"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Shazam!

SHAZAM!, as a super hero premise, is no Batman. Or Aqua Man. Or Plastic Man. Or Meteor Man. He’s just some kid who meets a fuckin wizard in a cave who gives him the ability to turn into your standard adult muscular flying off-brand Superman-type cape guy. For the several years that they were talking about making a SHAZAM! movie, even when The Rock was gonna play the bad guy, I assumed I wouldn’t bother to watch it. But when it finally got made by LIGHTS OUT director David F. Sandberg – The Rock has a producer credit, but isn’t in it – it had a good enough trailer that I gave it a shot on video.

It begins in the past, when a kid (Ethan Pugiotto, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2) and his dad (John Glover, MEET THE HOLLOWHEADS, BATMAN & ROBIN) and older brother (Landon Doak) are involved in a car accident, and as it’s happening the kid somehow flashes from the backseat of the car to the cave where the wizard (Djimon Hounsou, ELEPHANT WHITE) explains the mythology of the movie, which involves magic powers he has to pass on to a new hero, and monster statues representing the seven deadly sins. But after some simple testing I guess the wizard determines this kid is a dick and not worthy of the powers in question, so he turns him away.

That’s kind of a similar move to the 1989 BATMAN, opening with what you can assume is the origin of the titleistical hero, but turns out to be somebody else. That was 1974, and we skip to the present day when he has grown up to be Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong, ELEPHANT JUICE), a rich guy who could do anything he wants with his life and has chosen to spend it hiring experts to help him track down that fuckin wizard who wouldn’t give him super powers that one time. He still uses the Magic 8-Ball he had in the childhood flashback and still has the exact same relationship with his dad and brother (Wayne Ward, Cop #4, THE STUPIDS). It’s not as bad as in GREEN LANTERN, but I really hate when adult characters have the exact same concerns as they had as children. Obviously it’s a comic book fantasy, but they’re definitely trying to ground it with some real world texture, so it’s hard to accept this Muppet Babies shit. If it’s gonna be a child’s eye view of the world I think you should go all the way, like Tobe Hooper’s INVADERS FROM MARS, where the kid gets to drink Dr. Pepper all day and talk to the military brass about how to handle the invasion.

So anyway. We then meet Billy Batson (Asher Angel, JOLENE), who also dedicates his life to following up on a childhood incident, but at least he’s only a teen and it’s his mom abandoning him at a fair. He searches for her while bouncing from one foster family to the next, but now he arrives at a loving multi-cultural household with the most likable actor from The Walking Dead (Cooper Andrews, DEN OF THIEVES) as the dad. Billy is resistant, of course, but this kid Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, IT) comes on aggressively as a smart-assed new brother/pal/partner in crime showing him the ropes.

A bunch of this movie felt kinda off and awkward to me. Freddy is a little much, the conversations don’t quite click, people make weird gestures just because they’re required by the plot, it feels like a dud. But Billy’s encounter with the wizard is really well done, utilizing Sandberg’s chops as a horror director – I didn’t think LIGHTS OUT amounted to much of anything, but it did have some well put together sequences, and this does too. Something eerie happens while Billy’s on the subway and he finds himself in this weird place where he has a perfect deadpan line about which stop he was trying to get off on.

And when he later says “Shazam!” and magically turns into his super hero alter ego (Zachary Levi, ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL) the movie takes off. Grazer as Freddy has a much smoother chemistry with him, authentically bugging his eyes out and having joyful laughter as they test out his new-found super powers. I wonder if they considered giving him the ability to identify songs by listening to a snippet of them? Flying is hard, but he has super strength, and can shoot lightning. It kinda has the feel of kids coming across a cache of illegal fireworks and spending the afternoon figuring out different things to blow up, having too much fun to be concerned about the danger they vaguely know they’re putting themselves in. Kind of a JACKASS attitude. They also use his adult appearance to buy beer, and of course the traditional attempts to thwart purse snatchers and convenience store robbers (he’s excited to get shot at to see if the bullets hurt him). I laughed at alot of the bits, like the way he transforms at school and puts on a trenchcoat to pretend to be a parent coming to pick up Freddy.

