I saw Shazam on April 8th.
I started writing this article on April 17th.
Editors Note: I had a newborn on April 1st, what do you want from me??? Not to take a month to remember to edit something? Oh, that’s very reasonable. Please proceed.
I truly suck at writing timely movie reviews.
I also really suck at writing movie reviews that are late, yet still relevant.
Today I want to discuss something completely brand new. Something that I, Robbie Clark, have never done on Cinema Soapbox before.
I want to discuss the DC Universe in a positive light.
I’ve sat with that viewing for 9 days now, and I have to tell you something I never thought I’d say about DC movies: I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The fuck? Second coming? Apocalypse? Changing of the guard? How do I handle myself in this situation?
First off, I want to address the whole notion that DC is finally making good movies. Because no. No they’re not. There are people out there who are so dedicated to the idea of sensationalism that one success means the past is eradicated and the future is nothing but hell yeahs and hootenannies. Can we please separate ourselves from this mindset.
Sure, Baker Mayfield, the pompous asshole that he is, led the Cleveland Browns their their first win in two years. But on the heels of that, everyone started calling this the “Baker Mayfield Era”. In the immediate next game, the Browns lost to the Raiders, who had an equally horrible if not worse record, in over time. Sure, the Browns went on to finish third in AFC North, and they were even mentioned in the playoff conversation. But they didn’t win the Super Bowl. Because they didn’t even make the playoffs.
Does this analogy make sense to anyone else? It should. You can’t call something an “era” or get relentlessly defensive about something unless it’s a guaranteed win. Or you’re 100% positive it’s gonna deliver. Sure, the Browns are now an actual NFL team. They’re in the conversation. They just acquired Odell Beckham Jr (a parallel for James Gunn being hired to write and direct the Suicide Squad reboot), but none of this guarantees anything.
DC has created a good film. Dare I say, they’ve created a great film. But when you look at the coming line up, this franchise could go either way.
The Joker (October 4, 2019)
Birds Of Prey (February 7, 2020)
Wonder Woman 1984 (June 5, 2020)
The Batman (June 25, 2021)
The Suicide Squad (August 6, 2021)
The Flash (Some month/Some day/2021)
Aquaman 2 (December 16th, 2022)
That’s everything we know of so far. The Joker looks iffy at best. I’d rather see the title character as the villain he’s always been instead of having him transformed into an anti-hero. BUT I have faith in Todd Philips. I just hope it’s not a “let’s hold the mirror up to society” type of movie.
Birds Of Prey I know nothing about, and DC doesn’t have much luck when it comes to making movies about relatively obscure characters. Wonder Woman 1984 will probably suck just as much as the first installment did (yeah, I said it, fight me). The Batman should probably not be on this list, because a film that’s set to release a little over two years from now should start production in 6 months, and there’s been zero talk on who’s going to play the MAIN CHARACTER. How shitty of a first movie do you have to make to call a sequel a reboot? The Suicide Squad answers that question. The Flash is on the schedule, but has no confirmed date, so…they’ve locked themselves into a year, but it could come out any time between January and December. That shit hints at preproduction problems. And while Aquaman was visually compelling at scattered points, the story was ho-hum. I already have low expectations for the second one.
So what does all this naysaying have to do with Shazam? Well, it’s the fact that every movie DC has made thus far has been insanely lackluster: relying on over saturation of graphic effects, over use of green screen, unnecessary and pointless slow motion clips (not even sequences…just…like…parts of a moment that are slowed down for legitimately zero reason), and an overwhelming surplus of producers that don’t give two damns or half a shit about the source material. Every movie on the docket has no reason to learn from those mistakes because enough people still put enough money in Warner Bros’ pocket, so they’re probably gonna continue with the “who gives a shit” mentality.
FROM HERE ON, EXPECT MINOR SPOILERS.
But Shazam was fun. This is that positive light I was talking about 4 minutes ago when you started reading. I begrudgingly saw this film and had immensely low expectations (just like every DC movie before it). Even with a pretty stellar and straight forward trailer, I figured all the good parts were condensable into a 2 minute sizzle reel. I was sorely mistaken.
This was the first time I laughed at a DC movie when I was supposed to. It was a good movie. Not even a good superhero movie. It was a good movie all the way around. It was thoughtful, provoking, polished, entertaining, well written, the characters were fleshed out, there was care put into the film, the cast was great and performed very well, there was character development, the story arc was relatively strong, and while it relied on special effects, it was still grounded in the real world. The thing that gets me though, and I’ve talked about this almost constantly, is that Shazam had depth, heart, and honesty.
My favorite part about movies like this is when the actor gets it right. Tom Hanks is not just acting like a little boy in Big. He’s channeling the inner spirit of someone much younger than him. Jack Black is not portraying the stereotype of a teenaged girl in Jumanji. He’s honestly portraying how that girl would react if she suddenly found herself in the body of a middle aged, overweight dude. It’s less about trying to act and more about trying to be. A concept that was lost on White Chicks.
In Shazam, Billy Batson is a renegade little punk who constantly finds himself in and out of foster homes as he searches for his biological mother. He finally lands in a diverse, multi-cultural household with five other kids and loving guardians. Through sheer laziness of not wanting to explain the plot up to this point in any sort of detail, Billy finds himself with the powers of Shazam. Which is kind of cool. Once he’s bestowed the powers, you would swear that he was actually a twelve year old turned into a grown man. In playing a young boy turned late 20s superhero, Zachary Levi does a masterful job of capturing the wonder and naivety of a younger boy while still being convincing as a superhero.
