Blockbuster Beat by Matt Lynch Featured Film

Shazam! | David F. Sandberg

April 5, 2019

Perhaps setting itself up as a corrective to the rest of the DC comics films, which are apparently perceived to be overly dark and serious, Shazam! [sic] is more kid-friendly fare, what with its host of adolescent characters, its good-natured it’s-about-family moralizing, and its relatively low stakes. Unfortunately, the film is too busy being cute and amiable to be particularly interesting or exciting. Orphan street-urchin Billy Batson (Asher Angel), once inexplicably abandoned by his mother and now ping-ponging through the system, sticks up for his disabled foster brother, Freddy (Jack Dylan Glazer), on a subway and immediately finds himself transported to a mystical cave, where a bearded wizard gives him magic powers that turn him into a musclebound adult superhero (played by Zachary Levi, but still Billy) whenever he shouts the phrase that gives this movie its title. All of this so that he can fight some generically-designed CGI monsters that ostensibly represent the Seven Deadly Sins, who have possessed Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), who wants Billy’s powers because he too had mean parents.

Too busy being cute and amiable to be particularly interesting or exciting.

Most of Shazam! is taken up by goofy gags like adult-sized Billy stopping robbers, experimenting with his powers, or trying to buy beer, while regular Billy fends off some mean bullies and bonds with Freddy and his nice new foster family. What little action that’s here is perfunctory, if thankfully not frantically over cut, although everything’s coated in that miserable, underlit teal-and-orange digital glaze. A finale that sees all of Billy’s foster siblings getting their own superpowers sounds nice on paper, for its inclusiveness, but ultimately serves as a metaphor for this entire mawkish endeavor, a bunch of platitudes and Saturday morning cartoon tropes stapled on to a generic superhero origin story that never bothers to tug on already thin threads of child-abandonment, abuse, and trauma. These films don’t need to have especially sharp teeth to be interesting or relevant, but pretending that kids are simple enough to sit still for this cloying nonsense is unusually condescending.