Dr. Sivana is a pretty generic villain, and I don’t know why the Catholic concept of deadly sins is combined with this wizard religion, but there are a bunch of cool monsters, and anyway it’s more about the friendship/brotherhood of these two kids as they try to figure out together how to do this super hero thing. It’s kind of a charmingly small version of a super hero, because so much if it involves having to sneak out of his bedroom at night. He seems more worried about his foster parents finding out what he’s up to than the world at large.

There’s a sweetness in the movie’s glorification of adoptive families. Andrews as foster father Victor and Marta Milans (THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY) as his wife Rosa are lovable (if one-dimensional) and there’s lots of cute business with the other members of the family, like little sister Darla (Faithe Herman, BODIED), who discovers what’s going on and is very proud of herself for being able to keep a secret.

The fact that the last act adds a new element that I didn’t expect (admittedly it’s right from the comics and could be obvious to most people) and is actually one of the more exciting parts goes a long way toward redeeming its flaws. Although overall I liked WONDER WOMAN much more, you gotta admit its big end fight is the not-as-good part. This one puts its peaks in the right places.

By the way I believe this is the first movie of the year, before SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME, to have a scene where a super hero, using a secret identity, has to rescue friends from a ferris wheel that’s being attacked by monsters. I don’t know if there’s an award for that or not but it’s worth pointing out.

I didn’t love SHAZAM! like I did AQUAMAN, but it definitely won me over by the end. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise because it follows the universally beloved formula known from the popular ’80s sitcom Punky Brewster. Spunky kid is abandoned by mother in public space, finds loving foster home, uses “Punky Power”/super power to make friends and inspire others. Really pretty much the only two differences are 1) his shoes match and 2) he befriends a wizard played by Djimon Hounsou instead of a magical wish-giving creature named Glomer. But I will be very surprised if part 2 isn’t based on the episode where Punky and her friends got trapped in a cave and had to kill a giant spider.

They have indeed announced plans for a sequel. On one hand I don’t really care if there’s another one or not. On the other hand, the mid-credits scene introduces a talking caterpillar villain. It’s from a DC comic, and therefore part of an attempted movie franchise that has had some highs but stumbled in part by trying to force the type of interconnectivity that Marvel has mastered. I think they had a smart approach to that here, locating it on the outskirts of the DC Universe, where everybody reads about Batman and Superman in the newspapers but would never expect to see them in person. Like Tom Cruise. Freddy is obsessed with super heroes and actually owns a batarang that was left behind at some crime scene and sold as a collectible, with a display stand and certificate of authenticity. At the end there’s a cameo appearance by Superman, but they strategically leave his face out of frame, like Jesus in BEN-HUR. (The costume looks shitty compared to Henry Cavill’s, though. Kind of spoils the illusion.)

The idea of Shazam appearing in a movie with Aquaman or Batman is not enticing to me, but referencing them from within Shazam’s world is pretty cool. There’s an end credits sequence animating crude stick figures drawn on lined notebook paper for jokes about Shazam meeting the various Super Friends. Other than a stylistic resemblance to SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING‘s credits it’s pretty good.

It’s kind of a movie without an age group. I imagine I would enjoy it more if I was a kid, but it opens with a pretty terrifying car accident and has some surprisingly brutal parts here and there. Then again I’m sure it’s not as bad as TEMPLE OF DOOM, and we as a society managed to survive that for a while. So it’s probly best experienced by parents with their kids who like super heroes and don’t scare easily. But I kinda liked it too.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 20th, 2019 at 12:36 pm and is filed under Comic strips/Super heroes, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

16 Responses to “Shazam!”

  1. Glad it won you over by the end, and you’re absolutely right w.r.t. WONDER WOMAN – this one had a climax that actually felt climactic. The ending right in WW was tone deaf enough that it kinda ruined the movie for me.

    Even the clumsy start and the villain backstory worked for me here. I mean, we live in a culture obsessed with superhero characters designed to appeal to kids; let’s not throw stones about being fixed on childhood events, you know? We’re talking about one right now, even…

    I especially like the vaguely Harryhausen/Ghostbusters demon dogs vibe the Seven Deadly Sins gave off, which helped get me over the odd concept. I could have used more connection between the individual friend and what sin they were supposed to be, though. Envy was the only one where I felt like I got it just by looking at him. The others felt a bit generic.