Writers Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke and director David F. Sandberg have a hey day with this concept. The “power discovery” montage, dressing Shazam in a trench coat to get out of school, robbing a vending machine, stopping two guys from robbing a convenience store, and trying beer for the first time, all take place with Billy as Shazam and accompanied by his adopted brother Freddie. For a brief moment, you forget that Levi is a grown man in a super suit. Through out all the initial moments of Shazam adapting to his powers, you see two brothers enjoying the company of one another, ever so sweetly musing how beer tastes like “actual vomit” (it doesn’t, it’s amazing, please drink responsibly). It makes it that much harder when conflict arises. Jealousy, pride, being a meanie head, a super villain all rear their ugly heads, and it still remains boy vs boy. I’ll say it again: Zachary Levi does a perfect job at not being a stereotype. He instead simply is a twelve year old. There’s childlike drama in their arguments, and while I can stroke Levi’s ego all I want to (and I will), it really speaks volumes to Jack Dylan Grazer’s (Freddy Freeman in the film) own acting ability. He rises above the temptation one might have to play this in a melodramatic fashion, and instead focuses on the truth in the matter: his new brother has super powers, and he’s jealous. This is scripture in the world DC has created. There’s no tongue-in-cheekness, there’s no over the top Jesse Eisenburg acting, there are no “Martha Moments”, they didn’t cast an A-Lister like Will Smith to try to save an already horrible script, and they didn’t have to account for the billions of dollars in damage to the city or the death of several hundred thousand civilian deaths. Instead they created world where Billy gets super powers, and it’s accepted as fact.
That’s why so much of the movie lands. The the first conflict between Shazam and villain Sivana (Mark Strong) reaches a fever pitch in a shopping mall. The climax primarily takes place at a Christmas carnival. Really big moments happen within the foster home. This is a pretty contained story where everything that happens is the God’s honest truth. There’s very rarely an unbelievable moment. If you’ve ever heard the sound of me sucking Marvel’s dick from down the hall when I thought you were already asleep, you know how big I am on honesty and humanity in superhero films. DC finally nails it in Shazam.
Are there things I don’t like about the movie? Sure. Like what specifically? Thank you for asking.
The opening scene with Sivana and the original Shazam drags on. There are a few beats between Billy and the original Shazam that I would have moved to the opening scene, as well. I think it takes too long for Billy to become Shazam. On top of that, I think it takes too long for Billy and Sivana to finally come face to face. Honestly, I have that same problem with Batman and the Joker in The Dark Knight, but that’s still my favorite superhero film of all time (tied with Infinity War). These are the biggest ones. The ones that I, as a consumer and a quasi-filmmaker can’t come to terms with.
The rest are more or less trivial, and I can tell myself why I’m wrong for thinking them. During the climax, the adopted parents seem to sort of diappear. There’s no real reason for the bullies to be scattered through out the film. Billy passing the powers of Shazam on to his adopted family was obvious from the get go. It took them for-fucking-ever to get over the fact that they just got super powers. And I’m 97% positive Jack Dylan Grazer was cast as Freddy just so Adam Brody could be cast as Super Freddy.
One of the worst things about the movie for me was how easily it was for Billy’s biological mother to explain why she abandoned him. But I get it. It’s supposed to be easy for her to more or less force Billy into accepting himself into his new foster family. She’s supposed to come off as a bitch. I get it. I really do. But during the course of the movie, before Billy and his mom finally meet, I kept wondering “Why did she not go looking for him?” When it’s finally explained that she left him with the police after he wandered off at a carnival because she felt someone else could take better care of him than she could, I felt it was lazy writing. It was too easily explained. You know what made that feeling fly out the window? When she stood there and told him he “looked good…turned out alright.” Who the fuck tells that to their young ass son who’s been bouncing around from house to house after she willingly abandoned him? A bitch. That’s who. All in all, I forgave her reason for leaving him behind because she really is a complete skank. Horrible, awful person. Probably has that super gonorrhea that amoxicillin or rocephin can’t cure. What a ho. I’m still angry about it.
I do have a problem that’s not really story related, but more about to current state of the DCEU. After Justice League more or less flopped, the head of the studio came out and said that DC will be focusing more on stand alone films than a shared universe. Which…hell yes. Please do that. Aquaman sort of did that. But Shazam includes every DC character that’s been on screen. Not does Superman appear in the Kryptonian flesh, but Freddy wears shirts emblazoned with the logos of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman throughout the entire film. So not only is it set in the same universe, and not only are the other heroes mentioned throughout, but somewhere along the way, they all decided to start a clothing line and have action figures made. Vanity is not a good look for these characters, but oh well. I guess it happened. Let’s be clear, I’m not against a shared DC universe. But I do think they need to take a step back. A BIIIIIIIIIIG step back. The “product placement” featured in Shazam does nothing to help that cause.
All in all, I’d see the movie again. I’ll probably buy it when it comes out. I legitimately enjoyed this movie, and I never thought I’d say that about a DC movie. I laughed, I had my heart strings pulled, I found myself actively engaged in the film. If I had to give it a rating, I’d say 8.5 out 10. A good B rating for a film with a few flaws, some that are easy to overlook, some that aren’t, and a wonderful cast support by mostly wonderful writing.
I’m still worried though. And I think people celebrating DC’s shift in story telling is super premature. I want these movies to be good. I want the stories to be engaging. And I want these characters to get the respect they deserve. But one solid movies doesn’t make up for all shit that’s been released, and it doesn’t mean all the upcoming movies will be any good whatsoever.
One Mayfield does not a Super Bowl win. And you certainly can’t call it an era. Let’s let one good movie be a good movie, and we can start throwing those terms around when Birds Of Prey comes out in ten months.
It is now Friday, April 19th, and I finally finished this article.
Robbie Clark is a senior writer and contributor at Cinema Soapbox