Wednesday, July 28, 2021

‘Shazam! follows superhero formula

The most common complaint when it comes to the DC Cinematic Universe is the dark and serious tone that is felt through the characters and story.

The production company behind DC’s movies, Warner Brothers, has made attempts to liven things up by replacing directors like in “Justice League” and bringing on multiple editors in “Suicide Squad” to manufacture a more lively tone. 

While “Aquaman” was physically brighter than previous DC superhero movies, it was still the same length as “2001: A Space Odyssey” with countless vistas and five movies worth of plot.

Enter “Shazam!” 

“Shazam!” is directed by David Sandberg and stars Asher Angel as fostered teenager, Billy Batson. One day, while he is escaping from a pair of bullies, he happens upon a magical cave that is home to The Wizard Shazam, played by Djimon Hounsou.  

His powers are fading, and the only way the powers can carry on is if Batson can say his name and transform into the adult superhero, Shazam, who is later played by Zachary Levi. It is essentially if Tom Hanks in “Big” was a superhero.

This adjustment is not one that can be adapted overnight. The scenes in which Batson learns to harness his powers, or abuse them in some cases, are the most entertaining and humorous sequences in the film. 

Levi is able to capture the giddy qualities a kid would have if he was able to fly and shoot lightning out of his hands. The superhero costume design is also vibrant with reds and yellows and over accentuated muscles, which really feel like a comic book character has leapt off of the pages. 

Batson does not have to go it alone. His sidekick is his foster brother, Freddy Freeman, played by Jack Dylan Grazer. Freeman is not defined by his physical disability of a crutch but by his love of superheroes and awkward personality. 

His private collection of Batarangs and newspaper clippings about Superman show us that obsession and allow him to become a knowledgeable guide for Batson. 

The situations where his powers are tested are very entertaining, with the standout scene taking place at a convenience store. 

The kids skip school to go to abandoned buildings to test super strength, super speed, flying and heat vision, all set to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

 It is all fun and games until the film’s supervillain shows up. 

Dr. Sivana, played by Mark Strong, is an evil-hearted man who wants nothing more than to take away the powers of Shazam. 

Very little of the final confrontation has been shown in the promotional material, so I will avoid the details of what happens, but it should be discussed. 

The final act of “Shazam!” resorts to our two supers flying through the city, punching each other with the fight becoming more complex as time passes. 

After about a 100 minutes of establishing this fun and unique superhero, this finale feels too uninspired. 

Almost every superhero movie we have seen in the past 10 years has been given the same finale. In “Thor: Ragnarok,” Thor had to fight the giant fire monster, Surtur, to save his kingdom. Aquaman had to fight his brother for the throne in his origin film from December. In DC’s reboot of Superman, “Man of Steel,” he had to fly through Metropolis while fighting General Zod.

All of these movies have different tones and locations and yet every story ends the same way—with a fist fight. In what is essentially a coming-of-age story, I was hoping that the climax would be driven by the character and not by the special effects.

While “Shazam!” does spend a lot of time with the entertaining and light-hearted adventures of a teenager in a superheroes body, the movie itself is still confined to the superhero formula.

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