Anyone who knows me quite well will be aware that I have been extremely critical of the DCEU films. Justice League was offensively awful and from that point I lost all interest in the franchise they were trying to build, I didn’t bother watching Aquaman and still have no intention to. So, why did I make an exception for Shazam!, you may be wondering? It was on the basis that I read from those involved in the film that this is being treated more as a standalone film with little references to the wider universe, that, paired with the fact I found the trailers to be quite amusing, meant I jumped at the chance to go to a preview screening of the film last night.
I’m pleased to say, that this was a breath of fresh air, and I absolutely adored it. For me personally, this is the best DC film since The Dark Knight, and for the first time in years, I actually left with a bit of optimism about the future direction of this universe.
Shazam! follows young Billy Batson, (Asher Angel) a reserved young man in and out of foster care. He eventually meets an ancient wizard who chooses him as his “Champion”, granting him an array of superpowers when he shouts “Shazam!”, another perk of these powers? They turn him into an adult. (Zachary Levi)
The concept sounds pretty ridiculous, and that’s because it is. But the film is very self-aware of this and it isn’t afraid to have fun with it, it’s often self-deprecating, it mocks other superheroes and conventions of other superhero movies, but it all works, because it’s all being delivered through the perspective of a child in a man’s body. The film reminded me of a more extreme version of 1988’s Big; a unique dynamic which provided a charm and a fun-factor that I’ve yet to see in any DCEU film (or MCU film for that matter!) thus far.
And that’s the main phrase which sets this film from the rest, “fun-factor”. We’ve seen the DCEU try to be dark and depressing, we’ve then seen it try to steer more towards the fun and ridiculous, but it never really worked because it was apparent that those in charge just couldn’t make their minds up about the tone of their films. But, Shazam! has absolutely nailed it and I haven’t had this much fun watching a superhero film in a long time, it felt like the shackles were off and the filmmakers were told to just get out there and enjoy themselves, and it shows. Although it is technically a part of the DCEU, it never once feels like it’s trying to connect itself to the wider universe and I was so glad about that, sure, there are brief references to the other DC properties, but they’re almost always done in jest and are delivered in the name of fun. Shazam! focuses on itself and it’s characters, it has a beginning, a middle and an end, it’s not trying to compare to or be like any other DC film, and it’s not trying to get involved with that wider universe, and that is why it succeeds.
The performances in this film are all spot-on as well, Zachary Levi is perfectly cast as a child in a superhero’s body and the entirety of the young cast are brilliant, especially Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman, who fulfils the role of excited sidekick/manager to perfection, some of the best parts of the film are when Freddy is putting Billy through a series of tests to discover the true extent of his potential. Mark Strong also gives a great performance as villain Thaddeus Siléva, although his character could be seen as quite one-dimensional and cliched, he adds just enough depth and layers to it that he is perceived as a viable threat and doesn’t feel like “just another bad guy”.
So, what were the flaws? The pacing was a little bit off in the third act and it did drag slightly, and some of the CGI wasn’t that impressive, although it wasn’t anywhere near the abomination that was Justice League.
But apart from that, I don’t have any major complaints! I think it’s near impossible to not enjoy this film because it’s so full of heart and charm. I laughed a lot, I smiled a lot, I loved the characters, I just had a blast! I almost couldn’t believe I was watching a DCEU film, to be honest. If this is a sign of the direction that these films are going to take going forward, then I am on board, because for the first time in years I’ve actually left the cinema feeling optimistic. DC have finally shown us what they can deliver, sure, it’s nothing groundbreaking in terms of the genre, but it’s encapsulated exactly what a superhero film should be: Harmless fun. It’s amazing what they can achieve when they’re not trying to replicate the success of the MCU, but just going out there trying to make a good, entertaining movie. I will undoubtedly watch it again, and I can’t wait to do so.
I give Shazam! an 8.5/10.
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