MovieBob Reviews Shazam
MovieBob Reviews: ‘Shadow’MovieBob Reviews: ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ Stay on target If not for the (mostly) impressive and modern-looking special effects, Shazam! would feel completely like a movie from a different time. Not in the sense that it’s a throwback to the way the character was conceived in Fawcett Comics almost 90 years ago (this is actually a fairly modern, 21st-century take on the concept, characters, mythology, etc.) Rather, its sensibilities feel mainly to have hailed from are the mid-90s, back when superhero movies (apart from Batman) were shaggy and rough around the edges (think Ninja Turtles or Meteor Man) but also loose and playful; built more around the character’s central novelty and supporting cast rather than how much of a panel-to-screen sizzle reel one could get together for San Diego. It’s an imperfect movie that feels too long in some spots and undercooked in others, but it ends up being part of its charm — the kind of movie that feels like the people making it couldn’t believe what someone was letting them get away with.The “How the HELL has this not been a movie 50 times already??” premise here is that lead superhero (who, yes, used to be named “Captain Marvel” and yes it’s a long, mostly-irrelevant story) is secretly an ordinary young boy who can take the form of grownup-sized, Superman-esque demigod by speaking a magic word gifted to him by a wizard (and now you know why this was at one point more popular with kids than Superman itself…) As in the comics, said boy is one Billy Batson, here aged-up just a bit to high school but still a streetwise orphan who’s just been welcomed into Philadelphia’s most adorable group foster home but can’t wait to run off and continue his desperate search for his long-missing mother. But Billy is sidetracked from that when the wizard Shazam (Djimon Honsou) taps him as the surprising (or is he?) “chosen one” to absorb the powers of seven ancient mythological beings (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury) which will allow him to wish himself into a full-size superhero — a power that he and foster-brother Freddie Freeman (a self-styled expert on the caped-crimefighters inhabiting the rest of the DC Universe) immediately put to use doing pretty much exactly what you’d expect two teenage boys to do with the situation: Make viral videos, pull pranks, do stunts, get themselves into and/or out of mischief.Naturally, the hijinks can’t go on forever; both because it’s soon clear that Billy at first sees his new alter ego strictly as a means for personal gain whereas Freddie imagines a savior for the world, the city (or, at least, his makeshift family); and as expected the Big Red Cheese will soon stumble their way haphazardly and then somewhat guiltily into actual heroism when a serious threat arrives in the person of Mark Strong’s “Dr. Sivana,” an embittered maniac who feels HE was cheated out of powers like Billy’s as a boy and, as a man, has aligned himself with the embodiments of Shazam’s mortal nemeses, The Seven Deadly Sins.The resulting film is one I just… honestly can’t say enough good things about — Shazam! is easily one of the best and most unique, original superhero movies to hit in a while; a bold breath of fresh air that feels like all the best parts of the classical foundations of the genre but also a wholly separate thing from the anything else in the zeitgeist: It’s a fun, family-friendly action comedy; but it’s got a “weight” and sense of meaning to it that the funnier Marvel movies tend to avoid — while also being more sincere and earnest than most of the DC movies have been. It’s not “dark” …but it’s mischievous — think Ghostbusters, Goonies, the middle-years HARRY POTTERS, etc.There’s a “grittiness” to it, but not in the performative, edgy-insecurity sense that usually defines the word in these movies. It’s an authentic grit, sincerely informed by the working-class Philadelphia setting and characters. Billy and Freddie do a lot of their “adventuring” in underpasses, alleys, and junkyards, but you never feel like the film is just straining for atmosphere — it’s because they’re kids and they’re POOR. I love that Billy is realistically standoffish and traumatized by the way he’s had to grow up but still recognizably a child. I love that Freddie gets to be a character who is a disabled kid and he’s “allowed” to be kind of a DICK about the fact that this is his life — you never see that in movies, it’s refreshing!The other kids in the home are great, fleshed-out characters to — their diverse in age, background, gender, type without feeling like a checklist and they have a really fun role to play in the story; Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans are terrific as the parents who give off a great subtle vibe of “These are like the sweetest possible people you could ever hope to meet but also I would not mess with them.” And, well… it’s not like the movie hangs a big neon “Look how socially-redeeming we are!” sign on itself about it, but… most of the time when you see the adoption system or a foster family in movies it’s either tragic, negative or if it’s positive it’s rich people with plenty of extra resources “helping out” as a project — but this isn’t that.Shazam! instead gives us a working-class, diverse foster family in a group home that’s… “jammed” and messy and a little bit chaotic but functioning and positive and supportive; which is important for narrative reasons because for the story to work out emotionally the audience has to register that this is a real home and family that Billy should be fighting for a little bit before HE “get’s it;” but it’s also just really good to see, in general. I get the sense that, people (maybe a lot of people?) will see themselves, aspects of themselves, their community, neighborhood, family, etc onscreen in this in ways they usually aren’t; And that’s cool.The superhero action stuff kicks ass as well — don’t get me wrong, I’m talking less about it because… honestly, I’d rather not give it away: There’s really nice mix of practical and digital effects, solid balance between comedy and serious action, the flying and super-strength gags are thrilling and all the more since it’s clear they DIDN’T have all the money in the world to spend on this and they got creative with it. But yeah — more than half the big action stuff in this, including most of the bad guy business and the ENTIRE third act has been hidden from the trailers… so don’t spoil the ending of this for people, huh?The only thing that doesn’t totally work is the villain (Sivana) …and it’s a stumble with the best of intentions: Mark Strong is fine in the part (which is a big departure from the Sivana of the comics since literally every mad scientist since has ripped him off by now) it’s more that there’s A LOT going on in Shazam! and almost all of it is meaty, emotional, character-based stuff (like the sad and/or scary parts are VERY sad and/or scary as kids movies go) not just lore for the sake of it. It’s very much doing the “Marvel thing” where the hero’s real worst enemy is his own insecurity and personal demons which he has to overcome and usually you have a generic bad guy to compliment that — but instead, Sivana is a complex baddie with his own whole agenda, backstory, three-dimensional characterization, origin, motives, character-arc, subplot… he’s actually really interesting especially as a parallel to Billy — there’s just maybe too much of him for the amount of movie it all has to fit into?Still, “too much” is generally preferable to “not enough” and Shazam! gives audiences A LOT of movie for one ticket – especially if you brought the whole family because there really is something in here for everyone. This a fun, funny, exciting, action-packed, thrilling, big-hearted, sincerely-felt family adventure movie that rates with the best of the superhero genre; and honestly what minor critiques I might have about clunky exposition or villain screen time feel canceled-out by how overwhelmingly the majority of it works and how magnificently all the threads coalesce for that all-time blowout of a finale. Shazam! is a terrific movie, likely to become a classic of it’s type for new generation of superhero-loving kids and a family staple for years to come.