Following the unexpectedly immense success of 2018’s Aquaman (currently grossing $1.1 billion worldwide), and 2017’s fantastic Wonder Woman (boasting the highest Rotten Tomatoes score for a DC Extended Universe film), it appears the DCEU is on somewhat of a roll with its solo projects. Shazam! promises to be another huge hit for Warner Bros. who have struggled thus far to really get this epic franchise effectively going.

Shazam! opens with enough context for any viewer to comprehend the skeleton of the story; the dying Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) is seeking a “champion” to inherit his powers in order to prevent the seven deadly evils from unleashing their wrath upon the world. The opening half an hour is admittedly rather slow, but once fourteen-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is chosen to champion these powers, transforming into adult hero (Zachary Levi) by simply uttering the word ‘Shazam!’, the film provides delights at every turn.

In its effortless blend of humour, story and action, Shazam! provides consistent laughs, CGI spectacles, weighty character development and gratifying cross-franchise nods as if the studio at the helm has been doing it efficaciously for years (note: it really hasn’t). This is one of the most fulfilling DCEU movies to date; director David F. Sandberg nails everything you’d expect from a modern superhero flick, whilst also injecting a uniquely fresh spin on the genre.

This owes considerable thanks to Levi’s incredible lead outing. He makes it seem believable that his teenage alter ego is indeed trapped inside this muscular thirty-or-so-year-old man. That said, Shazam! is Freddy Freeman’s (Jack Dylan Grazer) show; stealing every scene, Grazer’s hilarious performance as Batson’s best friend embellishes amazing on-screen chemistry with both the younger and older iteration of Batson. As a result, the film flows superbly through the script’s excellent use of Grazer’s character, who manages to tie the two opposing identities of the lead hero together seamlessly.

Shazam! is not without flaws, however. For the most part, the story is rather predictable, and sadly it suffers from the notorious ‘villain curse’ overshadowing most modern superhero films. The motivations behind antagonist Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) are flimsy, despite writers Harry Gayden and Darren Lemke’s attempts to make them relatable on some level. Indeed, Mark Strong’s third crack at comic book villainy is by no means as intriguing as his brilliant display in Kick-Ass, though it is far less contrived than his other DC role in Green Lantern.

But on all other fronts, Shazam! shines. The CGI is pristine – which is rare for a DC film of this scale (read: Justice League) – and the script really is hysterical. Though there will be those (with nothing better to do) who will complain that this feels more like a ‘Marvel’ film, it is nonetheless pleasing to see that DC is willing to take itself a little less seriously from time to time and produce what is undoubtedly a genuinely entertaining film to experience.

The future of the DCEU is electric; Shazam! sparks some youthful fun into this otherwise brooding and bleak franchise.

4 stars

Image credit: Movie DB

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