Movie Review: Shazam!

Thanks to guest contributor Antonio Padilla!

Foreword: Shazam! is a celebration of all things superhero! Whether it’s the comic books or the movies based on them, this movie knows it’s audience. And, aside from all that, this movie is a triumph of storytelling and filmaking.

I will try my best to avoid spoilers for the film as I believe the film should be seen without knowing too much.

Now, a quick and honest review I gave to this movie on all my social media accounts was that I literally burst into tears of joy during the movie. This is not an exaggeration. Shazam! exceeds in appealing to the child in all of us. Who didn’t grow up wanting to have superpowers? I did. And I know most, if not all, of my friends did as well. Director David F. Sandberg knows this. Odds are, he grew up fantasizing about the same thing.

The most brilliant thing about the movie might be that it centers around a young boy who is granted the powers of the gods. And, his best friend and confidante is, in a lot of ways, an avatar for the audience. Not the audience who doesn’t understand what’s happening in the world on screen, but the audience who knows exactly what’s happening and wishes it were happening to them. The character of Freddy Freeman (played expertly by Jack Dylan Grazer) is every bit the superhero fanboy as every audience member who has seen every superhero movie from the past 11+ years. The combination of Freddy Freeman and Asher Angel’s Billy Batson (the child imbued with the powers of Shazam!) are the perfect gateway for the audience. They are the embodiement of every one of us who wished we could become a superhero or just live in the same world that they do.

Asher Angel, at such a young age, perfectly portrays the young headstrong Billy Batson. There are moments when he seems overly confindent, bordering on arrogant. Yet, he also manages to make Billy vulnerable and relatable. This is a performance that, in the wrong hands, could have made the character very unlikable. But, Angel manages to walk that line so perfectly that the character never becomes irritating or annoying. I’ve not been this impressed since Taron Egerton’s similar performance in the first Kingsman film. I cannot wait to see what Asher Angel does next.

What can I say about Jack Dylan Grazer’s performance that hasn’t already been said? This kid is going places. He manages to be the goofy “sidekick” and deliver one of the most powerful moments in the film. I can’t discuss that moment without getting into spoiler territory. But, you’ll know it when you see it. It is a moment that, as previously mentioned, really makes Freddy relatable to the audience. And a moment that also makes another spoiler moment later in the film all the more powerful.

Zachary Levi. If you didn’t know who he was before this movie, you will now! This film and his performance are going to make him a superstar!

Just as Christopher Reeve was born to play Superman, Levi was born to play Captain Mar- er… Shazam! He perfectly captures the idea of a child in a grown man’s physique! And, best of all, it never comes across as forced. You get the feeling that the character and the actor are one and the same. Everything he does and says is totally genuine.

As for Mark Strong as the villainous Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, what can I say? The man crushes it in every role! When you see the name Mark Strong attached to any project you know what you’re going to get. You are going to get an awards worthy performance from an actor who never gives anything less than 110%. He is always a joy to watch on screen whether he is playing friend or foe, and this is no exception. Dr. Sivana is another character that, in the wrong hands, could have been very flat and one note. But, Mr. Strong once again manages to find an approch and angle to come at the character that makes him menacing and, oddly, somewhat relatable. It would have been easy to just make the character the standard angry and vengeful villain that we’ve seen time and time again. But, Strong brings a certain relatability to the character that makes us understand why he does what he does even if it’s wrong. Bravo, Mr. Strong! Bravo!

Now, the thing that surprised me most about the movie is how much of it hasn’t been spoiled in trailers and tv spots. The plot and tone of the film are not exactly what you might be expecting based soley on marketing materials. And, that’s a good thing. I was not expecting how much of a family film it is. I don’t mean that it’s a family-friendly movie (which it is), but rather that the film is about the idea of family. Whether it’s the family you’re born into or the family you choose. And that brings me to the next subject.

The rest of the child cast deserve to be recognized just as much and Angel and Grazer. I know you don’t see much of them in the trailers, but that had to be by design. They play a much bigger role in the movie than you would expect and they are each given their moment to shine. From Grace Fulton’s Mary, Ian Chen’s Eugene, Faithe Herman’s Darla, all the way to Jovan Armand’s quiet and reserved Pedro, these kids all get their own unique characters and I can’t wait to see more of them in the future.

Now that I’ve gushed about the phenomenal cast, let’s talk about the filmmaking. And, Director David F. Sandberg. Sandberg, like fellow DC director James Wan, comes from the world of horror. So, be advised, as much as this movie is a family film, it does come with it’s share of scary moments. One mild spoiler: in one scene we see a monster bite a man’s head off! I was not expecting to see it. But, I was kind of pleasantly surprised by it. But, this speaks to the overall tone of the film. In the post-Stranger Things world we live in, I’ve noticed more and more filmmakers returning to that style of filmmaking I grew up watching as a child. The kind of kids movies that my friends and I would watch that scared the shit out of you and left you slightly traumatized. This movie also falls into that kind of throwback filmmaking. It is very much a family/kids adventure movie in the same vein as The Goonies or even The Lost Boys. So, take that for what you will. I loved this movie, but I am an adult.

One of the most talked about influences on the film is the classic Tom Hanks movie Big. Shazam! is often described as Big with superpowers. And, having seen the film, that description is accurate. The movie even has a pretty big wink at Big. Again, you’ll know it when you see it.

Now, for the comic book nerds like me, there are a number of incredible easter eggs and references littered throughout the film. Including references to other DC superheroes as well as not one but TWO future villains for our hero Shazam! to face in future installments. So, keep an eye out. Also worth noting is that the film contains both a mid-credits scene as well as a post-credits scene. So, stick around even after the credits begin to roll.

Overall, Shazam! is a film that families can enjoy together. It’s big, humorous, and fun for all ages. With a cast that knocks it out of the ballpark and a director that clearly knows his audience and loves the material, this is a movie not to be missed on the big screen! Buy your tickets now! You won’t regret it!

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