Review: 'Shazam!' is a surprisingly heartwarming and satisfying superhero film

Marcus Goh
Contributor
PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures

In Shazam!, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) sniggers when asked to say “Shazam” so that he can transform into the eponymous superhero — and why wouldn’t he? It’s such a goofy thing to say, but the film rolls with it and even embraces the entire Shazam mythos. It’s a fun, over-the-top concept for sure. But it’s no less sillier than a human-looking god-like alien from another planet or a billionaire who dresses up as a bat and uses various bat-themed gadgets to fight crime. Instead of trying to turn everything gritty, Shazam! embraces what’s best about the character and story to deliver a heartwarming and satisfying superhero film.

PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures

The movie revolves around a runaway orphan who is on a quest to look for his mother. He ends up getting chosen to bear the mantle of Shazam, which enables him to transform into a virtually invincible superhero. However, he must conquer his inner demons and get into fisticuffs with literal demons if he is to show that he really deserves to wield the power of Shazam.

PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures

As can be expected, the first act of the film centres firmly on the relationship between Billy and his foster brother, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). The two boys have fantastic chemistry with each other, and it’s a joy to see their interactions with each other and their burgeoning friendship. The supporting characters of Billy’s foster family help to round out his other familial relationships, creating a touching story about family which anchors the whole film.

PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures

As a result of this, the film manages to firmly ground the characterisation of Billy Batson as a relatable, sympathetic character, before giving him his powers. Asher Angel does an excellent job of portraying the human identity of Shazam, adding nuances to the character without overtly telling us what he’s thinking. He doesn’t over-emote, which is what Zachary Levi sometimes does as the adult Shazam. He does eventually pull off the whole “boy in a grown man’s body” characterisation later, but Levi’s bewildered frown wears off its welcome after three or four times. He’s not terrible as Shazam, but he’s not great either.

PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures

What Shazam! does best is to fully embrace the campiness of the entire concept. It doesn’t try to hide the gigantic, shining lightning bolt logo on Shazam’s chest, instead opting to make it as garishly obvious as possible. Even the characters are obsessed with touching the lightning bolt and trying to figure out how it works. It’s all the moments like this that show you that the producers thoroughly enjoy the character of Shazam, and have loads of fun executing this premise. The film benefits from not taking itself too seriously, and going about it with a tongue-in-cheek manner instead.

PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures

It also delivers multiple surprising twists at the end. This pays off several subtle set-ups and injects some freshness into what would be a standard conclusion to a superhero movie. These pleasant surprises are a treat to comic book fans, and indeed any Shazam fan as well.

PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures

Ultimately, though, it brings the story full circle by tying it back to Billy Batson and his motivations. His character arc is a bittersweet but necessary one in order for Shazam! to deliver is core message — that family can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. It’s this realisation that makes Shazam the hero that he is, a character that we would all want to be, or at least be a friend of.

PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures

Shazam! is one of the unexpected superhero hits of the year, being a movie that finally leverages on the strengths of the DC Comics franchise without trying to copy any other franchise’s model. By being true to itself and the characters within it, the DC Extended Universe now has another winner on its hands. Let’s hope that future DCEU films take a leaf out of Shazam‘s book and forge their own identity when it comes to their characters.

PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this more than once? If you like the character of Shazam.

Score: 4.5/5.0

Secret ending? Two of them.

Running time: 132 minutes

Shazam! is a superhero film that is the seventh in the DC Extended Universe.

PHOTO: Warner Bros Pictures

The film centres around a young boy who is bestowed with the magical power to transform into an adult superhero, replete with all the standard superhero powers like super strength, super speed, and flight. But an evil supervillain is eyeing his powers, and he must rise to the occasion to save the world and prove that he is truly worthy of the power that he has been given.

Shazam! is directed by David F. Sandberg and written by Henry Gayden, with additional story credits for Darren Lemke. It stars Zachary Levi (Shazam), Asher Angel (Billy Batson), Mark Strong (Dr Sivana), Jack Dylan Grazer (Freddy Freeman), Djimon Hounsou (the Wizard Shazam), Grace Fulton (Mary Bromfield), Ian Chen (Eugene Choi), Jovan Armand (Pedro Pena), Faithe Herman (Darla Dudley), Cooper Andrews (Victor Vasquez), Marta Milans (Rosa Vasquez), John Glover (Dr Sivana’s father), with Adam Brody (adult Freddy Freeman), Borth (adult Mary Bromfield), Ross Butler (adult Eugene Choi), D.J. Cortona (adult Pedro Pena), and Meagan Good (adult Darla Dudley).

Shazam! opens in cinemas:
– 4 April, 2019 (Singapore)
– 4 April, 2019 (Malaysia)
– 3 April, 2019 (Philippines)

Marcus Goh is a scriptwriter, having written for popular shows like “Lion Mums”,  “Crimewatch”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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