Release: 12th August 2019
Format: BR / DVD
We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s (Asher Angel) case, by shouting out one word—SHAZAM!—this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult Super Hero Shazam (Zachary Levi), courtesy of an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou). Still a kid at heart—inside a ripped, godlike body—Shazam revels in this adult version of himself by doing what any teen would do with superpowers: have fun with them! Can he fly? Does he have X-ray vision? Can he shoot lightning out of his hands? Can he skip his social studies test? Shazam sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of a child. But he’ll need to master these powers quickly in order to fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).
It is no secret that Warner Bros. have been desperately trying to the find the secret sauce that will help their DC franchise stand up against the gargantuan Marvel Studios. But truth be told, where Marvel’s success often comes in teaming up their superheroes, D.C’s is, and should be, that they have an unsung roster of solo characters. Shazam! is one such untapped resource; the Spider-Man of his universe. A kid who inherits the power of the gods and uses said special abilities to do what any red-blooded child would; he charges phones with bolts of electricity, blows cash machines open to buy Xbox consoles, and makes YouTube videos while experimenting with his powers.
Suffice to say, Shazam! is more in the camp of having fun than it is of dealing with dark human emotions or flashy set pieces. It keeps its sights solely on the mantra of ‘what if we put Tom Hanks from Big in a Superman costume?’ Not so surprisingly, the end result is a riotous mash of solid laughs, sweet sentiment and a coming of age tale for Generation Z.
Directed by David F. Sandberg of Lights Out fame, Shazam! occasionally veers in to a moody territory, with Mark Strong being the only cast member not afforded a single witty remark. While the seven deadly sins are a non-descript bunch of gargoyles whose only menace is manifest in their aesthetic rather than their presence. But as unfriendly as these moments may be to a younger audience, the threat is superficial. As is often that case with an origin story, the big bad here feels less like a character and more like a plot point. Mark Strong may be a solid choice as Dr. Sivana, but despite a couple of ‘hero’ scenes his place in the film only truly serves to give our hero something to work against in the 3rd act. The true power of the film rests solely with its central dynamic of Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer, which, riffing on its continual odes to Big is very reminiscent of Tom Hanks and Jared Rushton. There is an overall sweetness to the film, with Asher Angel bringing some unexpected depth to a tragic young man, and the film’s payoff genuinely feeling empowering.
Shazam! may not be for everyone, and with the signature D.C grit, it is definitely not one for every child, which is a shame, because it is possibly one of the best entries in to the D.C universe since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Which makes you realise, with Marvel finding their second wind in fringe characters and lesser known properties, maybe D.C have discovered the secret sauce after all. Maybe it is time we gave Caped Crusaders, Green Lanterns and Men of Steel a rest for the time being, and instead dust off lesser known heroes like Shazam! who can inject a stagnant market with something new and exciting; fighting crime one Fortnite dance move at a time.
The other bonus is that Shazam! is techinically a Christmas film. So you have something new and fun to enjoy this holiday season.
In this 4K presentation, the film looks crisp and sounds great, but it is most impressive in the arena of colour saturation and deep blacks. Sequences such as Shazam!’s lair, have a deep texture to them, with every detail visible without losing an overall feeling of the dark and dank environment DoP Maxime Alexandre works so hard to create. Colours are equally as impressive in the day, with the red, yellow and white of Shazam!’s costume popping beautifully against the Philadelphia skyline. In the sound department, a solid Dolby Atmos mix means that the action sequences are balanced, while spoken word is clear and unencumbered.
Film Grade: B
There is a surprising amount of detail on offer here. The behind the scenes stuff is a little more than the usual promotional material, the deleted scenes are genuinely (for the most part) enjoyable, and the other supplements serve to offer a decent dive in to the filmmaking and acting process. The only real dud is the ‘motion comic’, which is essentially is half baked effort.
Special Features Grade: B-
An all-round winning package. Shazam! is a solid effort that looks and sounds best in 4K, with a bunch of satisfactory features reserved for the standard blu-ray.