With DC fans only just having dried off after the tidal wave, box office success of ‘Aquaman’, their Extended Universe is ready and waiting with its next superhero offering, ‘Shazam!’. Starring Zachary Levi in the titular role, this is the first hero that DC have brought to the screen that, with comic book fans aside, most viewers will have little to no knowledge of. It’s a risky strategy especially considering the unstable state the DCEU often finds itself in. However, it’s a feat that Marvel have achieved a number of times now but can DC pull off this same challenge?
In short, yes they can. ‘Shazam!’ is certainly one of the most far-fetched superhero outings we’ve ever been witness to on our cinema screens. Its concept and narrative shouldn’t really work in this live action format but somehow they do. However, its success is questionable at the beginning of the film. Djimon Hounsou is tasked with introducing much of the premise around the hero of Shazam as he portrays a powerful wizard entrusted with great magic to protect the world from the seven deadly sins. His character comes across as rather silly, the costume design is a little jarring and Hounsou doesn’t quite nail this small role. Any actor would have struggled though, and it’s this cheesy, awkward introduction that might put some audiences off. Nonetheless, any fears are swiftly put to rest as it’s quickly made apparent that ‘Shazam!’ is more than happy to poke fun at itself and the superhero genre as a whole, creating a self-aware and playful tone that make these cheesy elements of the story work so well.
In a change from many of the previous DCEU outings the most prevalent element to this film is its humour. Far from the brooding tone of ‘Batman v Superman’ and the atrocities of war present in ‘Wonder Woman’, ‘Shazam’ is a fully fledged comedy, effectively serving as DC’s answer to Marvel’s ‘Deadpool’. It’s often hilarious, using references to its own cinematic universe to its advantage as well as countless original gags that will fill any movie theatre with an uproar of laughter upon their delivery. As well as this the film has great heart too. The emotional beats work and aren’t ever overdone, they serve their purpose and help to create a well rounded superhero flick surely giving DC their biggest crowd pleaser to date. Admittedly it has some issues tying everything together. On some occasions too much of a gap is left after a gag or a sequence of action. It’s these pauses which somewhat disrupt the natural flow of the film stunting the overall momentum ever so slightly. The strength of the individual elements though ensure that this problem never detracts from the enjoyment they bring.
With Hounsou’s unconvincing role aside the remaining cast and characters are wonderful. A lot of the performances here, like the narrative, are cheesy with Mark Strong’s villainous turn probably most so. It could be an issue for some but the tone allows for his presence to enhance the experience for viewers as this campy, over the top cliche of an adversary. The nature of the story means that the film has a large cast of child actors, and they’re honestly all a delight to watch. Just as he did in ‘It’, Jack Dylan Grazer completely steals the show here as superhero enthusiast Freddy. He’s fantastic in his own right but when combined with Zachary Levi the pair have an electric chemistry which audiences will find a joy to be a part of.
Like ‘Kick-Ass’ meets ‘Chronicle’ DC’s latest effort might just be their biggest success yet. Whilst as cheesy as they come, ‘Shazam!’ fully embraces its genre truly feeling like it’s leapt off the pages of its comic book origins. The film introduces us to this new hero in such an efficient and entertaining way that by the end of the story Shazam feels as much of a superhero staple as the iconic characters to come before him. Levi and Grazer have a magical chemistry, obvious on and off screen and it’s this heartwarming and often hysterical dynamic that makes ‘Shazam!’ so much fun.
Written by Hamish Calvert
Rating – 8/10
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Thanks to Movie House Cinemas for screening access