Saturday, April 20, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Shazam! (2019)

Last night I saw SHAZAM! (2019), the newest film from the DC Extended Universe.

The only previous DC films I've seen are WONDER WOMAN (2017) -- I loved Gal Gadot but was tepid about the film itself -- and AQUAMAN (2018), which I very much enjoyed.

I hadn't been particularly interested in SHAZAM! after watching the trailer, but I heard so many good things about the movie from friends that I decided to give it a try. I'm pleased to say that SHAZAM! -- my 30th theatrical film in three weeks! -- was an entertaining crowd-pleaser. I had a good time and recommend it.

The film history of SHAZAM! dates back to the serial ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL (1941), which I reviewed in 2017. (There's no relationship between the serial and the new CAPTAIN MARVEL superhero film, which makes things a bit confusing!) Like the serial, the new movie features a hero named Billy Batson who finds himself face-to-face with a wizard and ends up being able to turn into an older costumed superhero whenever he says "Shazam!" From there the films part company, but it was fascinating to see SHAZAM! with that context.

This time around Billy (Asher Angel) is a troublemaker who's run away from several foster homes as he searches for the mother who lost him at a fair. He's taken in by relentlessly positive foster parents Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews), who have several other children under their roof including teenage Mary (Grace Fulton) and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) along with the younger Darla (Faithe Herman), Pedro (Jovan Armand), and Eugene (Ian Chen).

Billy tries to resist his new "family" but finds himself becoming friendly with Freddy, who has a great love for superheroes. Freddy is thus the perfect person for Billy to approach for help after he meets the wizard (Djimon Hounsou) and finds himself now an adult (Zachary Levi) in a superhero costume who can throw electric bolts out of his fingers and repel bullets. Freddy's overjoyed reaction to Billy's new talents is one of the fun things about the film.

Billy, who can go back and forth from teenager to adult by saying "Shazam," is initially unserious and even selfish about his new gifts, using them for his personal benefit. He's still, after all, a somewhat troubled 14-year-old underneath the heroic adult exterior, and Levi does well capturing this dichotomy. Eventually he will mature and grow into his superpowers, particularly as he fights off villainous Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong, played by Ethan Pugiotto as a child).

The film's initial setup is a bit complicated, providing the back stories for both Billy and Dr. Sivana at the outset, and the movie admittedly ping-pongs around in tone, from heartwarming to funny to man-eating critters. A friend described the film to me as "part superhero movie, part BIG (1988), and part ABC Afterschool Special," and that was on the mark, in a good way. From the point where Billy moves in with the Vasquez family, I really liked the film's nice mix of humor and heart -- there's even a pause for a very self-aware, humorous tribute to BIG.

The climax of the film is a very delightful sequence in which Billy's foster siblings join him in battle. I wasn't expecting that scene to develop as it did and couldn't have enjoyed it more. The setting of that scene at a fair, bringing Billy full circle from his childhood parting from his birth mother, was also a nice touch.

The film's Christmastime setting is an added plus for me, and the final shot of the movie is laugh-out-loud funny, the perfect cap to a good time at the movies.

SHAZAM! was directed by David F. Sandberg and filmed by Maxime Alexandre. It runs 2 hours and 12 minutes, but despite my preference for shorter movies, it was well-paced and didn't feel overly long.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13. There is a bit of rough language, some mildly suggestive scenes involving the exterior of a strip club, and some spooky creatures who like to eat people. Positive themes include Billy maturing and learning to think about others instead of himself, as well as the love and support of Billy's foster family.


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