem with killing kids). He also sort of served as a dark parallel to Billy Batson with regard to the backstory and similarities between the two. Strong, who is used to playing plenty of villains by now, make this role even better with his performance and looks like he’s having a ton of fun here.

David F. Sandberg is known for his horror movies with Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation. However like Wan with Aquaman, he made the transition to comic book movies very well. This is a stunning looking movie, and it was made with the budget typically half of most comic book movies, and they achieved a lot with what they had. As I said, it has a grounded feel to it, and the way it was shot certainly helped with it. At the same time when it came to the action sequences, they were filmed really well and were entertaining. Like with Aquaman, Shazam surprisingly has some horror aspects to it. The actual costume of Shazam works well, it could’ve been overly goofy and on the set pictures it really didn’t look good, but they really made that costume work on screen. Most of the visual effects were good, it’s about at the level of most modern blockbusters (with budgets twice the size as Shazam’s), so make of that what you will. The worst of the effects were for the CGI villains (whom I’ll keep vague if you don’t know who they are already), they are honestly look pretty bad at times and a little too goofy (and not in a good way), they look straight out of an average comic book movie from the 2000s and it’s a little distracting.

Shazam is a pleasantly surprising movie, the cast played their roles greatly, its written very well and is a well rounded, heartfelt comic book movie. Even if you’re not a fan of the DCEU thus far, I highly recommend the movie, I think you’ll have a good time with it. I’m looking forward to seeing Shazam appear again, as well as inevitably Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam, who we will hopefully be seeing very soon.