SHAZAM! (2019) – Film Review

Based on its marketing materials, this newest cinematic treatment of a DC superhero displayed a scope of humor thus far not seen in the DCEU. Could Shazam! actually be giving the MCU a run for its money? The answer is…complicated.

As a reminder, I rate movies based on three criteria: objectionable content (C), artistic merit (A), and my personal opinions (P). (C-A-P. Get it?)

CONTENT (C): 7 out of 10

As one might expect, Shazam! is one of the goofiest superhero movies to hit modern-day cineplexes. As one might not expect, Shazam! mixes a heavy dose of content that many might consider troubling—especially for younger theatergoers. This is, in fact, not a movie for children.

In the world of Shazam!, the seven deadly sins provide a formidable presence, personified by seven expertly-and-grotesquely rendered demonic beings. The threat they pose provides for some tense moments—including one scene in particular that flirts with the horror genre.

Even though Lust is one of the seven deadly sins, the topic of lust is never handled in a way that is tantalizing. There are a couple brief visits to a strip club, but we only see the outside of the building. It is also worth noting that the movie takes a facetious jab at Lust, noting how particularly deceiving it can be.

When it comes to language, there is a smattering of crass terms that, while never reaching the levels of a Spielberg child-ensemble movie, still took me out of the experience a few times.

ARTISTRY (A): 8 out of 10

Kudos to the filmmakers for injecting enough fresh material to make Shazam! feel like a truly unique superhero movie, not only when compared to previous DCU films, but also to those from the MCU. I’m not familiar with the character of Shazam from the comics, but his cinematic iteration fits well in the comedy genre, and comedy is one of this movie’s greatest assets.

There are certain aspects of Shazam!’s mythos that don’t hold up well to scrutiny, leading to some logical inconsistencies that become more apparent in retrospect. Thankfully, they aren’t too much of an assault on suspension of disbelief during the actual proceedings.

It is unfortunate that the third act abandons some of its original feel in favor of a more generic battle sequence. It’s not enough to ruin the film, but it keeps the story from ending with a bang (or Shazam!, as it were).

PREFERENCE (P): 9/10

The trailers for Shazam! filled me with great expectations. I dared hope that the humor contained in them was emblematic of the film as a whole. Matching my hope almost point for point, the filmmakers dared to do new things and venture new places, giving the story an admirable sense of freshness (and not just a Tomatometer rating).

To my delight, I discovered that this movie is not a retread of your typical Marvel humor fest. It is something different entirely, in fact. Yes, Marvel movies are often heavily laced with humor, but most of it is contained in the dialogue (banter, quips, jokes, etc.). The humor in Shazam! is much more situational and slapstick—i.e., right up my alley. As much as I loved the humor in Thor: Ragnarok (and I did!), I loved the humor in Shazam! even more.

There’s so much more than its humor that keeps this movie feeling fresh. Take the beginning sequence(s), for example. I won’t provide any spoilers, but the story plays with the hero origin/prologue trope in a couple ways—both of which hint at the pathos to come.

And talk about pathos! To my knowledge, no superhero movie has ever made me cry. But then along comes this movie with an exclamation point at the end of its title (and a movie poster featuring a superhero with bubblegum) and it threatens to turn me into a bawling baby on more than one occasion. (I held it together—but man, was it tough.) The story is full of belly laughs and heart-string pluckings.

The character arc Billy Batson (i.e., Shazam) goes through, brought about by circumstances thrust upon him without his control or approval, provides a poignant and dramatic weight that boosts the emotional attachment we have to him. And it’s the change he experiences during a couple climactic confrontations (neither of which is with the villain, by the way) that sells his growth as a person. It also strengthens the force of the narrative, which is another reason why the third act was a bit—but only a bit—of a letdown (not because it’s horrible, but because it’s…typical).

I feel like this review has too many exclamation points; it’s partly Shazam!’s fault, I suppose. But maybe that’s appropriate. The movie is humorously and emotionally intense. Overall, it is a surprising experience, and mostly in positive ways.

CAP score: 80%

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