Review: Shazam!

Score: B

Director: David F. Sandberg

Cast: Zachary Levi, Angel Asher, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mark Strong

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

Shazam! has so much going for it that what doesn't work sticks out like a sore thumb. The DC Extended Universe is still finding its footing. Much like my beloved Dallas Mavericks, they're starting to put it together, but they're still not quite there.

So let's start with what works. The film's big focus on surrogate families is its biggest asset. Even more so than the X-Men series, this feels startlingly authentic. Billy Batson (Angel Asher) has bounced from foster home to foster home, even good ones. But as his new foster dad Victor (Cooper Andrews) says, they just have to provide a safe place; it's up to him to call it home. After saving his foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, who steals the movie) from some particularly vicious bullies, he's summoned by the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) and bestowed with his power to protect the world from the forces of darkness.

If the film had kept it this generic, it would have been a lot fleeter of foot. Unfortunately, it is patently committed to the comics' convoluted mythology. See, the Seven Deadly Sins we all know – greed, lust, wrath, etc. – are actual demons, and they've given their power to Doctor Sivana (Mark Strong), who wanted Shazam's power but was deemed unworthy. It's yet another lousy villain for the DCEU, through no fault of the talented actor who's been cast. Any time Sivana's onscreen in the first half, it's a momentum killer.

Luckily, Zachary Levi is absolutely aces as the new, powerful Billy. Much like Big, he uses his adult appearance to buy beer, gorge on junk food and try to impress women. He's having so much fun that he forgets what Uncle Ben told Peter Parker: "With great power comes great responsibility." (Sorry, wrong universe.) Still, the film winks to the Spider-Man films in another way: with Freddy commenting that a superhero's loved ones are just waiting to be taken by the bad guy. Sure enough, that's what happens, setting up an emotionally tense climax. But what separates this from the rest of the DCEU is the stakes. The world won't necessarily end during this battle, but the people Billy loves and who love him could be hurt or killed. That's the kind of grounding more comic book movies could use.

Shazam! is a blast from start to finish, at least when it's not bogged down in backstory. With more emotion and less history, this could be the best part of the DC world. Until then, I'll be adding this to my Christmas movie rotation.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.