Less than a month ago we had Marvel’s “Captain Marvel” and now we have DC’s “Shazam,” a character who was originally named Captain Marvel but, for obvious reasons, no longer is.
“Shazam!” is the seventh installment of the DC Extended Universe and the first live-action depiction of the character since the 1941 movie serials. The plot follows a 14-year-old orphan (Asher Angel) who is given magic powers from an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) and becomes an adult superhero (portrayed by Zachary Levi). Mark Strong, Grace Fulton and Jack Dylan Grazer also star while David F. Sandberg directs.
The DCEU has had a rocky road. While “Wonder Woman” was a critical and commercial success, films like “Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman” and “Justice League” were box office disappointments that received mixed reviews, and although “Suicide Squad” made its money it was so bad that it is already being rebooted by James Gunn (“Aquaman” is not a good movie but China loved it so blah, whatever). “Shazam!” follows “Aquaman” on the apology tour by Warner Bros. and DC, choosing to have colorful and light heroes instead of gloomy and realistic. It is certainly a better film than “Aquaman” and “Suicide Squad,” and more fun than “Man of Steel,” however the film itself never quite matches the charismatic heights of Levi’s lead performance.
Zachary Levi is best known for his work in the mid-2000s TV series “Chuck” and had a blink-and-you-miss-it role in the second and third “Thor” films, but this is his first time carrying the torch in a major Hollywood picture (unless you want to count “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel,” of course). After his turn here, I’m sure we will be seeing a lot more of him, as he gives a joyous and animated performance as the adult Shazam. Levi gives a perfect depiction of how any teen would react if they were just given superpowers: he uses his newly aged appearance to buy beer, puts himself on YouTube showing off his powers and feels like he’s now too good for school; much like Tom Hardy in “Venom” the turn is a lot of fun and better than the film he’s in deserves.
Also great here is Jack Dylan Grazer, who stole the show in 2017’s “It” and again has some great comedic delivery here. Grazer and Levi share a contagious chemistry and are by far the best aspect of the film. Some of the jokes are clever and meta but there are others that are telegraphed from a mile away, either from an unpolished script or standard camera set-up by Sandberg and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre.
The other issue here is that the film tries to be smaller in scale, and with that came a smaller budget (around $80-100 million, incredibly small for a studio superhero joint). Many of the special effects, especially the flying sequences, are near-laughably poor, and obligatory underdeveloped bad guy Mark Strong’s CGI demon henchmen are spotty at best. The film’s climax is also very drawn out and numbing, following the trend of (quite literally) every other DCEU film before it.
“Shazam!” is fun at points and is a nice effort by DC to try and right their ship, but I found myself wishing I was enjoying myself more often than I actually was. But much like “Venom” (which was a bigger mess than this, don’t get me wrong), the central performance is nearly enough to make the film watchable by itself and leaves me wanting a sequel if they can get a better director on board. I’m sure I will end up being in the minority here and I’m a boring stick in the mud but this is my review and as far as “Shazam!” goes, lighting was not quite captured in a bottle.
Critic’s Rating: 5/10