Shazam! (2019)

Film review: Shazam! (2019), directed by David F Sandberg

Shazam!tl;dr: A slightly tipsy review about a fun film.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel, who bears a striking resemblance to Maisie Williams) is a streetsmart 14-year-old who keeps running away from various foster homes in search of his mum (Caroline Palmer), from whom he got separated yay number of years ago. After his most recent escape, he ends up at the home of Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor Vasquez (Cooper Andrews). The couple are former foster kids themselves, and have decided to be the kind of foster parents they probably would have wanted to have themselves.

Having escaped some school ground bullies, Billy ends up on the subway, and is somehow transported to a cave somewhere. There’s an old wizard (Djimon Hounsou), calling himself Shazam, and he explains that Billy is the Chosen One – chosen to inherit the powers of the last remaining wizard and be his champion. Whether or not Billy is actually a good fit for this responsibility is perhaps beside the point – the wizard has spent decades trying to find a worthy champion, and recently, someone he once rejected (and who’s carried a grudge about it ever since) has re-appeared and got himself some supervillain powers, so it’s not as if the wizard has much of a choice. One power-transfer later and Billy is now … a buff thirtysomething body (Zachary Levi) in a superhero outfit … but inside, he’s still a 14-year-old kid.

Fortunately, Billy’s new room mate back at the Vasquez home is Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), who’s really into his superheroes, and perhaps he’ll know what to do. And so superhero training begins.

This film is good fun. Mark Strong as Dr Sivana is … well, it’s not his first rodeo as a [super]villain, so you know what you’re going to get. It’s funny how the Sivana brothers managed to age by quite a lot since “the incident” back in the 1970s, but their dad (John Glover) looks exactly the same, except the older version is in a wheelchair. Did someone forget to age him in make-up or post-production or something?

While we’re on the subject of questionable aging, Billy’s mum is another example. While not as many years have passed for her, her younger self definitely didn’t look as young as she apparently was supposed to have been at the time. (It’s not really a spoiler to say Billy finally reunites with her – it’s such an obvious “things that will happen” that it doesn’t come as a surprise for anyone.) You even get a flashback to confirm you didn’t just remember it wrong.

A teenager in an adult’s body is a tried and tested concept and it’s still funny. There’s even a nod to Big. I just realised this doesn’t have a love interest. Maybe this is now a thing? (This statement will make slightly more sense in a couple of weeks when the Captain Marvel review is posted, I promise.) We can get superhero films without needless romantic subplots? Finally? I mean I love romance plots, sure, but I don’t see them as a requirement for me to enjoy a superhero film.

The other foster kids are great fun too, even though Freddy of course gets the most screen time, being Billy’s “manager”. Darla (Faithe Herman) is the darling little sister who likes to hug everyone, brainy Eugene (Ian Chen) is the sort of Asian stereotype I thought had fallen out of favour because it’s not the 1980s any more, quiet Pedro (Jovan Armand) is mostly quiet, and about-to-go-to-college Mary (Grace Fulton) is feeling ambivalent about leaving her home and the people she calls family. It’s a great mix of characters, at any rate, and they don’t even go down the traditional “stupid kid” route – i.e. run off and risk everything and everyone despite having been told to stay put – so that’s good. Well, in a sense I suppose they DO do that, but it doesn’t count when it’s a group, and they are actually helpful instead of just a cheap plot device.

I thought the film looked fun based on the trailers, but there’s always a risk they put all the good bits in the trailer and the film itself is underwhelming. The Squeeze was concerned it was going to be a dud, and wasn’t planning on watching it at the cinema, until I pointed out that from what I’d seen on Twitter people seem to really like it. The only problem was that the day we planned to see it, it hadn’t actually come out, so we had to wait a week. And then it turned out to be half term and lots of kids in the room, which is otherwise not a problem when you go during the day. Oh well.

One thing that we both found puzzling is that the film came out a week or two before Easter, when the film itself is very clearly set in the winter – specifically, leading up to Christmas. There’s a Christmas market and everything! Why wasn’t it released in the run-up to Christmas? Although I guess considering they have a few nods at Aquaman, they needed to space it out a bit. Speaking of nods, there’s an end credits scene, so stay for that.

Writing reviews on a rum and Coke Pepsi is perhaps not the best way to be coherent, but this film is fun, it’s not the DARK AND GRITTY that DC have insisted on previously. It’s lighthearted and funny, but with a bit of seriousness thrown in because HEY FOSTER KIDS (although we don’t know the other kids’ circumstances because they’re never mentioned), and Zachary Levi is cute. It’s not a film that you’ll go “it’s the best film EVER” about, because it’s kinda predictable, but it’s enjoyable and apparently there’s going to be a sequel and I’m well up for that. Maybe we’ll even see Shazam in a future Justice League film, which would be nice … as long as the film is an improvement on the first one.

4.8 out of 5 YouTube videos.

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