- by Jeff Beck
Shazam!: A DC Film Adaptation That Finally Breaks the Bland Streak (Blu-ray)
After a string of disastrous DC Comics superhero adaptations, including “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Justice League,” and “Suicide Squad,” it was beyond clear that something needed to be done to shake things up. The studio’s extremely gloomy adaptations were simply not cutting it, and despite attempts to lighten things up along the way, the final products were still lacking quite a bit when it came to their stories and characters. When the trailers for “Shazam!,” a relatively more obscure superhero, first dropped, it offered a glimmer of hope in that the film looked fun, exciting, and had a main character that actually had some personality. Was this finally to be the big breakthrough that DC needed to get things on the right track?
The film follows young Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a foster kid who is searching for his birth mother. He is placed in his latest home with a group of kids like him, including Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), a superhero-obsessed nerd. One day at school, Billy saves Freddy from some bullies and narrowly escapes on the subway, where he is magically transported to the “Rock of Eternity.” Here he is chosen by an elderly wizard (Djimon Hounsou) to receive the powers of Shazam, which are to be used to stop the evil Sins, who were released by the power-hungry Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong). Billy is now able to become the adult superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi) just by saying the name of his alter-ego, with several awesome powers at his command. It’s not long before Sivana is able to track him down, compelling him to fight in order to protect his friends and ensure that Sivana doesn’t gain even more power.
“Shazam!” is one of those films that takes you almost completely by surprise. After sitting through numerous DC comic book flicks where doom and gloom was the overall palate, this film comes as a refreshing breath of fresh air. Instead of overly-somber and dull (with small pieces of humor forcefully injected), we have a film that really is fun, entertaining, and exciting, and that’s thanks in no small part to screenwriter Henry Gayden, who infuses the script with lots of humor, thrilling action, and characters that you actually end up caring about. That’s not to say that DC’s earlier approaches were entirely wrong, but if you don’t have the writing to back it up, it’s obviously not going to make for an enjoyable entry in this oft-trod genre.
Another major part of the film’s success can be attributed directly to star Zachary Levi, whose energy and sense of childlike wonder and excitement is rather infectious. It’s fair to say that he’s a major driving force behind the film, making much of the film’s humor land perfectly, and giving the character the enjoyable quirkiness that he requires. It’s hardly a surprise to learn from the cast and crew in one of the featurettes that his excitement in the role was genuine, and that the goofiness continued even when the cameras weren’t rolling.
“Shazam!” is most definitely a step in the right direction, though it’s not without its flaws. The film does feel as though it runs a little too long at 132 minutes (a common ailment with superhero films), and as almost always happens, it concludes with a stretched-out climactic battle that becomes a little monotonous in the process. However, these drawbacks don’t dampen what the film is able to accomplish too much.
You may not end up remembering too much of the flashy, effects-fueled confrontation, but you will remember the film’s intriguing characters, its talented cast, and its gleeful humor. In short, you’ll remember everything that ended up making “Shazam!” the first decent DC superhero flick in the post-Nolan era. It’s something we’ve been waiting for for a long time, but with much patience, we’ve finally gotten to the point where it’s arrived, and it was definitely worth the wait. Now we just have to hope that the lessons sink in, and that future DC adaptations will take a page or two from it so that future entries will be just as successful. It’s
a good start, now they just need to keep it up.
“Shazam!” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. Every frame of this delightful superhero flick is beautifully sharp and vibrant, which does a great job of highlighting the incredible special effects work that went into it. The Dolby Atmos-TrueHD audio is quite impressive as well, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and sound effects in excellent quality. Overall, the film has been given marvelous treatment, ensuring a great experience in both areas.
Superhero Hooky (4 Minutes): An animated comic book short featuring characters from the film.
The Magical World of Shazam! (27 Minutes): A neat look behind the scenes at the making of the film, featuring interviews with cast and crew.
Super Fun Zac (3 Minutes): A short featurette focusing on how much the cast and crew enjoyed working with Zachary Levi.
Deleted & Alternate Scenes (37 Minutes): A hefty helping of 16 sequences that includes an alternate opening and ending.
Gag Reel (3 Minutes): A decent collection of outtakes.
Who is Shazam? (6 Minutes): A featurette that gives you a look at the history of the titular character.
Carnival Scene Study (10 Minutes): A featurette that takes you behind the scenes of the climactic carnival sequence.
Shazamily Values (6 Minutes): A featurette that focuses on the members of the Shazam family.
“Shazam!” is a fun, exciting, and delightfully-amusing superhero flick that boasts a great sense of humor and a strong performance from star Zachary Levi. With this surprising adaptation, DC has finally broken their long streak of bland comic book films, hopefully setting the stage for what will be a much brighter future as they continue to delve into the vast depths of their superhero material.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
This article is based on a review copy generously provided by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
Follow me on twitter @BeckFilmCritic.