    Still this is the only superhero movie of the modern movie cycle (outside of Spider-Verse) that I felt compelled to pick up in home media. It’s got a certain quality to it.

    Plus the director still makes YouTube videos talking about his tips and tricks for making his movies. That deserves support.

  2. I’d say give LIGHTS OUT another shot too. That movie is a lean 80 minutes, and the director makes a point of not having one jump-scare or fake-out. Genuinely the only movie that’s scared me in the last 5 years.

  3. Just Redboxed this and liked it alot better than I thought I would – there’s a surprising number of clever jokes and genuine laughs – I probably laughed more than I did at most comedies, actually. It’s no classic, but if we’re going to live in a world with a billion superhero movies a year, I wouldn’t mind more of them being fun and irreverent like this. (The ending does completely wear out its welcome though, I still don’t understand why even a minor, Ant-Man style superhero comedy like this has to go on and on for TWO AND A QUARTER HOURS).

    *SPOILER* I kinda hated the non-Cavill cameo at the end. In a world where everybody and their mother showed up for Avengers Endgame, don’t tell me that guy couldn’t show up on set for a few hours and lend some credibility to this movie instead of making it feel like the awkward black sheep of the DCEU. Then again maybe he had another mustache growing or something, who knows.

  4. Wanted to like this one more than I did. Didn’t dislike it, but couldn’t get too excited about it one way or the other in the end. Wanted to love it especially after all the raves I read going into it (I didn’t catch it till it was already out about a month). Still, it was likable enough and the climax was a lot of fun.

    Guess I’m the only one who agrees on the climax to WONDER WOMAN sucks but thought it was hilarious seeing David Thewli fly around like he was Raiden in the MORTAL KOMBAT video games (and ANNIHILATION movie).

  5. I liked this movie quite a bit, even though it was way too long. I liked that they set it in Philadelphia, made it seem more immediately real than if they’d gone with Gotham or Metropolis. Most of the superhero jokes landed for me. I especially liked the gag where Dr Sivana gives a villainous speech in mid-flight but Shazam is too far away and can’t hear him. All of the dumb shit the kids do with their newfound powers seemed believable to me, especially in a world where you’ve got a bunch of other superheroes running around.

    I also thought the Superman non-cameo was just weird and like something out a superhero movie from 20 years ago. I’m sure there was a good reason for it, but it just adds to the impression that the DCEU couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery.

    I liked the video the director did about the day-to-day problem solving of filmmaking.

  6. The Undefeated Gaul

    August 21st, 2019 at 12:42 am

    I liked this one just fine while watching it but have already forgotten most of it just a few weeks later. The one thing that sticks with me is how much the kid that plays Billy Batson looks like a male Maisie Williams. It’s uncanny.

    The Superman cameo I think was just an afterthought. Plus at the time it would’ve been filmed, wasn’t Cavill already officially out as Superman?

  7. It was okay. I agree with Vern that it’s kind of like a movie without an age group because there’s a real mismatch between the violence of some of these scenes (especially the board room part) and the rest of it. When I saw it some kids in one family freaked out. I can’t really blame a five year-old for losing it in this one, but I also can’t blame the parents for bringing a kid to a movie about a kid who turns into a super-hero and does goofy, kid-friendly things like the floss dance. It reminds me of Gremlns, which apparently targeted the neglected audience of people who love adorable cuddly little puppets AND enjoy hideous monsters tearing a town apart on Christmas (with a scene in which Phoebe Cates explicitly states that Santa Clause doesn’t exist, no less).

  8. This shit looked like something Brandon Fraser would have been in 15 years ago, and for the life of me I couldn’t understand why anybody would be excited about that. But I guess enough people have enjoyed it that I’ll probably give it a shot.

    The choice of director certainly didn’t help. LIGHTS OUT might be the least memorable movie I’ve seen in the last five years. I know I saw it but I could not tell you one thing about it. I can’t even recall enough tangible details to mock it properly. In my mind, it’s just a homogenous bucket of secondhand horror atmospherics. I can’t imagine how the guy who made it got a job requiring any kind of energy or levity.

