Written by Rick Warren / gfn21
Shazam is far from a perfect movie, but it is a perfect depiction of the character that bears the same name. The heart, humor and innocence that made Billy Batson a unique character is present throughout the entirety of the film, and they fit well with the main theme of family. Zachary Levi and Asher Angel do a great job of bringing Shazam to life, and while the film’s comedy is unsurprisingly its biggest strength, the serious moments are right behind that. Billy’s personal journey is full of touching moments and brings about a heartbreaking scene during the film’s climax, and those who expected only jokes will be pleasantly surprised. That said, anyone who expected even a few impressive action moments will be left disappointed. Further, like just about every origin story the villain is bad, with Doctor Sivana falling completely flat as an antagonist and serving as a means to an end rather than being a strong character in his own right. These two flaws combine and become a real issue in the film’s final act, as the few good moments it offers don’t go nearly as far as they should. At the end of the day, though, Shazam’s strengths manage to outweigh its flaws. It isn’t as strong as some of the recent superhero films to release in theaters, but Shazam’s sense of fun is refreshing. It holds absolutely nothing back and gets just as campy as a Shazam book would. The result isn’t a must-see movie for casual moviegoers, but it’s something that will likely leave DC fans satisfied.
For a deeper, spoiler-filled review, read on!
--- SPOILER WARNING ---
Sivana and the Seven Deadly Sins
It’s always nice to focus on the positive rather than the negative, so let’s get the bad out of the way; Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivana.
While it may indeed be common for origin stories to have bad villains, whose powers are cheap knockoffs of the hero’s, Dr. Sivana takes it a step further by having absolutely no motivation for being the way he is. We see his father and brother being rude to him in a car ride early in the film (just before he meets the Wizard Shazam), and it’s here where we’re supposed to understand him as a character. It... doesn’t work. Like, at all. While his dad and brother do say some mean things (and blame him for an accident that took his father’s legs), we see nothing done to Sivana that would justify his eventual killing of his family later in the film. Further, he has no reason to go after Shazam other than the oh-so-thrilling classic: power. He’s a villain for the sake of being a villain, and while it’s clear that his situation is supposed to mirror Billy’s family life, it really doesn’t. Doctor Sivana puts the “bad” in bad guy, and for all the wrong reasons. There’s nearly nothing for actor Mark Strong to do with such weak writing, and he doesn’t do a great job with the little he has anyway. In turn, Sivana continues the tradition of DCEU films featuring some awfully weak versions of the villains in the books.
The one thing about Sivana that should be cool is that he’s basically just a vessel for the Seven Deadly Sins, a group of demonic creatures that each represent, you guessed it, one of the seven sins. There is a lot of potential here for Shazam to go through a gauntlet and fight each of them, and even more potential for one-on-one fights when the other Shazams appear at the end of the film. Instead of having Billy take them all on or one member of the Shazam family take on each, however, they’re terribly underused. Outside of one memorable moment between Shazam and Envy, the sins are wiped out instantly when Sivana is taken down as opposed to each being given a chance to shine. This quick defeat isn’t just anticlimactic, but it helps to illustrate a bigger issue: the film’s action.
While it’s possible for a superhero film to be good even with some by-the-books action, the action needs to at least show the character’s power and make good use of their skillsets. Captain Marvel, which released last month, is a strong example of this. While the fights here are far from the best that have been shown in a superhero movie, they did a great job of showing how strong Captain Marvel was and letting viewers see her skillset in action. Sadly, Shazam doesn’t do that. One of the funniest sequences in the film is Billy learning about the many powers he has, but we really don’t get to see them used when he fights Sivana or the Sins. His first encounter with Sivana focuses on him running away, and the big finale is filled with some boring grappling and punches as opposed to Shazam using his speed or electricity in an exciting way. The other Shazams that show up don’t fare much better, as their fight sequences are packed with slow motion. While the effect is cool once if done correctly, it’s used constantly in the finale to the point where it feels like an attempt to cover for how little action there really is. Whether it was a stylistic choice, or a decision made due to the film’s budget, it’s something that happens way too much and quickly becomes distracting.
