I cringed my way through most of this movie. I know I’m definitely not the target audience; there were some teenagers in my cinema and they were having an unreal time. For me, the schtick of subverting the typical superhero into a cheeky smart ass only works if the script is actually funny. Deadpool works because the script works. Shazam tries so hard to do the same thing, and there’s nothing more offputting than a film that’s trying so hard but failing to be funny and edgy.
Shazam tells the story of Billy Batson, (Ashter Angel), an orphan who has run away from every foster home that ever took him in because he’s been searching for his lost mother. He gets allocated to a foster home with four other kids and is roomed up with fast talking Freddie (played by Jack Dylan Grazer from It). When Billy is chosen by a wizard to save the world from a villain who wants to set the 7 deadly sins upon the world, he is bestowed with powers, and can transform into a fully grown, buff superhero whenever he yells “Shazam”. Billy must then save the world from the bad guy and learn the meaning of family along the way.
On paper, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, it’s pretty stock standard superhero origin stuff and plays along all the typical beats and plot points you’d expect without actually exceeding in any of it. The problem is that the film thinks it’s subverting the superhero genre with the comedic tone, and relies on that to carry the entire thing. Unfortunately, the comedy feels forced and apart from being largely unfunny, this film was a mess.
The villain for instance, Dr Zirvana (Mark Strong) has succumbed to evil because his Dad and brother didn’t like him when he was a kid and because he wasn’t chosen as “pure of heart” by the wizard. He has been embodied by the deadly sins, which take the form of seven stupid and lazily designed gargoyles. It’s never really explained what the seven deadly sins and Dr Zirvana are hoping to achieve, presumably something about the end of the world, but as an audience member I didn’t care since he was so freaking boring.
I know this is a superhero movie and it’s not fun to be too finicky about inconsistencies, but there was one thing that really bothered me. The personalities between Billy as a kid and when he turns into Shazam are completely different. Teenage Billy is jaded, suspicious and vulnerable while Shazam is juvenile and abnoxious and after a while I found Shazam irritating to watch and was relieved when he turned back into Billy. Zachary Levi is believable as a teenager in a grown man’s body, just not as Billy in a grown man’s body.
To give the movie some credit, there are some funny moments, particularly when Dr Zirvana is giving his standard end of the world monologue but Shazam is too far away to hear him. Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddie is better than the material he’s given, which is a shame because I think he’s got real presence and sensational comic timing, but he does manage to score a few good laughs along the way. I thought the montages of Shazam learning his powers were fun and some of the action sequences are done well.
Apart from that, I really don’t get why everybody is frothing this film so much. It was an average superhero movie at best and for me the comedy, despite how obviously they’re trying to make it work, borders on painful. The kids and teenagers in my cinema had a lot of fun, which is undoubtedly the target audience, but there are so many great kids movies that can appeal to adults as well, and for me, this one didn’t even come close.
By Jock Lehman