Imagine my surprise when I arrive to what I thought was a highly-anticipated screening of the long-lost 1990s Sinbad-playing-a-genie vehicle, Shazaam, and realize that I am instead at a new DC superhero movie called Shazam!, about a storied comic book character that I am completely unaware of. Having not seen a single superhero film since 2013’s Iron Man 3, I admit that I am not an expert on these things but come on – am I living in the Matrix here or something?!?!
No, no I am not and yes, Shazam is obviously a real (fake) superhero, who was actually the first superhero to ever get the big screen treatment way back in 1941 under his original name Captain Marvel (yeah, long story there…). He is initially a 14-year old boy named Billy Batson (newcomer Asher Angel) who, for reasons unexplained other than that he’s a plucky white kid, is whisked away to a fantastical underworld where he is given the responsibility to protect the world from some evil ancient gargoyles who are set to wreak havoc through the body of a sniveling doctor with daddy issues named Thaddeus Sivana (played by Mark Strong, because Mark Strong always plays these kind of roles). In order to do this, Billy is given the power to turn into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) simply by shouting out SHAZAM!
Six years on from my last trip to the multiplex for a superhero flick, it appears that nothing has changed. The same story beats are hit, the same incoherent CGI-laden action is splashed across the screen, the same hollow sentiments about the value of family and staying true to yourself are shoved down our throats, the same lame quips are parroted, the same boring classic rock songs are thrown in to try and appeal to a new generation…
Look, I get that there’s a formula to these things just like there is to any genre. But for all the aggressive marketing signifying that this ain’t your typical superhero movie, there’s a real lack of personality going on at all levels here. Zachary Levi certainly looks the part but he never transcends his network television blandness to really make the role his own. Meanwhile, we never really get to know much about Asher Angel’s Billy beyond a conventionally troubled foster-home background before he gets his powers, so it’s hard to invest in him as a character. The foster kids that surround him are similarly faceless, less a result of their acting and more due to the boardroom tested dialogue that they’re constantly tasked with spewing (apparently the script went through multiple rewrites from scores of writers, as I’m sure these scripts usually do).
In some ways, however, it does seem like Shazam! is trying to subvert and parody some of the tropes of the genre. It shares some surface similarities to a film like 2010’s Kick-Ass, including the utilization of Toronto locations, Mark Strong as the villain, the use of YouTube and social media to enhance the hero’s profile, and the general idea of disadvantaged kids becoming superheroes. But lacking any of that film’s down-to-earth edginess or razor-sharp wit, Shazam! is just another bland mainstream effort, clearly aiming to appeal to a younger crowd without giving any real thought to how kids actually behave.
Ultimately, this is less a movie than naked corporate synergy in action. Obviously, it’s just another puzzle piece in the DCEU and references to Batman and Superman abound, since this will presumably link up with those series in the near future (cue that routine mid-credits sequence). But WarnerMedia LLC, formerly known as Time Warner Inc., has really outdone themselves this time, making sure to incorporate throwaway jokes about “Harry Potter” and “Game of Thrones”, to make sure we don’t forget about those ongoing franchises either. Anonymously sitting in the director’s chair is David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation), who just makes the jump from one Warner Bros. extended universe to another (the Annabelle doll even makes a cameo and hey, don’t forget that The Curse of La Llorona comes out in two weeks, mmmk?). At the end of the day, the DC universe doesn’t even matter. The Warner Media empire though? That’s where the real stakes are. Can I actually get some money for that Matrix joke I made earlier?
So if you’ve made it this far the review, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, this guy must be fun at parties.” Wait, maybe this is why I don’t get invited to parties.
It’s okay, clearly I’m not the intended audience for Shazam! Call me when they finally unearth that Sinbad movie though, because I am certainly here for that.
- Release Date: 4/5/2019