Friday, April 5, 2019



The DCEU is slowly finding its feet. When Aquaman came out I was hoping they'd grow away from trying to copy the dead-though-profitable Marvel formula, and now Shazam! -- a movie with an exclamation point in its title about a foster kid who is endowed with the power of the gods by a wizard in order to defeat the seven deadly sins incarnate -- is their most on-brand and unique offering yet.

Keep going DCEU! Embrace your qualities! The ridiculousness and the darkness alike! Be yourself!

Unfortunately, unique doesn't necessitate good, and this flick has its share of missteps. But here's the difference between the MCU and the DCEU these days: MCU films are an even flat line of quality; middling, but steady across the board. DCEU films have ups and downs of quality so that it's maybe lower on average than the MCU line, but because of the fluctuation it hits highs from time to time that give it life. Much like a heartbeat. And Shazam! is a perfect example of this heart monitor effect. On the low side there's things like overcooked jokes and boring fight scenes that at best add nothing to the film and at worst take time away from the upper side, where Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a superhero looking for a family and a purpose and Don't Stop Me Now plays in training montages.

At the top of the highs always seem to be Billy and his foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) and even their other foster siblings too. Billy is reluctant to settle down with them for understandable reasons and I thought it was very cute how uncomfortable the family feels at first and yet settles into a warm place without changing any of the characters. Like the mom and dad's cheesiness. They become endearing naturally. Zachary Levi's super-sized version of Billy is complicated. I liked what he was doing -- he has great comic delivery, was goofy and charming, and then compelling when he needed to be -- but he didn't always match Billy's character in the way Asher portrays him. The kid version acts more maturely than the adult, and the inconsistency bothered me.

If only Asher had more goofy scenes and Zac had more serious scenes. Just to match them more closely.

I also enjoyed Mark Strong's villain for the most part. They took time to develop him into an evil place, but once they got him there, they let him fall through the cracks. Still he is Mark Strong; so he's consistently cool. His horde of demon-eyed monsters does body-slam the film's tone into surprising darkness a few times -- but I didn't mind the tonal shifts in themselves; the problem was that the shifting was clunky and jarring, not that darkness was inappropriate in the story. A good balance of seriousness and goofiness can be very effective, but this movie doesn't balance them so much as it's continually trading one for the other. Whenever it brings both sides together it works much better and fulfills its purpose of bringing stakes to the plot.

I guess this movie has a balancing problem overall. It has good comedy and it has great drama, but it doesn't know how to make it meld or when to stop pushing. The first act was conducive to the comedy and that's where the best stuff is. Then the third act naturally needs more of the drama, and again, it delivers. But the second act is a mess in trying to transition the plot into the big showdown, while also spending every possible second in Big-style "superhero" stuff, where Billy is just Zac in nerdy goof-off mode. This might've been fixed by having Billy and Mark Strong meet sooner, but it's hard to tell. There was an awful lot of wasting time going that I would've loved to see used for more streamlined character-furthering purposes.

Did I say that Jack Grazer was a highlight? Because he was. Also, Adam Brody shows up for a little while and I enjoyed that very much.

The fight sequences were mostly DCEU-patented punching and slamming and flying around without much repercussion. But emphasis on mostly. In the end they always seem to come around to a compelling or smart conclusion, so all the CGI punching is just more empty entertainment padding. I get why there's so much of it, but I liked the characters, story, and important moments so much that I kept wishing for more of that, even if it meant shorter battle sequences. Never been much for those anyway. But I'd much rather wait out a quick fight scene or two than have the whole movie be a cold product, and since Shazam! delivers on the heart consistently throughout, I was never left wanting for long.

It's kind of a mess, throwing everything and the kitchen sink into a bottle and flossing to shake. A lot of it doesn't mix and it often gets distracted by how much fun it's having. It is fun though; charming, sweet, funny, freaky as all get out, mythical and magical yet grounded, and populated with lovable characters. It has all the pieces, and just doesn't know exactly how to assemble them in the most efficient and effective way. But it never forgets about the heart -- and that's what makes it super. SHAZAM!

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