The final battle and few other moments in the film are dragged down by weak fight scenes, the underused Seven Deadly Sins and the incredibly weak villain that is Dr. Sivana. Thankfully, though, Shazam delivers in the other big areas that it needed to.
Shazam and his Family
While Shazam’s villain is, for lack of a better term, complete shit, the titular hero of the movie is terrific.
Billy Batson is played incredibly well by both Zachary Levi and Asher Angel, and whether he’s an adult or in his normal teenage form, Billy is relatable because of how well he’s portrayed by the two actors. Both actors sell the humorous side of the character, as well as the moments of the film that are surprisingly emotional. Many of the jokes come from Billy’s relationship with his adoptive family members, each of which is lovable and memorable in their own way. The obvious standout is the superhero-obsessed Freddy, as his chemistry with Billy is on point. With the over-the-top way in which he embraces Billy’s new powers, Freddy is incredibly funny as both a kid and, eventually, an adult. All five of Billy’s brothers and sisters end up as heroes during the film’s final battle, and while some of the castings are good and others fall flat, it was still cool to see all the different Shazams side by side and acting just as they did when they were kids. The film perfectly captures how any young person would act if they got superpowers, and it results in a movie that is laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end. Whether it is Billy using his new abilities to put on talent shows or his adult body to enter strip clubs, there are so many great gags that Shazam is undeniably the funniest DC movie.
But what ultimately makes Billy Batson a good character and Shazam a movie that works isn’t just the comedy, but also the film’s heart.
While Freddy and Billy’s back and forth arguments do lead to a sad moment where Freddy explains to Billy why he wishes he had powers of his own, it’s Batson’s search for his mother that truly stands out. Billy’s attempts to find her are sweet and touching, and when he eventually does, the disappointment that comes from their meeting is genuinely heartbroken. DCEU films, for as controversial as they are, each have one moment that everyone agrees is incredible. Whether it’s Superman’s return in Justice League, Batman’s warehouse fight scene or Wonder Woman crossing the trenches of World War 1, each of the movies has a “wow” moment. To me, it’s incredible that this movie’s most memorable moment was an emotional scene where Billy briefly reunites with his mother. While it may say something about the issues with action, it says something much more important about how well this film handles Billy’s story.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Shazam follows the path of Aquaman in the sense that it’s as comic book-like as a movie can get. The writers and director didn’t hold back in any way, with the Wizard who gives Shazam his powers being as cheesy as he possibly could. Many of the jokes are based on nerd culture and some of the references, particularly the post credits scene, will only be understood and appreciated by the most hardcore of fans. The film’s ending is a bit of fan service that can be either exciting or disappointing depending on how you look at. All of this makes Shazam an interesting movie, as it focuses closely on one specific audience and doesn’t hold back. If you’re a fan of superheroes and nerd culture, or someone who can appreciate a movie that only cares about being fun, you are part of that audience and should see this movie. If not, there’s plenty more out there for you to watch.
Shazam is a decent movie, but it’s not a great one. Calling the villain lackluster would be an understatement, and the film’s action is poor. The third act is full of missed opportunities with the Shazam Family and Seven Deadly Sins both being present but barely getting time to shine, and the final clash feels anticlimactic because of it. Still, even with these flaws, I’m positive on Shazam overall. The movie’s jokes, packed with video game and superhero references, hit big with me and both actors for Billy Batson nailed the role. Billy’s search for his mother and relationship with his family brought so many sweet and touching moments to the film, and I never expected it to have so much heart. Shazam, as flawed as it is, succeeds at bringing yet another great superhero into the view of the general public.
Levi and Angel’s performances as Billy; Billy’s chemistry with Freddy +2
Plenty of great jokes... +1.5
...and some really touching moments +1.5
Disappointing action, a weak villain and an anticlimactic finale -2
FINAL SCORE: 3/5