By Staff Writer Seth Tamarkin
Like Superman being exposed to kryptonite, the momentum behind DC’s cinematic universe has slowly been dying with each new film’s tepid release.
To correct the ship that Zack Snyder nearly sunk with his overly edgy superhero films, DC gave the underrated hero Shazam time to shine in a new film marketed as more lighthearted and fun.
While the film is plenty fun, it also wastes a chance to show just how varied the DC universe is.
The film centers on a young orphan named Billy Batson, who is put in a foster home with a cast of orphans straight out of a Family Disney sitcom.
After an ancient wizard bestows the last of his powers to Billy, he quickly finds that uttering the words “shazam” turns the middle-schooler into a grown man with all the powers of Superman, and then some.
Think the Tom Hanks movie Big but with superheroes.
The various scenes centering on Billy learning his powers are fantastic, possibly the best representation of that tired superhero trope.
With his nerdy foster brother Freddy as his guide, Billy genuinely seems to have fun trying out his new powers, an idea that most hero films don’t do as well.
Scenes like Shazam learning he’s invincible work because the hero is a child, so his excitement for essentially becoming Superman are felt throughout anyone who’s childhood included superhero aspirations.
The acting is fantastic too. Zachary Levi is perfectly casted as Shazam, where he never fails to convince the audience that he is a child in a man’s body.
The various orphans in the movie are great too, which is rare in child actors, although Freddy’s wisecracks are infinitely more annoying than endearing.
While the acting is mostly great and the first half of the film is funny, the film fails to capture the magic of Marvel movies like Guardians of the Galaxy because Shazam is just too plain normal.
Back in the day, Shazam’s comics were only rival to Superman’s, so to stand out Shazam’s writers consistently had Shazam in a world populated by some of the weirdest heroes and villains.
The movie had a great chance to do that same thing, but instead, the movie plays it way too safe.
Shazam’s comic books feature well-dressed tigers walking amongst humans, caterpillars capable of mind control, a villain literally named Captain Nazi, and Dr. Sivanna, Shazam’s arch nemesis who moved to Venus after Earth scientists rejected his crazy ideas.
In the film, there are only brief glimpses into the weird world Shazam inhabits. Dr. Sivanna hits all the marks of a standard movie villain but never soars higher to anything but a Lex Luthor clone.
There is one scene where Shazam finds himself trapped in a room full of doors, behind each door a unique scene such as crocodiles playing poker, but within seconds he decides to just leave the room, robbing the film of a great, unique set piece.
The film clearly wants to save the comic’s quirky stable of characters for later movies, a problem all too familiar since Marvel and DC executives think every superhero story needs to lead up to some big event.
What we are left with is a movie that is fun and introduces the character of Shazam well, but ultimately doesn’t have enough original ideas to put it on the same pedestal as Marvel’s odder films, like Ant-Man & the Wasp or Guardians.
While still better than the past couple of DC movies, it was ultimately still just another superhero movie, when it was so close to being something more. 2.5/4.