It’s time to look at DC’s latest venture into the cinema. They’ve definitely had a rocky road critically although things have started to look up for them lately. Meanwhile, they’ve mostly ranged from excellent to great for me with the exception of a few films. This one’s pretty good. It’s better than Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman, but certainly not as good as the titles with Batman and Superman. Shazam will definitely be a good addition to the next Justice League film though with the powers that he brings to the table.
The film starts off by introducing us to Dr. Sivana and why he ends up turning to the path of darkness. Then we see Billy who ended up getting lost from his mother at an early age. He’s bounced from home to home since then and has finally made it to a foster home which is effectively his last chance. The kids there try to make him feel welcome, but until he sees his mother again he can’t find any closure. Making things more complicated is the fact that he was chosen by a wizard to be the legendary Shazam. He has exceptional powers now, but doesn’t know what to do with them. Can he figure this out before Silvana takes him down?
Lets start with the positives here. DC’s always had a real knack for fight scenes and the battles between Silvana and Shazam show this. I still like how they portray super speed. Shazam mostly focuses on his flight and strength to win the day but the film is sure to let you know that he’s got speed when necessary. They throw each other through buildings and you can feel the power behind the hits. There’s enough of a difference in scale so you know he’s not quite Superman level but otherwise you could make a case for him being the strongest Justice League member. Seeing the characters fly around and trade blows is always pretty hype.
The film also has some fun taking shots at classic film cliches. There’s a moment where Silvana is trying to make a big speech and Shazam can’t hear him because they’re pretty far away. Usually the hero can conveniently hear the villain in moments like this so that was pretty nice. In general the writing is pretty decent. It’s not amazing or anything, but it gets the job done. More impressive than the script is the fact that the supporting character cast is pretty solid. We’ve got the foster parents who are really tolerant of Billy’s rebellious acts without being pushovers. They do give him a talk after he continues to be defiant, but they never go over the edge. They were foster kids at one point themselves so they do understand the situation quite well. They’re clearly very nice people and they do a great job of getting him situated right away. He honestly couldn’t ask for better foster parents, but of course that is what ends up making him a bit annoying at times.
The other kids are also pretty nice for the most part. Darla is a very sincere character who is always looking at the bright side of things. She’s taken a bad situation and done her best to spin it into a good one. Freddy may not be the most sociable guy out there, but he does try hard to do his part in welcoming Billy. His style of humor may take a bit of getting used to, but he’s a good character and one who certainly does know a lot about heroes. He has to put up with the most from all of the kids since he has trouble walking and is constantly bullied so the fact that he hasn’t become jaded yet is impressive. The other kids don’t get a whole lot to do but are pretty good for the most part. The quiet kid is probably the only one who doesn’t really get any big moments and as a result never gets to grow on you.
Silvana is also a strong villain. The fact that he spent his life trying to learn how to find the Wizard and never losing sight of his goal is quite impressive. That level of determination/obsession is usually relegated to main character status. Villains who are able to keep this level of focus usually end up being a success. He definitely came close to fulfilling his goals and was a good pick for Shazam’s first big villain. In comparison the 7 Deadly Sins aren’t quite as impressive as they’re mainly just here to provide us with more action. Certainly not a bad thing and that may be comic accurate as I don’t remember them too well from there but I’d have liked them to have gotten a bit more character and screen time.
The film’s also got a pretty nice set of animations for the credits. That’s not an aspect that I usually even bother mentioning, but I appreciated the effort here. The more overconfident Shazam portrayal there was definitely humorous and I liked the design. Then we’ve also got the two post credit scenes. The first one is the serious sequel stinger while the second is a comedy moment. Both are pretty solid and succeed at their objectives. The regular ending to the film is also pretty great. So the film definitely did have a lot going for it.
Shazam also does give us a pretty decent blend of humor and serious moments. The scene of Sivana cornering the board and showing off his monsters for the first time is definitely pretty intense. I’ll also give some credit to one of the women who actually tried running while everyone was just standing around waiting to get murdered. Pretty much any moment with the villains is handled pretty seriously while any scene with Shazam is comedic. Typically the film keeps the parallel well which is always difficult. It could have probably laid off the jokes a bit at times, but they’re not bad for the most part so they don’t really take away from the experience.
Now the negatives or more precisely, what the film was weak at. It didn’t make any huge mistakes that would cost it a lot of points, but are factors that keep it from a higher score. First off is Billy. He can be pretty annoying, mainly because you just can’t trust him. He lets Freddy down after the kid was counting on him and as a result he gets bullied even more. Even if Billy wasn’t happy to have been put on the spot like that, just leaving him to get beaten was a really bad moment. Honestly, that was his worst scene if you ask me. Prior to that even if he had a bad attitude at least he would reluctantly stick up for Freddy and the others. You can portray Billy as a very optimistic “Golly” character from the old days or the very edgy rebellious version from the modern day, but this film does neither. It just makes him a character with a sour attitude who is basically a coward. He spends the vast majority of the film running away from every obstacle and challenge in his way. By the time he finally mans up the film is over. After Shazam runs away and abandons everyone for like the 5th time you’ll have had enough of the character. He just doesn’t feel like a hero. It’s part of his character development of course, but I can’t remember a time I’ve seen a hero be this afraid of combat and constantly running. Typically when you obtain super powers you either embrace it and jump right into action (Dr. Strange, Captain America) or you don’t engage the fight but quickly do what you need to in order to survive but I can’t think of a time a main hero just abandoned everyone to die. I have no doubt that Shazam will be better in the sequel, but in this film I have to say that he was a bad character. You can’t just let bullies mess with your family and look the other way. That’s not gonna fly.
The climax is also surprisingly a little unexciting despite the fact that by all accounts it should have been excellent. I can’t really say much about the climax at all so as to avoid all possible spoilers, but it’s not as good as the early fight scene from early on in the film. Maybe it’s because the villains can’t really fight or because the hero can be so slow on the uptake. We get quite a few scenes of “I can do this?” moments where it gets old pretty quick. The visuals are still pretty good of course, but I think focusing more on Shazam vs Sivana would have helped more. This isn’t really a negative as the climax is still good, but I couldn’t help but feel it was missing something. I might also blame this on Shazam still being dominated even in the final climax.
Shazam also goes for a bit of an emotional aspect during the movie. Mainly this is dealing with Billy’s past and present as he tries to move on. It doesn’t work too well though so some of these drama moments just end up failing. Particularly the plot with the mother as it goes exactly the way you would expect and by this point you’re probably super fed up with Billy. It just feels like he didn’t really think any of this through. When it comes to personal relationships like this it’s naturally easier said than done, but it would have been better if he could have been searching for her without just ditching everyone constantly. It slows down the pacing of the film so it’s not quite as 24/7 engaging as the other films. For example, I’d say that Aquaman was more consistent with bringing in exciting scenes over and over.
Overall, Shazam is definitely a pretty good film. It’s not a great film and that may seem bad in an age where the superhero films have been hitting it out of the park so well, but not every film can be a grand slam. It’s not even a film that was just barely positive, it’s one that is all around a solid title. I’d say there’s reasonable replay value here. Most of the jokes are quick references or moments that don’t require a lot of build up so they will hold up on a re-watch. There’s no animal violence to be found here or any moment that will really make you shake your head. It’s just a good film that will keep your attention throughout. If you haven’t checked this film out yet then I’d recommend doing so. It’s not really connected to the rest so you don’t have to watch a prior DC film to get into this one. You can just dive in and enjoy it.