Comic book movies exploring the origins of their protagonists and heroes have gotten a bad rep in recent years. Even avid comic book fans like myself are feeling the fatigue of being bombarded by formulaic superhero origin movies, the likes of which unfortunately includes Marvel Studios’ latest effort, Captain Marvel.
Shazam! may have the advantage of being a relatively unknown character in the public sphere, but it’s still an origin movie nonetheless. Therefore, the question is whether or not it falls to the common pitfalls of familiarity and safeness suffered by many origin movies.
I’m here to tell you that while it doesn’t reinvent the genre, it manages to impress with its classic but irresistible comic book charm and a third act filled with pleasant surprises, as well as a strong and likeable cast.
There are ultimately many reasons why Shazam (who is the original Captain Marvel, by the way) remains popular 80 years after his debut, but it’s the heart of the character that makes him unique amongst his other comic book brethren.
The Saving Grace That Is Its Third Act
Shazam still follows the predictable formula of a hero discovering or getting his/her powers, learning how to use it, and finally confronting the villain in the showdown in the third act (as not-so-subtly pointed out by Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass in the movie Glass earlier this year).
What saves the movie from falling into this trap is its great third act which differentiates it from other solo superhero outings. Without revealing what it is, a plot twist of sorts happens in Shazam!’s third act, completely turning things around and changing the established dynamic.
However, while this particular plot twist managed to put a spin in the third act, its effect may vary on the individual. Comic book fans may see the plot twist coming from a mile away, considering it’s been ripped directly from the comics. I knew the moment was coming even before watching the movie, and it still brought out the grinning fanboy in me.
Those unfamiliar with the source material will definitely be more unexpectedly surprised when the plot twist happens, though I reckon it would still be crowd-pleasing to both types of audiences.
Sometimes the third act of an origin movie needs nothing more than a plot twist and real stakes to spice things up, which Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel fails at doing.
Back when Shazam! was initially announced, the main concern that arose was who the movie would cast as its titular hero. Unlike other DC heroes, Shazam must be played by two different actors who must essentially be playing the same person. Just like Aidan Gallagher’s Number Five in Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy had to portray an adult in a kid’s body, Zachary Levi received the unenviable task of portraying a kid in an adult’s body.
The results could have been awkward and even a little creepy, but Zachary Levi actually manages to pull it off by perfectly playing the role of Shazam. He comes off as funny, heartwarming and innocent enough for us to believe that he really is a 14-year old boy in a superhero’s body.
He embodies the character in a way that makes it hard to imagine anyone else in the role, which is the best praise I can give.
Meanwhile, Asher Angel is another near-perfect casting choice in Shazam!. His Billy Batson is a 14-year-old teenager who, despite being mistreated by parental figures throughout his life, is a kid with a good heart.
His performance isn’t annoyingly obnoxious or frustratingly bland as some child actors tend to be; they’re the exact opposite.
Both of their strong performances are further bolstered by the other surprisingly great child actors, especially that of Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy Freeman. The relationship between Freddy and Billy forms the emotional backbone of Shazam!, not to mention all of their other foster siblings who contribute to the movie’s central family theme.
Standouts include Faithe Herman’s adorable turn as the youngest foster sibling Darla Dudley, and Ian Chen’s Eugene Choi, who churns out gaming references; some of which were admittedly cringy but tolerable because it’s out of a kid’s mouth.
I just wish that Grace Fulton’s Mary Bromfield had been given more to do, considering how she’s supposed to be the most important member of the family next to Freddy (according to the source material).
As for Shazam! villain Dr. Sivana, the movie did try to flesh out his background to make him a bit more sympathetic and relatable, but it didn’t really succeed in that regard. Mark Strong’s controlled performance makes the centralvillain decent but not much memorable when compared to other DCEU villains.
On the other hand, the Seven Deadly Sins are simply CGI creatures, though they’re much more intimidating than Batman V Superman’s boring Doomsday.
The Future Of The DCEU Is Shining Even Brighter
I know that I called Aquaman the best DCEU movie to date last year, but I sincerely believe that Shazam! has blown that movie out of the water (sorry, not sorry). While Aquaman rekindled new life into the DCEU, Shazam! manages to keep that flame burning brighter than ever before.
FINAL SCORE: 90/100
Shazam! officially opens in Malaysian cinemas on 4 April 2019, but early screenings are currently available at selected cinema chains across the country.