TV and Film

REVIEW: SHAZAM! (2019)

By Timeyin Nikoro

April 9th, 2019

Shazam! Is undoubtedly DC’s sweetest and most enjoyable offering to date. Unburdened, by the pervasive and oppressive brooding characteristic of majority of its predecessors, Shazam! is free to let its juvenile hijinks take centre stage. Buried beneath the films absurd adolescent antics, oddball and at times self-depricating humour, lies an incredibly self-aware and earnest tale. Shazam! is overcome is with an anomalous level of self-awareness, a point the film repeteadly makes clear through its numerous comedic assessments regarding many staples within the superhero genre. However Shazam!’s assertions don’t function in critical manner, instead they take on celebratory tone. Shazam! revels in its implicit silliness, the movie utilises its juvenile revelry to call itself out, poking fun at the premises and genre’s goofiness as whole.

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Unlike the majority of superhero movies, Shazam!doesn’t attempt to reinvent or revive the genre. Instead, the film harkens back to golden age superhero films and restore fantasy and wonder to the genre. The movies real strength, is its sincerity and heartfelt story, followed by the whimsical joy inherent to the films premise. Shazam! lately accomplishes this through self-aware humour, in conduction with its premise. The movie hinges itself on the wish-fulfilment ingrained into the narratives central premis as it details the story of a 14 Billy Batson, who is bestowed with the powers and abilities of 7 mythological/legendeary figures. The intrinsic comedic, dramatic and character development potential of Shazam!’s central idea provides the film the crux of its of the story and propels the movie to great heights. Through this premise, Shazam! is able two facilitate its two central storylines.

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While previous DC instalments have been rather preoccupied with world threatening stakes, Shazam! is a much more intimate affair. With the story being mobilised by the character progression of its two central protagonists. Free off the external pressures of studio politics, fan perception and a need for interconnectivity; Shazam! instead catapults its protagonists to the forefront of the story and uses the superhero genre as a vehicle through which it precipitate a visceral and palpable character developments.

With the narrative firmly centred on Billy Batson’s journey from an isolated, forlorn and joyless youth, to a teenager who finally learns the power of family and learns to open his heart to those around him. Billy’s character, unfolds alongside resident superhero enthusiast, Freddie Freeman’s jealousy and heart wrenching journey toward’s acceptance. Billy’s acquisition of his newfound abilities, prompts the two characters unlikely friendship and places them on concurrent paths, the pairs differing struggles eventually culminate in an external conflict which ultimately serves as basis for the conclusion for their character development. Through this quintessential relationship, the audience is able to trace and pinpoint the exact moments in which the protagonists attain the next level in their character evolution.

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Shazam! Confounds all of its tonal traits within Asher Angel’s and Zachary Levi’s dual portrayals of the films titular hero. While both actors are required to deliver very different performances, Zachary Levi and Asher Angel excel in the presentation of the differing sides of Billy Batson. Whilst Asher Angel is saddled with majority of the characters emotional heavy lifting, Zachary Levi is free to unleash his frenzied juvenile energy on the characters which surround him and the audience alike. Zachary Levi fully encapsulates the childlike wonder and oddball humour which propels the movie. Not only is he believable in his portrayal of 14 year old trapped in a an adults body, Levis natural charisma and youthful glee make it impossible to locate the distinction between the actor and the character which he plays. Whereas, Levi’s performance provides the film with the brunt of its comedy and entertainment, Asher Angels performance is asked to provide the heart of the films emotional centre. Although Asher Angel doesn’t always succeed in this endeavour and often overshadowed by Jack Dylan Grazers more kinetic performance, Angel is able to perform well enough in the role and ensure that the film hits the majority of his characters emotional beats.

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While the film excels in its depiction of its two main protagonists, the rest of the films extended remain underdeveloped and rather one-note. Shazam!’s failure to flesh out its supporting cast, is disappointing to say the least, as the ramifications such failures are predominantly felt in its presentation of the rest of the Shazam family. Apart from Jack Dylan Grazers Freddie Freeman, the movie only attempts to provide one other foster-child any semblance of character development. While Shazam! attempts to provide Mary Marvel with the beginnings of a character arch, the writers tangential attempts are thwarted by a lack of narrative attention and an incredibly/emotionally bereft performance. Whereas, the remainder of the foster-children are little material to work and consequentially fall into relative obscurity.

Faithe Herman in Shazam! (2019)

Outside of Billy and Freddie, only Darla is able to etch her way into the hearts and minds of the audience. The movie provides the character with several comedic and endearing moments, but simultaneously fails to provide the chtracerter with any real substance. In spite of Darla’s lack of meaningful material, Faithe Hermans charm and delightful performance saves the role from the throes obscurity. Shazam!’s failure to establish and develop its extended cast, proves to be rather detrimental to films quality and Billy’s journey towards finding a forging a familial bond with the rest of the Shazam family. Seeing as the film only displays Billy’s developing friendship Freddie at the expense of the remaining extended cast, the movie undercuts Billy’s realisation of the power of family as he never quite feels fully integrated into the family unit. This is significant consequences for one movies third act, as it lessens the impact of one movies coolest developments. Beyond the movies mishandling of Shazam!’s extended, the movie falters in its actions sequence and lack of spectacle. While the movies action sequences aren’t exactly bad per-say, they’re generic and unlikely to engrave themselves within the minds of the audience. Such a development is disappointing to behold in any superhero film, however Shazam!’s missteps in its action department is even more ergregious when one considers the scope and magnitude of the characters abilities. Despite Shazam possessing Superman level abilities, the movie fails to provide the audience any significant or awe inspiring sequences. Such failures are sure to hamper the movies audience reception.

Score: 8.0


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