‘Shazam!’ Gives New Face To DC Movies

Gabriel Anton, Staff Writer

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Ever since the release of “Man of Steel” all the way back in 2013, Warner Brothers had decided to try their hand in franchise filmmaking, following behind the massive footsteps of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With a very expansive and different mythology of characters, powers and themes established in the comic book source material, there were many opportunities to spin this newborn universe into something audiences haven’t seen before in a comic book film.

In the beginning, the Warner Brothers executives hammered home the fact that this universe was going to differentiate itself from the MCU films by opposing their lighthearted, funny mood and adopting a dark, sinister, humorless motif throughout. After “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) was a critical flop, the studio began to evolve their formula, yet, after subsequent critical bombs such as “Suicide Squad” (2016) and “Justice League” (2017), the DC Expanded Universe (DCEU) fell under a dark spell. It became apparent that these films were not properly planned out and their creative visions were not agreed upon.

Eventually, the DCEU had found its niche, hitting the ground running with 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” and last year’s “Aquaman.” These films are filled with self-aware campy humor, massive action spectacle, have adopted lighter themes of hope, heroism and family, and boast considerable improvements from their predecessors both critically and financially. “Shazam!” which is directed by “Annabelle: Creation” helmer David F. Sandberg and stars Zachary Levi (“Chuck” 2007-11), and Mark Strong (“Kingsmen: The Secret Service” 2014), continues this streak, having doubled its production budget in the box office in the eight days it’s been out since April 5th, now boasting a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. “Shazam!” has also proven that the executives at Warner Brothers studios have now developed a decisive plan and creative vision to push forward this revived franchise.

The film itself was decent, playing with more humor and campiness than the others, and introducing a new spin to the “over-powered superhero” theme. “Shazam!” is about an orphaned boy named Billy Batson, who is summoned one day by a mysterious aging wizard, and is looking for a successor to take on the mantle of champion. The successor would be granted the ability to wield superhuman powers comparable to Superman’s: invulnerability, super speed, super strength and flight amongst others. This champion, however, needs to be “pure of heart” and shouldn’t be swayed by selfish matters when wielding a power so intense. This storyline helps develop the film’s central themes of family and responsibility.

There are sizeable chunks of this film dedicated to fleshing out the relationships between Billy and his foster siblings and parents, giving heart and soul to the major scenes that involve all of them all on top of providing a good message about the power of family and a fine exploration of the arduous life of being an orphan. However, the humor can be overbearingly campy at times. Specifically in scenes involving the main characters, who are all the fairly young children that live with Billy in a group home, and their interaction with the adults around them. The film was kind of formulaic when it came to setting up the school dynamic, introducing very excessive bullies and often-dumbfounded teachers, but stayed consistent with the films campy setting.

The film struggles with developing solid backstories for its main characters by not providing enough realistic justification for their actions in the films present time Billy’s backstory, however, was very vague at first and later it is fleshed out in an unsatisfactory way. Yet his livelihood and personality are explored adequately and made it easy for audiences to get attached to him.

The main villain Sivana, played by Mark Strong, suffers even more. Once audiences find out what the villain has been up to ever since his introduction, he turns into a vapid husk of evil that appears to be flatter than his character on the page of a comic book.

The best thing I think the film does in this regard providing a very pure perspective on what it is like to be a “superhero,” walking the audience through the tests and responsibilities that come with it. Having someone like Billy Batson fill the shoes of Shazam outlined to the audiences what it really took to deserve those abilities.

At the same time, the film is very on the nose of making fun of the prospect as well, constantly pointing out the ridiculous nature of the powers Shazam has and taunting itself with jabs at its formulaic superhero movie plotline. At one point in the film, Shazam/Billy Batson even quips: “You’re like a bad guy right?” to Sivana. The villain ended up serving better as a plot device and test to Shazam’s incredulous powers than as a character in the film. He brought danger and stakes to his life, exposing moments of weakness and strength that were much needed from a character like Shazam.

Overall, the film is certainly culturally relevant and isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself as well as the genre. Six years ago, a film like this in the DCEU looked to be an impossibility, yet now it seems like films like these are going to populate the Universe for a long while to come. The action in this film is pretty realistic given the stakes, and is well choreographed, yet I feel by the end it seemed a little over-exaggerated.

Alas, this film could have been cut of a couple darker scenes or two and been rated PG, appealing to what I think is the target audience: families. The film, however, can be enjoyed by all age groups and has a little bit of everything in it. Be sure to check it out in theaters now.