Starring Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mark Strong, Michelle Borth,
How many times have we seen pop-culture movies open with a dark mythical prologue, then transition to a modern cityscape set to pop music? Nearly every romantic comedy does this, so much so that it has become a new way of telling the audience not to take anything they see seriously. The movie is called “Shazam!” which should be the only clue adults need to choose something else at the multiplex. “Shazam!,” based on comic book series, written to appeal to the 12-year-old boy, and while it’s written by grown men, the aim here is to please the superhero man-boy fanbase. It’s “Power Rangers” under a different name, it’s a Nickelodeon type cartoon re-envisioned for the big screen. It’s DC comics answer to Marvel’s “Deadpool” without any blood or cursing.
Billy Baston (Angel) has been searching for his birth mother his entire childhood. Growing up on the streets of Philadelphia, he has multiple foster families but ultimately lands in a group home where he is accepted and loved. His bunk mate Freddy Freeman (Grazer) won’t stop talking about his admiration for Superman and Batman. While running from high school bullies, Billy is transported to a magical place, where he s given the powers of The Wizard Shazam! (Djimon Hounsou). Freddy is the first person to believe that his teenage buddy can say some magic words and then morph into an adult superhero. What starts out as fun having lighting shoot out of his fingers, supersonic speed and massive strength, becomes more serious when “Supervillain” Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Strong) arrives to steal Shazam’s powers away.
It’s “Power Rangers” under a different name, it’s a Nickelodeon type cartoon re-envisioned for the big screen.
Prior to “Shazam!,” DC’s comic book adaptations have been the more serious, even darker in nature. “Shazam!” changes that with a big dose of Saturday morning cartoon flavor in the writing. For over two tedious hours this movie hits every foster film trope, childhood bonding sequence, and uses obvious influences from the movie “Big,” “X-Men,” and even “Deadpool.” By the third act of the film, after the obligatory “let’s buy beer” sequence, and the “let’s go to a strip club” sequence, you know, the same types of things we see in all these movies, then we are onto the “everyone is a superhero” message. Fun for 12-year-old boys, not so much for everyone else. The writing and jokes are similar to what you would see in a PG-13 Will Farrell, Adam Sandler or Ben Stiller film, and if you like that stuff, “Shazam!” will keep you entertained. Except for maybe “Logan,” most movies that center around a group of kids always have the “everything will turn out good in the end” vibe, and I can’t think of anything more boring.
The story behind “Shazam!” is another example of our modern day superhero fandom on overload. Like the Western movie in the 20th Century, Superhero movies have become the dominant mainstream genre in the 21st. Among other things, “Shazam!” is a commentary on a culture obsessed with superheroes and isn’t entertaining enough for those who are sick of that particular genre. The argument that superhero movies are stifling cinema (smaller films can’t get made because studios only want this type of safe, less sophisticated stuff that appeals to mass audiences) is only further illustrated by something like this. “Shazam!” doesn’t reach the pre-book your tickets in advance, stand in line all day, epic weekend status, and offers little to no substance to the cinematic world.
Shazam! is the “everyone gets to be a superhero” movie that desperately scrapes the bottom of the superhero barrel.