Say His Name – Shazam Review
Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Djimon Hounsou
Written by: Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke
In a world filled with superhero movies that have high and lofty goals like subverting the genre, making big, bold statements about the world these characters inhabit, deconstructing their various myths and legends, or merely setting up sequels and bogging themselves down with backstory and lore, it is refreshing to see a superhero movie that is just that, a superhero movie.
Shazam wears its comic book goofiness and silly charm on its sleeve, and it wears it proud. The entire film is carried on the shoulders of Zachary Levi, and he holds it effortlessly. The entire film would fall apart if he couldn’t keep it together and he is absolutely perfect as the powered up version of Billy Batson. He has charm pouring out of every seam of his bright red super suit, and pulls off the little kid in a big body gimmick with aplomb, harkening back to Tom Hanks in “Big”. Credit should also be given to Asher Angel, the younger version of Billy Batson, as he plays Billy with the right balance of lovable kid and affable troublemaker that makes you believe the wizard would pick Billy to be his champion. If he was too much of a dick, you wouldn’t buy him as the “chosen one”, but if he plays it too goodie goodie boy scout, you wouldn’t care that much about his trials and tribulations.
That isn’t to say that the rest of the cast are slouches either, far from it in fact. Billy’s foster family are all fun and endearing characters to watch, the stand out easily being Freddy Freeman, played by “It” alumni Jack Dylan Grazer, who plays the precocious scamp so well you can’t help but love the kid. Also turning in a strong performance is the always fantastic Mark Strong as the big bad Doctor Sivana. Strong’s Sivana is equal parts malicious and sad, as the film takes time from the beginning establishing who he is and why he is the way he is, an aspect that more superhero movies need to improve on. When Sivana and Batson finally meet it has the proper amount of gravitas and meaning it should.
The movie also spends a good amount of time cracking jokes and getting us to love Billy, Freddy, and the rest of his extended family, as he discovers his powers and what he is capable of. This way, when the third act rolls around and superheroes start doing what they do best, it makes you feel invested in the action on screen. But almost more importantly than all the magic and wizards being bandied about is the personal drama of Billy, Freddy, and Sivana. We get to see these characters at their best and their worst and it makes everything that happens in between have meaning and emotional weight behind it.
The humor of the film is definitely its biggest strength and almost every joke lands where it should. The film is no slouch in the action department either though, as all the fights feel appropriately “super” and a big twist on the formula in the finale really sets it apart from the typical CGI slugfests that usually show up at the tail end of big superhero showdowns that I wouldn’t dare spoil here.
What little nitpicks I have with Shazam, like a middle portion that feels a tad bloated that drags on just a smidge too long, or a few jokes here and there that kind of fall flat, don’t take nearly enough away from the overall enjoyable experience.
Shazam is a refreshing breath of fresh air in the superhero landscape as it feels like it came from a different era, but with modern sensibilities. It isn’t afraid to be what it is, a superhero movie, and it takes the best parts of the genre all the way back from Richard Donner’s “Superman” to the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and melds it together in a fantastic and enjoyable package. There is an earnest sweetness and joy to it that separates it from the rest of the pack, even if it isn’t reinventing the wheel along the way. Shazam is easily one of the most fun superhero movies ever made, and it is definitely some of the most fun you’ll have in a theater this year.