SHAZAM! is a weird movie. The stuff it does right is done very well, but the stuff it does wrong it does horribly. I was able to catch an early screening of the film on March 23 so, naturally, the theatre was packed with eager fans. I'll get to it later, but this audience would go on to become an instrumental part of my negative film-going experience.
As for the movie itself, the cast is the easy highlight. Zachary Levi does a really fantastic job as Shazam and perfectly captures the fun and innocence of being 15 years old. Asher Angel plays his "alter-ego," Billy Batson, and when he is given the opportunity he really shines in dramatic scenes. Another stand-out was Jack Dylan Grazer's comedic performance as Billy's best friend, Freddy Freeman. Mark Strong plays the antagonist, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, though his talent as an actor is wasted in the minimal screen time he is given. Besides a few poor actors such as the little sister and the two bullies from their school, the cast was quite excellent. In particular, a scene in a convenience store was very well done from an acting/writing point-of-view. The action is also pretty good. Though it is nothing all too special, it kept my attention, and I was never bored during the action scenes (which is something I cannot say for other DCEU films). They found many creative ways of utilizing Shazam's abilities, especially the power of changing between a kid and a super-powered adult. As well, the special effects were very effective and never felt fake or cheap. While this film doesn't have as much VFX as most superhero films do, the scenes where they are most prominent are quite good, save for some strange-looking creatures primarily featured in the third act. To round out the pros, the best thing about this movie is how fun it can be when it's not taking itself too seriously. It knows what it is, and relishes in that. Unfortunately, that's where the pros end and the long list of cons begin.
This movie is so poorly written. It is one of the most predictable superhero films I have ever seen, and that's saying a lot. I don't just mean in terms of how the overall story will play out, but also individual scenes and jokes. Things are set up so obviously that it is impossible to not know what the payoff will be. If you're watching a scene and you think you know where it's going, then that's likely what's going to happen in the scene. Even little moments such as characters turning around and seeing their car isn't where it was a moment earlier and it being SO OBVIOUS to the audience that the car is about to fall right in front of them. I know that might seem like a nitpick, but when predictable things like that happen every few minutes, it takes away from the enjoyment of the film. This movie is not only very predictable, but is also not very funny. I'll admit, there were a few moments that made me genuinely laugh, but there are so many jokes in total that the real funny ones likely only comprise 5% of all the comedy in the film. It tries so hard to make the audience laugh that it does the opposite effect for me. For crying out loud, the characters in the film pause after many jokes to give the audience time to laugh. It's hard to sit through at times. Many of the jokes overstay their welcome and go on for way too long, and other jokes are either really obvious slapstick humour or jokes that have been done a million times before. There's one moment when Shazam and the villain are really far apart, and the villain does his generic bad-guy monologue and Shazam can't hear him because they are so far away. This EXACT joke was done (to much better effect, might I add) in Kung Fu Panda 2...eight years ago!
This is where my experience with the audience came in. With Shazam, I am convinced that no one in that theatre had ever seen a film before. Every single slightly humorous comment got UPROARIOUS laughter. People were wheezing, gasping for air, and honestly it was annoying because the movie was simply not that funny. People also clapped and cheered a lot, which I found weird because applause works for a film like Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Avengers: Infinity War; big anticipated films that can be akin to a sporting event. But this was Shazam. This wasn't some massive team-up film or a long awaited return of a beloved franchise. Something else that really bothered me was the choice to acknowledge other DC superheroes such as Batman and Superman as icons of popular culture. It makes sense that if superhero really existed they would become icons for which they would sell toys and merchandise, but in this film it seems overdone and creates a few potholes in the continuity of these films. For instance, a kid at the school has a Batman backpack, but within the world that these films have established, Batman was a vigilante that the press and police deemed too brutal as he would brand his "victims" with bat symbols on their bodies. Even though he's a very different character in Justice League, I don't know that he's now become a friendly neighbourhood superhero that a five year-old would have a backpack of. Another example is in the toy store scene where they are literally selling toys from the Justice League film, complete with the films logo and the DC logo on the side of the packaging. I know this sounds very nitpicky, but remember that on a film there are hundreds of jobs. Someone's entire job is to decorate the set, another person's job is to work on wardrobe. How did things like this get overlooked? This may seem small, but when you notice these things it makes the film feel lazy and cheap.
Moving on, the villain's motivation seemed almost non-existent and seemed like he was evil for the sake of being evil (he even acknowledges at one point how evil he is). Finally, the "drama" element of this film felt so forced and underdeveloped. If the filmmakers wanted the strained relationship between Billy and his foster family to be the main focus, why do they devote such little time to developing all of them as characters? The only developed member of that family is Freddy, but his primary focus is on the Shazam/superhero parts of the film. And again, not to nitpick, but the little sister character is given way too much screen time for a character that matters so little. Her only purpose is to make jokes, but in a comedy film we already have many other characters that serve that purpose. I'm also annoyed at the new trend of-in order to put a twist on the stereotype and to be funny-making the little girl character the most defiant and brave character. If a six year old is going to be picked up and almost eaten by a giant monster/demon, she's not going to make some one-liner or boldly tell it to let go of her. She's going to cry and scream and be a realistic depiction of a six year old girl. "Let go of my brother!" isn't something a little girl would bravely say to a giant demonic monster, but at least my audience got a kick out of it.
This film jumps the line back and forth from taking itself very seriously to acknowledging the silliness of the concept and having fun with it. At one moment, I'm expected to care about whether or not Mary is going to get into the college of her choice, and next I'm shown a homemade video of Shazam trying out his powers. Again, when the movie lets itself have fun it can be enjoyable to watch, it just feels like two people with opposing ideas of how to adapt Shazam for the big screen decided to write this film together. It's very generic and adheres to many of the same tropes that have been done in other superhero films. It presents nothing new and will likely not be remembered in the future as a stand-out within this genre.
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