The latest film to come out of DCEU, Shazam! kicks off on a puzzling note. A child who is bullied by his family for not ‘manning up’ enough witnesses a horrid incident in a mysterious dreamland followed by an actual accident. Now, here’s a young boy who is every bit worth rooting for. But before you could make a head or tail of what’s going on, Shazam! introduces a winsome and (perhaps) a more acceptable specimen in the superhero realm. His name is Billy and he is in search of his estranged mother. The film directed by David F. Sandberg, therefore, is essentially an origin story wherein two children realize their powers in ways that they least expect to.
Shazam!, for starters, could broadly be deemed as Deadpool for families. Beginning from the tone which is incessantly goofy and frivolous, the film’s primary agenda is to crack the smartest of jokes that would appeal to people of all ages – the success of which gives it a finite edge over other superhero films that attempt humour in vain. The core theme is centered on the most acceptable construct in modern civilization – the family. Shazam! hammers goody-goody lessons of sticking by one’s clan with the aggression of a newly appointed moral science teacher. Even the foster family setup that the film presents, makes quite a statement on equality and inclusiveness as you see children of different races, abilities, physicalities, and character traits calling each other brothers and sisters.
As an origin story, Shazam! earns brownie points for the quantum of freshness that it brings along. While the character conflicts may appear familiar, it is all-new setup, alright. The devices are different and so are the people and their quirks. The film does get soggy in the middle where Billy (finally) meets his long-lost biological mother. But before the film could drown into a pool of middling melodrama, the key villain arrives and our superhero takes charge (quite literally, that is). One thing I wasn’t convinced at all was with the villain’s backstory. In absence of enough footing of what might have transpired between the early car crash and him turning into a supervillain, we are simply told about what the man is from the surface. Of course, he is menacing but his cause deserved a better articulation.
The screenplay is one area where Shazam! scores good with its narrative sprinkled with humorous lines in the right amounts. Neither is it an out-and-out comic fare nor is it a true blue superhero saga in which saving the world is the paramount priority. The last act is one that offers oodles of fun but should also have been way, way shorter. The original score is kickass all through and the VFX department breaks a leg with some stellar work in place. The DOP-editor chemistry could have been a lot more synchronized in several key sequences – the hero-villain chases, in particular – for better impact. It is in the film’s inability to exude a certain sense of conciseness that it somewhat fails to generate the impact it should ideally have.
That said, the performances in Shazam! are universally impressive – Jack Dylan Grazer, Zachary Levi, and Asher Angel. I am not highlighting the title character as much here since Shazam! feels more like a combined effort where the child actors take the centre stage and Levi’s superhero act is highly operational in nature.
Besides that, in Shazam!, you would also observe David F. Sandberg throwing cheeky references here and there. The premise lightly resembles 1988’s Big and the film’s memorable walking piano moment stands replicated for a matter of a few seconds. There is also a fleeting Annabelle throwback besides the usual suspects Batman and Superman being omnipresent in one way or the other. The post-credit scene was unappealing and unnecessary but I will excuse the makers as they churn out a pretty simple and charming film that’ll have families in absolute cackles all through. Shazam! is funny, relatable, child-friendly, and is a refreshing addition to the list of original superheroes because nowhere else would you find a man of such power strut around malls announcing, “Your phone’s charged, your phone’s charged!”
Rating: ★★★ 1/2
Shazam! is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.