In my review of Aquaman, I mentioned that if Shazam! is as good, then for the first time in at least a decade, a Marvel movie is sandwiched by two better DC movies. Consider history to have been made! Shazam! is wonderful in every way. DC has truly succeeded in letting its directors take full control over their movies. What I love most about this example is that I’ve followed David F. Sandberg’s career since before he even started making feature-length films. In high school editing class, my teacher showed us Lights Out, his award-winning short film. A few years later, he got the chance to make it into a full-length studio project which then awarded him the opportunity to direct Annabelle: Creation and now, Shazam! which makes me so happy; you can see his fingerprints on this film even though DC has not been the company to do so over the last five years. Times have changed, and this film hints at a brighter future than even Aquaman could have foreseen.
James Wan and David F. Sandberg both come from horror backgrounds which is a genre that not only relies on but necessitates audience inclusion; if the audience doesn’t feel connected to the character, story, or scene, then the thrills are instantly extinguished. Taking that talent of quality horror film direction and applying it to action films has paid off tremendously well not only in this movie and Aquaman but also with Scott Derrikson’s Doctor Strange, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, and the upcoming Godzilla: King of Monsters this summer. Shazam! is he latest example of how well the Horrorssance is improving the modern movie-going experience but it also exemplifies how the superhero movie genre is evolving to fight fatigue. Yes, this movie is a comicbook superhero movie and it’s one of 6-7 other ones this year but it feels very unique by poking fun at the tropes, reinventing the atmosphere, and not worrying about films that come before or after this story. It’s entirely self-contained and it’s made stronger because of it. This was a point that I made in my Aquaman review as well but to keep this from becoming a “Hoorah, DC!” post, I’m going to keep my Aquaman references to a minimum.
I was supervising a theater last night and after we locked the doors, 10 minutes went by until a young couple starting banging on the windows for us to let them in. I stroll over and hold the door open for them, asking if they needed help looking for something they forgot. They declined, admitting that they’re here to see Shazam! but they’re late. I had two options: get a box office cash drawer from out of the safe and run the transaction, or tell them we’re closed. Option A would mean they’d get to see the movie, but by the time they’d actually get into the theater, they would have missed the first 20 minutes of movie (not including trailers). Option B would mean they wouldn’t get to see the movie. Being the cinephile I am, I went with Option B for two reasons; B1) you can’t miss the first 20 minutes of any movie and B2) you definitely can’t miss the first 20 minutes of this movie. All of this to say: this movie builds it’s villain’s origin story as the prologue to the film and to miss that would be to misunderstand the entirety of the villain. Since this film has a strong antagonist, I couldn’t subject them to a sub-par experience of a really good story. ‘Tis my job, after all.
While so many superhero movies have flaunted the trope of One Superpower that both the Hero and Villain have, this one does it differently because the bad guy isn’t just hellbent on taking over the world, he’s trying to prove his worth in spite of his family and childhood. What makes him so fierce, though, is the power he contains: the seven sins embodied as grotesque demons. The villain on his own would be rather forgettable but team him up with the Seven Deadly Sins and you’ve got a recipe for originality. After all, this movie is technically the 7th film in this series and perhaps the 40th superhero movie to come out since the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, so to be unique in any way is nothing short of a triumph.
Almost all of that success is due to the cast of kids in the film; they play a huge role in the story but also emphasize the pathos and raise the stakes. They are the reason scenes of this movie are so heart-warming and awe-inspiring as without them, the movie would fail. I’m not saying that this film is to the superhero genre as Logan, Black Panther, Thor: Rangarok, or Deadpool are, or even that it does comedy as well as a few of those films, but what I’m saying is that in the face of DC Doubt and Superhero Fatigue, Shazam! manages to feel fresh, fun, heartwarming, and worthwhile in every way. As of today, this is my favorite superhero movie of the year (which might not last a few weeks) because it drops all pretense and severity and just seeks to be a fun superhero film. It exceeds on all levels and becomes a guarantee that DC is on the right path.
Shazam! is most certainly a worthy time at the movie theater.
As always, if you enjoyed this review feel free to check out my other articles. Thank you for reading and I’ll see you soon!