by Philip Price
Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong & Asher Angel
Runtime: 2 hours & 12 minutes
“Shazam!” immediately sets itself apart from its comic book brethren by opening the film not with a flashback to that of the titular hero’s origin, but to that of the origin of its main villain; an antagonist that very easily could have been the protagonist and caused this story to be a very different one had one slight outcome been different.
Maybe slight is the wrong word as Mark Strong's Dr. Sivana takes a certain defeat to heart and dedicates his life from this point on to figuring out why he wasn't worthy of dawning the Shazam suit. The point being, director David F. Sandberg (“ Annabelle Creation”) and screenwriter Henry Gayden (“Earth to Echo”) begin their movie by filling in the blanks of the bad guy and immediately set-up the audience with an understanding and empathy as to how the rest of the events we see unfold do in fact unfold in the manner they do. This is a key ingredient in a recipe that is repeated so often these days with so many super hero and comic book films saturating the market that filmmakers, studio heads and whole creative teams alike have essentially been forced to find ways to differentiate their hero from the next studio's hero.
While personally, I'm as sincere a fan of both sides of the studio rivals as I could imagine to be “Shazam!” does a pretty damn good job of making a full-length, fun feature out of what could arguably be one of the corniest super heroes ever put to panel.
Shazam is a super hero that is actually a kid and is costumed like a hero out of a 1940's serial series wearing his cape with pride and his spandex with dignity as the large, luminescent lightning bolt that is the symbol of his heroism shines brightly at the costume's core.
While most modern super hero films will tend to dial back the costumes that graced the pages of the source material so as to ground the film and the character in more of a familiar reality, “Shazam!” embraces the corniness whole-heartily and then balances it with a true threat in the aforementioned villain, true tension in that villain's master plan, and real stakes that aren't cataclysmic in nature, but more personal both in relation to the characters we come to know and invest in as well as in making the film feel more like a small movie made for a specific group of people rather than the big movie that appeals to everyone it so very clearly is.