Shazam! is the newest film in the DC Extended Universe, focusing on the eponymous superhero with the powers of the gods. The movie follows a teenage foster kid whose life is changed forever when he is granted superpowers by a mysterious wizard. Directed by David F. Sandberg, the film blends genres into a movie that is by far the best the DCEU has brought to the table yet.
This film is a somewhat unconventional origin story in that the movie doesn’t spend a ton of time with the protagonist before he becomes a superhero. Although the middle section of the film, in which the hero is learning about his powers, is a bit by-the-book, the rest of the movie feels very organic. The thing that makes this film stand out among the rest of the DCEU is that it seems like it is more concerned with providing an entertaining movie for fans and non-fans alike, rather than setting up a character that can sell a series. In doing this, they have unintentionally created their most surprisingly marketable hero yet.
One of the driving forces of the first act that pushes the protagonist towards becoming a hero is family drama. Although family drama has always been a part of superhero films, DC ones in particular (Batman’s parents get killed when he is a child, Superman’s planet is destroyed when he is a baby, and so on and so forth), this movie incorporates this genre more thoroughly by making the protagonist’s foster family a significant factor in the film. A few of the emotional moments do feel contrived, but many of them also help develop the character even further.
Shazam! is much lighter than any of the other adaptations of DC properties, and in a way that feels authentic and legitimately funny. The middle section of the movie is heavily comedic, and there are plenty of moments that had the audience rolling in their seats in laughter. The film owes a lot to the classic coming-of-age and fish-out-of-water comedies like Big, which is even referenced by the movie at one point.
The third act of the film is where a majority of the action occurs, although the comedy is still very much present. The action and conflict almost feels obligatory — what is a superhero movie without our hero fighting a villain, after all — but for the most part, it works. The final battle sequence does feel a tad overlong, but the villain provides great dramatic foil for the protagonist and it is nice to see Mark Strong get another chance at being a DC villain after the failed Green Lantern adaptation in 2011.
It has begun to seem like the third act is where many of the DC films are going to struggle most. Although the third act in Shazam! was at least enjoyable, it was not quite as strong as the first two thirds. This problem was even more evident in Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad. The biggest issue with the third acts of these movies, and Shazam! to a lesser extent is that they overcompensate for a perceived lack of excitement in the beginning by delivering an over-the-top ending. With Shazam!, the beginning is good enough that an aggressive ending simply isn’t necessary.
However, perhaps most interesting is the film’s brief flashes of horror elements. Until now, Sandberg was best known as a horror director, having made the movies Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation. Sandberg’s love of horror can be seen in a handful of scenes, particularly the opening scene and a scene set in a boardroom. The opening scene, which introduces the villain, is one of the single best scenes to come out of any superhero movie in a long while because it is so precisely crafted for suspense. It is nice to have these splashes of intensity thrown in to break from the lighthearted tone of the rest of the film.
Overall, Shazam! was a mostly great superhero movie that blended genres quite well. Apart from a final battle that could have been shortened five to ten minutes, the film was a lot of fun. This is the direction in which the DCEU needs to be going.
Shazam! opens in theaters on April 5.