We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson's case, by shouting out one word - SHAZAM! - this streetwise fourteen-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult superhero Shazam. (from IMDb)
While Marvel has carefully built an interwoven cinematic universe, it’s no secret that their rivals, DC have tried to cut corners to build something similar. They’ve floundered with a few releases, and have axed or delayed planned films because of it, but recent successes Wonder Woman and Aquaman have brought with them glimmers of hope for the franchise. Now, four months after the release of Aquaman’s 1-billion-dollar box office take, we have a much lighter outing in Shazam!.
With each promo and trailer for Shazam!, there was a distinct focus on the silly and youthful vibe of the film. And, really, that’s a good representation of the film’s nature. However, what you never get a glimpse of is also a very dark, horror-esque side to the story. Early on, we discover that the Wizard Shazam, who wants to pass on his powers to someone worthy (and "pure in heart"), is literally holding back in captivity the Seven Deadly Sins. These creatures are large, demonic creatures representing each of the seven sins. At first, they’re just shown as statues with red eyes and scary, booming voices that try to entice the wizard’s candidate. Later, however, they’re unleashed, and we see them in their full evil, grotesque glory. While the film seems to be marketed at families, these ghostly demons are truly the things that nightmares are made of. They bring with them plenty of violence too (one bites the head off a man, although its not gory), and it's likely to spook the pants off anyone just expecting it to be a light little superhero story.
Otherwise, Shazam! is really every bit as fun and delightful as it promises. I loved Zachary Levi in the show Chuck and he brings that same kind of innocence and fun to his character of Shazam here. Asher Angel is excellent as the 14-year-old Billy, and he is given a pretty wide spectrum to play here. He's quiet and pensive, struggling with abandonment and loss from a young age, as well as trying to find his place in life as a teenager. This film is just as much about family dynamics as anything else, and we see how an unhealthy familial architecture leads to Thaddeus becoming the villain (played by Mark Strong), and Billy's bond with his newfound foster family being far more positive and redeeming. It's also an interesting theme regarding the Seven Deadly Sins, temptation, and pursuing a pure heart. (Which also brings forth an interesting theme about how difficult it is to find a truly pure heart. Religion does not come in to play with the film directly, but there's certainly plenty to discuss following the film.) The number 7 is repeated throughout the story as well - from the Seven Deadly Sins to the seven realms, seven wizards, and even numbers shown on characters' doors and such. The movie is rich with symbolism, with some being Christian mixed with other worldly ones. (The foster family seems to say grace at meals, but never mentions God by name.)
The tone of the movie is a bit inconsistent, but not in such a way that it feels wrong or erroneous. If I had to compare it to any Marvel film, it's probably closest to Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man in tone and execution. However, the horror elements with the Seven Deadly Sins really add such a darker and scarier element to the film. It almost makes this a horror comedy. There's a see-saw feeling between the horror and comedy at the beginning, but the comedic elements are still on the lighter side. It's not till Levi pops in as Shazam that the real laugh-out-loud moments begin. And it's those moments that really help soften the horrifying visuals of the sins, giving the horror aspects a bit more of an amusement park grade thrill than a cower-in-the-corner fear. Still, it's intense for this kind of film (especially since I don't think it's expected). It's so much so, that I strongly advise NOT showing Shazam! to your kids. (Which, too, was sadly misleading, because the preview for this movie played before such more family-friendly PG-rated movies, like Dumbo and The LEGO Movie 2.) Perhaps that's what happens when a director who's really only previously directed a horror film (in this case, Annabelle: Creation) takes on a superhero film, but the whole nature of the villainous story is surprisingly dark and sinister.
With that said, the content is entirely of the PG-13 variety, if not even pushing the envelope a bit at times with the aforementioned horror elements. The film opens with an intense scene that sets up our villain, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, who we meet as a child as he rides in the car with his father and older brother. Both are very condescending towards him, and after he meets the Wizard Shazam suddenly and is returned to his place in the car, his father berates him and they get into a nasty car wreck (in which we assume his father dies). It's a doozy of a way to set up the film, and a very good idea of the kind of movie we're getting into. Billy, as a hero, is shown from the start to lie, steal, and do some less than noble deeds. However, the story does show him grow through the course of the story (he's a 14-year-old boy who has bounced around foster care homes for most of his life, after all). One scene shows Billy as adult Shazam buying beer with his also under-age friend Freddy, but when they go to drink it, they decide it tastes terrible and go to buy more innocent (and legal) snacks instead. There isn't much by way of sexual content, but Billy, while going on a selfish spree of things he can now do as an adult superhero, goes inside a strip club called The Booty Trap. We never see inside, but we do see him leave there, with Freddy asking him if he saw anything. Later, he and some others end up there again, kind of accidentally (it's played as a big laugh), and some other under age kids leave with mixed reactions of disgust (and Freddy walks out covered in glitter). Language is frequent but seldom strong, with at least 5 uses of the "S" word (some spoken by the teens), as well about a dozen uses of God's name as an exclamation and 1 "J-sus Chr-st" used in vain by a character with a small role. One of the last scenes of the movie show a man on the news screaming and cursing with roughly 5 bleeps used in place of what is mostly the "F" word being spoken (It's intended to be funny). Otherwise, there are no fully audible "F" words in the film. The violence--which there is plenty of--is largely bloodless. One of the demonic sins wraps its mouth around a man's head, presumably biting the head off, and then throws the body out the window (it's framed in a way that nothing is shown to be gory). The car wreck at the beginning shows Thad's father lying in a pool of blood beside the car. Later, a person touches a magical door, questioning its power, and we quickly see them start burning and withering and decompose as they scream (it's pretty gross and intense and unexpected). Shazam has a bloody nose during a fight scene, and after Thad is hit in the back of the head with a blade, we see a bloody line with a drop of blood running down it across his bald head. The finale involves a lot of superhero fighting with destruction and people being thrown around and threatened by all of the Seven Deadly Sins monsters. Also, I should mention--and this could be a spoiler to some, so fair warning--that the story involves child abandonment, rejection, and all-around bad parenting (in fact, it doubles down on it). They redeem this theme by the end, but anyone sensitive to these kinds of themes may want to know about that ahead of time. I definitely found a few moments to be heart-wrenching.
Shazam! on IMAX was a great presentation (especially the exclusive extended teaser for Godzilla: King of the Monsters), but I wouldn't say the film took advantage of the format in the same way other films tend to (like Captain Marvel showing more of the picture vertically, for example). Still, it's my favorite viewing format these days, so I'd still recommend seeing it in IMAX if you can.
Intensity aside, Shazam1! is such an oddball of a film that is refreshing to see, especially coming out of the lackluster DC Comics movie world. It's super funny, it has a heartwarming (and heartbreaking) theme about family and belonging, and plenty of action to keep you entertained. Unfortunately, it's not the family film the ads hint it might be, but the grown up superhero fans should find plenty to enjoy about Shazam!. Oh, and there are two additional scenes at the end, one during the credits and one little joke after the credits have totally ended.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 4/5/19)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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