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Shazam! - DVD Review

Shazam!

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

AFTER so many false starts and so much unfulfilled potential, the DC film universe finally appears to be getting its act together. Shazam!, its latest entry, is by far and away its most enjoyable offering yet.

Arriving in the wake of the generally well received box office smash that was Aquaman, David F. Sandberg’s film shakes things up by both conforming to and playing with superhero traditions. At times, it offers the type of kids movie that Steven Spielberg would be proud of, while bringing a subversive inclination that’s on a par with more grown up superhero fare such as Kick-Ass.

It’s also not afraid to poke fun at its own genre, with several savvy nods at the expense of DC brand names such as Superman and Batman.

There are some problems. The third act, like so many superhero films, becomes predictably formulaic and more than a little tiresome, while the shifting tones sometimes makes for an uneasy alliance. There are some very intense scenes involving the main villain that could well terrify younger viewers – but even then, it’s the kind of thing the aforementioned Spielberg made an early career out of doing.

The Shazam! of the title is actually a 15-year-old boy named Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who has drifted from foster home to foster home since losing his mum in a crowded fairground. His latest placement puts him in the home of several other misfits, including a disabled, nerdy superhero enthusiast named Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), who becomes an unlikely best friend.

When Billy stands up for Freddy against the school bullies, he’s transported to the lair of a wizard (Djimon Hounsou), who gives him the ability to transform into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) by using the magic word ‘shazam’!

But as he struggles to cope with the fame and responsibility his superhero status brings, his presence puts him on the radar of a demon-possessed super-villain Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who requires some of Shazam’s powers to make his own quest for global domination complete.

Early on, Sandberg’s film divides its time between building up to Billy’s transformation and empowering Dr Sivana’s creepy villain, thereby laying down the emotional groundwork that undoubtedly lends the film so much of its easy-going charm.

The interplay between Billy and his newfound ‘family’ is especially appealing in the way it juggles personal tragedy with a growing sense of optimism and ‘home’, and it doesn’t feel manipulative, largely because of the winning performances of its young cast, and the obvious peril that is waiting around the corner, posed by Strong’s super malevolent villain.

But it’s the middle section where the most fun is to be had, as Billy explores his newfound status and does all the things he’s not really supposed to. Its during this section that there are several great visual gags, where the comedy is at its most subversive (even going so far as to milk some laughs from being shot in the face, of all things!), and where pop culture references abound (from Big to Kick-Ass via Stranger Things and even Batman V Superman in one very funny put-down).

As the darker elements begin to pervade, the film takes a more serious turn in the run-up to its conclusion, but even then Sandberg mostly proves a dab hand at mixing horror with fun, while also setting in play some tasty propositions for the similarly inevitable sequel.

And while the climactic superhero tussle does drag on, involving several monsters as well as Sivana, Shazam has built up enough goodwill to enable it to overcome such belated shortcomings. The overall result is a welcome new entry into the superhero genre that chills, thrills, subverts and massively entertains.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs 11mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: August 12, 2019

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