  9. I don’t know, for the most part i don’t think adults should be concerned with the same things they were as children but ON THE OTHER HAND if I learned there were magic wizards giving out superpowers and I got stiffed on them, I’d probably resent that well into my fifties at least.

  10. The fact that the film doesn’t quite have a target demographic makes it a bit more interesting to me. The opening scene was surprisingly dark. Watching a father bully his son is far more difficult to sit through than watching Thanos commit genocide off screen. It definitely harks back to those 80s kids movies that were a little more violent than they were supposed to be, which is probably why there’s a vocal group on the internet who love this movie. I wouldn’t go all in on Shazam, but I liked it.

    And Djimon Hounsou really deserves more substantive roles. He’s a good actor, but studios keep on tossing him bit parts.

  11. Yeah, at this point I believe that 2 time Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou simply doesn’t want any bigger or better roles. There is simply no other logical explanation for him being stuck with mostly thankless supporting roles and bit parts. Hollywood obviously wants him, since he keeps getting work from them and pops up in all kinds of stuff, but is it so hard to give him more to do?

  12. I STILL don’t understand how Shazam! is also Captain Marvel (even though I’ve had it explained to me a million times), but I do like that Hounsou plays a supporting role in both movies. On one hand, I do think casting him as the Wizard is kinda lazy since he was already in the DCEU in Aquaman, and he’s wearing a ton of “old man” cosplay that looks kinda silly and they wouldn’t have to deal with if they cast Morgan Freeman or Danny Glover, etc…. Then again, Hounsou is actually 55, which is a pretty acceptable age to play a wizard if he were a normal person capable of showing signs of aging.

    CJ – I think his last starring role was in the DTV actioner Special Forces, which I really, really liked. He has a big moment at the end that I still think about every once in a while, as in “not many other leading men would do this, and I love that he’s doing it”. I’m sure the pay is worse but I’d rather he have a DTV Ethan Hawke-aissance than keep showing up as the sidekick or forgettable villain (does anyone even remember he was technically the main bad guy in Furious 7???)

  13. I liked this a surprising amount. Though I wish it had been a Nickelodeon pilot instead of the start of a probably-not-gonna-happen movie franchise. I’d like to see these characters every week and now we’ll probably never see them again.

    My only complaint is Mark Strong sort of sleepwalking through his role. I feel like there’s at least a dozen other British actors who could’ve played it better. Speaking of which it took me about half the movie to realize Strong was attempting an American accent.

    I’m with you guys on the Superman cameo as well. Even if Cavill wanted to do it would still be a bad idea. Captain Marvel has always felt redundant in the DCU because he’s way too close to Superman but obviously never gets as much of a push since DC didn’t create him. If they make any more sequels (here’s hoping…) they should try to avoid referencing the other Superheroes as much as possible.

  14. Glad to hear you enjoyed it Vern. Didn’t think you’d ever review it. BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE: ULTIMATE EDITION & WONDER WOMAN are still the standard for me with this franchise.

    Nothing has been that thematically ambitious since but I dug this when I saw it in the theater. Haven’t watched it since but I remember that it won me over with the superhero family part in the 3rd act. Plus telepathic evil caterpillar from space and The Rock as the Anti-Shazam have me excited for the future.

    Also like that despite using the template from the modern comics it still retained some of the corniness and earnestness of the original Captain Marvel comics. Now if only they had a a 2 leg walking talking tiger wearing a suit and bowtie. Then I’d day they went all in. Until then……it was a cute superhero joint you can watch with the nephews or nieces.

  15. I really liked this one. It had a GOONIES feel to it.

  16. I just looked it up, but Shazam made over 350 million worldwide on a relatively reasonable 100 million dollar budget, so I think a sequel is likely.

    As a kid I actually convinced my dad to buy me a VHS copy of the Captain Marvel serial, which I remember really digging. Before Shazam came out I rewatched the first two chapters with my daughter.

    There’s actually a scene where Captain Marvel/Shazam guns down two fleeing middle eastern stereotypes as they flee. So any time in the movie Shazam show mercy and refuses to viciously murder the “bad guys,” I felt like standing up and declaring, “Not my Shazam!!”

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