As a stand-alone film, Shazam! is a delight. It’s a wide-eyed, lighthearted superhero story told in vibrant colors, and it genuinely seems like everyone’s having a good time.
However, in the current spandex-stretched pop culture landscape, the Zachary Levi vehicle doesn’t seem to stand out in an over-saturated market. This is because there is such a thing as superhero fatigue. It affects everyone differently, and some have been feeling it for years. For others, it’s just starting to sink in. And it’s unlikely Shazam! will stand out in the end.
For one, it’s sandwiched in-between Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel (obligatory mention that Captain Marvel was Shazam’s original name) and their second epic crossover, Avengers: Endgame. For another, it bears the brunt of being the first of Warner Bros’ DC films that doesn’t connect directly to its prior installments.
Given the slate that DC’s offering in the coming years, from Joker’s operatically-infused Scorsese riff to the neon-hued Wonder Woman 1984, the new character-driven approach might be what saves their cinematic universe. And as the introduction to this revamped approach, Shazam! hits all the right ‘win back the audience’ notes.
It’s charming, genuinely funny, and scattered with moments that both celebrate and skewer superhero movie’s best and worst tropes. Batman and Superman exist, but only as memorabilia and newspaper clippings. More importantly, there’s no definitive indication it’s the same two versions of the character we saw in Justice League, but there’s no indication it’s not, either. It just lets the audience make their own call.
Despite all its hammy virtuousness, which is laid on shamelessly thick, Shazam! still doesn’t break out of the paint-by-numbers superhero mold. DC may have shed the last of its Zack Snyder skin from back in the days their game plan was to build their own, scowling version of the MCU, but they can’t quite shake the rigidity of a superhero origin story.
In all fairness, this is a character one of the strangest backstories in all of comic book lore, being a “basically 15” year-old kid who’s granted superpowers from a wizard named Shazam (played here by Djimon Hounsou). So, there’s not gonna be any grim moral ambiguity with the superpowered equivalent to Tom Hanks in Big, and he literally fights the seven deadly sins just to underscore that point.
Although it suffers from the whole ‘too many trailers’ dilemma. I saw this movie two weeks ago and at the time felt like I’d seen way too many of the coolest scenes. Turns out, I was right, and since then, the few I hadn’t seen have been all over their latest TV spots. Movies like these (for the most part) are just stories barely strung together for big-budget action scenes with GIF-able moments. Can some of them just be surprises for the audience? Apparently not.
Anyway, Shazam! is the kind of movie you’ll genuinely enjoy when you watch it. It’s just unlikely anyone will remember it a month from now.
Shazam! is now playing in theaters everywhere.