Shazam! is a superhero most moviegoers likely won't know about prior to watching his movie. The DC Comics character has never been an A-list hero, nor has he appeared on the big screen for mainstream audiences. Given that, the character basically had no choice but to fully establish a presence and origin story on the big screen from scratch. This is exactly what Shazam! does, unpacking an abundant amount of exposition in brilliant, entertaining, and sometimes terrifying fashion. When this movie hits theaters, Shazam should become a household name and sit atop the rising bar for the current edition of DC Comics movies.
In its earliest scene, Shazam! already deviates from expectations. Following a format similar to that of early Marvel Studios films, a sequence which introduces the villain's origin story before getting to the hero kicks the movie off. However, breaking tradition for the often family-oriented nature of those Marvel films, Shazam! starts with an intense and dark sequence set nearly three decades prior to the rest of the film.
Warner Bros. allows director David F. Sandberg to bring his horror skills to the table after seeing what he was capable with on the Annabelle franchise, which is a welcome juxtaposition to the majority of Shazam!'s tone. The stars of the film -- Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Cooper Andrews -- offer up piles of side-splitting laughs throughout the movie, but those moments are quickly and starkly contrasted when they are standing against genuinely scary moments featuring Mark Strong's Dr. Thaddeus Sivana.
This tonal difference makes Shazam! unique and a thrilling ride from start to finish which is only complemented by the film's narrative. In a crowded age of superhero films and many finding fatigue within the genre, it is difficult to find something entirely fresh and unique or to have a film deviate from expectations while also satisfying the audience. Shazam!, however, takes it upon itself to pack a few surprises, especially in its third act, each of which come with a lot of emotion and heart.
The dynamic between Angel's Billy Batson and Glazer's Freddy Freeman injects enough heart and "teen brother" dynamic to offer the film its entire supply. However, the heavy and unexpected story of Billy's orphaning paired with a touching tale of these children finding a family together adds to the narrative's emotional payoff tremendously.
All things considered, Shazam! shapes up to be the best movie based on a DC Comics character since The Dark Knight changed the comic book movie game in 2008. Christopher Nolan's film probably still holds the torch for best film in the genre given its ability to transcend the comic book movie world and become a psychological thriller, above all else, but Shazam! certainly gives the film a run for its money. It's the sheer levels of fun, heart, and terror Shazam! masterfully balances which make it a lightning bolt of joy.
While the movie might rely on visual effects in terms of its villain's creepy powers or in a couple of action beats, it never loses sight of its core essence. Whereas several superhero movies offer up dishes of destruction and chaos, Shazam! stays focused on its characters as they fly through the air throwing punches at one another and pulling off unbelievable aerial and combat feats. At no point does Sandberg blur the lines of what is happening on screen, nor does he destroy an entire city in having his hero clash with a villain. Instead, he puts epic action moments at the forefront paired with well-timed and delivered quips to make sure there is not one single dull moment throughout the entire run of the film.
By the time Shazam! comes to an end, moviegoers will definitely know this hero's name and be eager to hear it shouted many more times. This might just be the most fun audiences have at the movies this year, and it's proof that DC has another major winner on its hands. Shazam! is, quite simply, lightning in a bottle.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Shazam! is scheduled to release in theaters on April 5th.