Review: ‘Shazam!’ is refreshing, ridiculous and remarkably fun

by James Cronin | 4/16/19 2:00am

It’s midterms week, I’m currently in season for my sport and I don’t have enough pairs of shorts for the good weather that’s finally arrived. Needless to say, I am stressed. To remedy this, I decided to do what any good student does and procrastinate by going to see a movie to take my mind off my work for a few hours. Fortunately for me, the Nugget was screening “Shazam!,” which proved to be the perfect two-hour distraction I was looking for.

“Shazam!” tells the tale of a 14-year-old boy named Billy Batson, played by Asher Angel, who is imbued by a wizard with the power to turn into an adult superhero named Shazam, played by Zachary Levi. With the help of his foster brother Freeman, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, Billy must defeat the evil Doctor Sivana, played by career baddy Mark Strong. The film’s plot revolves around Billy’s search for his mother, adjustment to life in a new foster home, grappling with his newfound power and realization of what it means to be both a superhero and part of a family.  

If the concept of a high school freshman being given super powers that turn him into a chiseled superhero sounds ridiculous to you, then congratulations, you’re right. Shazam is an inherently ridiculous and campy character, but that’s not a bad thing at all. If the movie had played it straight the whole time and tried to make the story gritty and serious like other DC Comics movies, then it most definitely would have been a bad thing. However, because they chose to go with a light-hearted, self-aware and comedic approach to the character that highlights the zaniness of the whole thing, film director David F. Sandberg was able to turn this aspect of the character into one of the movie’s biggest strengths. Think “Big,” but with superpowers — that’s basically what “Shazam” is, and it’s just as good as it sounds. Depending on the person, that may sound either very good or very bad. This movie is for people who are heading to the theater to laugh a little and be entertained. If you’re a bit more highbrow and not as easily entertained by things as I am, then this may not be the movie for you.

But what really makes this movie entertaining isn’t the comedy or the wholesome message it delivers — it’s the passion of everyone involved in the film that energizes the character relationships and makes the familiar message compelling. This is most evident in the performances. Levi kills it as Shazam and totally sells you on the fact that he’s really just a teenager who’s absolutely ecstatic that he now can “leap tall buildings in a single jump” and buy beer. All of the child actors in the movie do a decent enough job when they’re on their own, but it’s when they’re together that they really start to shine. Billy has a great rapport with his foster brother Freddy, and the whole foster family has a really believable and heartwarming dynamic. Strong does what he can as the bad guy, but, through no fault of his own, he’s pretty weak. Whereas in other superhero movies, a bad villain can ruin the whole thing, in “Shazam!” that’s not the case because the focus isn’t on the ye olde fight between good and evil, it’s on the characters — how they grow and how they become closer to one another. It sounds just as clean as it is. This movie is good, wholesome family-friendly fun — even more so than most superhero movies.

After years of putting out bland, test tube-made, mediocre movies dripping with a corporate glaze, it looks like the folks at Warner Bros. Entertainment have started to realize that they have more success with their films when they trust their directors and intervene as little as possible in the creative process. “Suicide Squad,” “Justice League” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” are all testaments to the studio’s tendency to choke the life out of what should be complete slam-dunks. They do this by refusing to do anything too interesting with their movies for fear of alienating some portion of the ultra-wide demographic they’re aiming for. Recently, Warner Bros. has relaxed the reigns on its artists and the results have been positive. “Aquaman” was a dumb but still a incredibly fun and visually stunning film. By trusting James Wan, — a director who had primarily made horror films prior to “Aquaman” — to do what he wanted with the film, DC was finally able to make a creative and entertaining movie. 

“Shazam!” is equally dumb but also incredibly fun, heartwarming and undeniably entertaining. Both movies have done great with audiences and have killed it at the box office, which fortunately means we’ll probably get a lot more films like it. The new direction of DC movies seems to ditch the forced grittiness of previous films and instead embrace the campy, oftentimes ridiculous nature of some of its superheroes. Personally, it’s a welcome change, and I hope DC continues this trend going forward. I had a great time with “Shazam!” and I can easily recommend it to anyone else looking to blow off some steam this week.