Plot: Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) is haunted by memories of being tested as a child, but rejected on the cusp of being given great power by some kind of supernatural figure, Wizard (Djimon Hounsou). As the years have passed, he has become obsessed with returning to the mystical cave where he met the wizard, as he wants that power to prove himself to his father and brother. While he never gains that power, he does find a new source of untapped might, when he accepts an invitation from the seven deadly sins, the forces the wizard battles against. Meanwhile, the wizard himself is too weak to continue his fight against the sins, so he pulls in one last recruit, young Billy Batson and gifts him with the power to defend the world. If Billy says the word Shazam, he becomes an older, more powerful version of himself (Zachary Levi), but can this awkward teen with family issues really save the world?
Entertainment Value: Although movies based on DC Comics tend to skew darker and more serious, Shazam continues the trend from Aquaman, with a lighter tone and more of an old school, comic book texture. The story has serious moments of course and deals with some very real world issues, but it also mines the fun, silly nature of superheroes, as it should, since this one happens to be a teen. The premise of a teen granted massive powers overnight is explored in Shazam to great results, I’d rank the scenes where he tests his abilities and becomes a social media hit as the movie’s best sequences. These kind of scenes wouldn’t be possible in most superhero stories, but the unique origin of Shazam allows for these kind of fresh takes. The first hour or so is a pleasure to watch, a brisk and very rooted in comic book style approach, a lot of laughs, but also solid and effective exposition takes place. To be honest, the second half wasn’t as good for me, as it gets more serious and ramps up toward the bad guy showdown, but I preferred the first half by far. This is where Shazam more or less becomes just another superhero movie, as it loses most of the unique energy of the first half, since our hero has learned to handle his skills and put his heart in the right place. Even so, this was a fun, brisk superhero movie that genre fans should appreciate.
The movie’s lighter tone and increased emphasis on humor means the casting needed to go outside the usual superhero movie ranks, so while Zachary Levi might seem like an odd choice for a superhero, he was a solid choice here. He handles the early scenes very well, with a lot of charm and he conveys the “kid with superpowers” vibe to effective ends, which is crucial to the role. His performance is likable and fun to watch, at least until the movie shifts into more traditional superhero elements. When the focus shifts to action and more dramatic moments, Levi struggles to convince, though he is still more than passable. So when the movie plays to Shazam’s unique traits, Levi is up to the task, but when things go more routine, the movie drags a little. I just wish the writers found more ways to keep those special Shazam vibes present more often in the second half, as that was what made this so much fun. The cast here also includes Djimon Hounsou, Meagan Good, Adam Brody, and Mark Strong.
The Disc: Warner Brothers has released Shazam in a 4k release and as expected, the movie looks fantastic. The visuals are pristine and razor sharp, with incredible depth and fine detail, to the point individual threads on Shazam’s costume are visible, so this is remarkable stuff. The colors are bright and vivid, giving us that comic book vibrancy, while contrast is flawless, with inky blacks and consistent balance. In short, this is an excellent treatment that fans should be dazzled by. The extras here include an exclusive motion comic titled Superhero Hooky, several promotional featurettes, audition footage, a gag reel, and some deleted & alternate sequences.