I’ve made it clear in the past that I am not a fan of the DCEU. Out of all of the films, the only one I’ve liked was Wonder Woman, although there were some good parts in Man of Steel and Aquaman, even though I’m not the biggest fan of the films. Now though, we’ve got a second decent film in the DCEU with Shazam.
The films concerns Billy Batson, a child going through the foster system in Philadelphia after losing his mum at a young age. After running away again, Batson is placed in a group home where he becomes friends with Freddy Freeman, a superhero fanatic. After defending Freddy from bullies, Billy is brought to the wizard Shazam, who chooses Billy to receive his powers in order to stop Dr Thaddeus Sivana, someone who was previously considered to receive Shazam’s powers but was tempted to evil and over the years found the realm of Shazam and released physical embodiments of the Seven Deadly Sins to gain power. In order to stop Sivana, Billy needs to learn to control his powers, which transform him into an adult when he uses them, and use them properly, enlisting Freddy to help him. Now the tone of Shazam is considerably lighter than most of the other DCEU films. Aside from a few moments that are a bit too dark and don’t mesh with the rest of the film that well, this is close to being a straight up comedy, with the influence of films like Big being clear throughout the film (with there even being a direct homage to Big in the film). Considering that director David Sandberg has previously only directed horror films (with there being references to Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation in Shazam), he nails the family friendly tone better than I expected, with this being the lightest film in the DCEU. There are also strong themes at play about what exactly makes someone a hero and the nature of family, with this coming through with Billy’s relationship with his foster family, although I wish there were more scenes of Billy with other members of his foster family outside Freddy, with most of them having no real personality. I also feel that the film falls into the traditional superhero movie trap of not having an effective villain as written, with Sivana being fairly generic as written after he joins the Seven Deadly Sins (who themselves are just big monsters, with nothing really done with them being the Seven Deadly Sins).
The cast meanwhile adds to the charm of the film. Asher Angel and Zachary Levi as Billy are great. Angel brings a good deal of charm to the part, showing Billy to be a good natured kid, although one with clear issues relating to people and establishing trust with anyone. Levi meanwhile is a lot of fun, capturing the mannerisms of Angel well to make you feel like they are playing the same character and having fun showing what it would be like with a kid in an adult body. Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy is also a lot of fun, his clear joy for superheros being apparent, as is his wish for Billy to do good, along with some resentment over not having powers. There are some issues in play with how the disabled side of the character is portrayed, and I highly recommend you read Kristen Lopez’ piece on the film, which is a great examination of the film through a disabled lens. Mark Strong as Sivana meanwhile is an effectively intimidating villain, as you come to expect from Mark Strong, but doesn’t really have much of a character to play with after his first few scenes. Djimon Hounsou as Shazam has this effective authoritarian air that gives the character a great deal of power through his presence alone, even though he isn’t in the film that often. There is also solid work done by Grace Fulton, Faithe Herman, Marta Milans and Caroline Palmer as Billy’s foster family.
On a technical level, the film is a mixed bag. Whilst most of the CG in the film is pretty well done, the Seven Deadly Sins themselves looked a little bit too fake for me and there were some dodgy moments of green screen when Billy is flying. The costume design for Billy is pretty decent, showing the strength of the character well and being a well executed version of the costume from the comics. There is some decent production design, mainly for the realm of Shazam, which has this air of ancient power to it, although the scale of what we see could have been expanded on a bit. The film also makes great use of the geography of Philadelphia, with Toronto being used to double for Philadelphia effectively and making good use of well known landmarks in Philadelphia, mainly the Rocky steps (with Eye of the Tiger playing at one point in a nice little in joke).
Overall, Shazam is a decent superhero film. Sure it could have explored the themes a bit more and there could have been more scenes with Billy’s foster family, but this is a solid, lighthearted, family friendly superhero film that is the best example so far of the tone the DCEU should be striving towards. Whilst I still think Wonder Woman is a much better film and is the ideal version of the vision of the DCEU, Shazam is still a decent step in the right direction.
My Rating: 3.5/5