Think back to when you were 15 years old. Imagine your life at the time and your state of mind. Your friends, behavior and mental capacity. Soak it all in. Now imagine having the ability to transform into a full-grown adult at that age. And not just any boring adult, but one with superpowers, in a world where you know superheroes exist. What would you do? Immediately learn to be responsible and start saving the world? Or use your new-found abilities to just skip class and have some fun? Shazam! is based on this rather terrific premise. In the current comic book film landscape which is dominated by responsible adults saving the universe; it’s refreshing to see a small scale, more intimate picture where the kids these heroes were conceived for taking the center stage. The movie is a fast-paced, often hilarious, mostly light and entertaining romp.
The cast delivers in spades, especially the kids. Asher Angel is very good as Billy Batson. He brings the right amount of restraint and depth to the character to make him a compelling protagonist. You can see the hurt in his eyes even as he tries to rebel. Zachary Levi as his adult counterpart Shazam is brilliant. He completely sells the notion of the teen character we know being morphed into this adult. This couldn’t have been an easy task but he totally pulls it off. Both of their performances work seamlessly together to convince you that you’re seeing the same person. Jack Dylan Grazer and Faithe Herman are the standouts among the rest of the kids with stellar dialog delivery and many a memorable moment.
Mark Strong plays the villain just fine. While his performance is satisfactory, the character is among the weakest parts of the film. We get a boring backstory but motivations and plans are never quite fleshed out. This makes the central conflict of the film between good and evil seem a bit forced and generic. Shazam is among the lowest budget comic book films of the last couple of years and unfortunately it shows. The cinematography and production design are quite bland when compared to previous DC adaptations (love or hate them, they’ve mostly at least looked stunning on a big screen). The action sequences are unimaginative and lack any freshness too.
However, the film soars when it’s not focusing on its superhero tropes but rather on its human story. Shazam works as an engaging family dramedy with spades of heart and charm. There are plenty of clever gags and multiple laugh out loud moments. The dramatic elements hit all the right emotional notes as well. Even though not much on this side of the story is very original, the strong writing and performances warrant being invested in the characters lives. Many scenes are quite unique and the film isn’t afraid to have some fun at the expense of others in the genre. There were a few plot developments that were pleasantly surprising as well. The dialog is consistently strong and there’s definitely a few memorable moments.
Shazam is unlike any of the DCEU films that have come before it. It’s smaller scale, restrained and actually offers the kids that look up to heroes a chance to shine. I had my issues with it, but was also consistently entertained, invested and had a few really good laughs. I found this to be a really enjoyable film!