Since the first few behind-the-scenes shots of Shazam! leaked online, people have been cynical about the latest DC film. Then, the studio's confident release strategy flipped things on their head. Having public screenings and a review embargo lifted two weeks before release date is a ballsy move, and it definitely helped pique the interest of some of the more skeptical people, myself included.
But here’s the thing, at the end of the day, one factor overwhelms all other details one might know about Shazam!before seeing it: it’s a superhero origin story movie. Whether you’re hyped or not, we all know what that movie looks like by now: same story, different super suit. So, that means you kinda already know what the review is going to be.
It’s fine! We’re not shattering any expectations here, but it’s a fun time at the movies! If you’re all in on superheroes, you’ll have a lovely time. If you just want an easy breezy time at the movies, or you need something to bring the kids to that you’ll enjoy too, that’s what you’ll get. If you want something that rewrites the superhero formula, well, keep looking.
Shazam! is the definition of by-the-numbers filmmaking. We get an intro to our villain and his motivations first, as well as the mythology of these characters. This background is a lot more mystical and magical than any other DC property that has been put to screen so far–and they definitely get some bonus points for embracing the absurdity completely, rather than taking things way too seriously and demanding the audience do the same. Well, at least the heroes are treated this way. Our Big Bads are the Seven Deadly Sins, and rather than use any of the exciting design or narrative potential that provides, they’re just seven completely indistinguishable, super-serious ghoul monsters.
Cool, I guess.
From here, the film just gets into nothing but business for a good chunk of its runtime. Here’s all the teenagers! Here’s some goofs! Here’s some references to remind you that this is the same universe as Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman! (Though, why on God’s green earth you would want to remind people of that over and over again is totally beyond me...) Here’s some family drama and more plot! Back to jokes! It’s decidedly not seamless in how it shifts between these things; the tones just switch when the last one has outstayed its welcome. There’s some material that feels a little unnecessary or repetitive, but it’s all fine. Nothing is too egregious that you want to tear your hair out.
And a lot of what cancels out any frustration you might feel is the utterly charming performance Zachary Levi is giving as Billy Batson’s superhero form. He’s got the boyish attitude down so pat that it honestly feels like he’s more into the character than the actual teenager who’s also playing him. It’s the kind of performance that carries the weight of the rest of an okay movie and makes it feel much breezier than it actually is. It does make some of the less committed performances stick out pretty badly though. On paper, Mark Strong is a great pick for a villain, as he’s done a great job with similar roles before, but something just doesn’t quite click with his role here. As such, his villain moments don’t really do much in the way of creating tension. Even with a relatively weak villain, though, getting through the long buildup does pay off in an action-filled ending. There’s a fun little twist, lots of hero moments, some really good laughs, and more magic stuff.
At the end of the day, Shazam! is the kind of movie that’s made to be as likeable as possible. You want a big fun blockbuster? You want more superhero movies? Great! This one’s definitely for you! But even if you’re getting pretty fed up with these kind of movies, you’re gonna find something you like in here that’ll make it a pleasant moviegoing experience.