Monday, September 09, 2019

Shazam!: Impish, Upbeat -- I'm Liking It!

Movie Review: Shazam! (2019)
Version: Library Blu-Ray borrow

Shazam! is a new kind of superhero movie, fashioned out of comic books first published in the 1940's and over time morphed by DC Comics into something of a wink and a nod to what you think of today as the persona of a Superman or a Batman. Its greatest feature is its impish, upbeat sense of humor. I'm really liking it!

Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel) is an orphaned boy who has grown up trying to find his idealized mother, living in and out of well meaning but not-making-it Philadelphia foster families. Most refuse to deal with him but in his latest family he finds foster parents and foster siblings who won't give up on him and an incorrigible new friend in Freddy (played by Jack Dylan Grazer) who helps him discover his amazing new powers. Taken to an underground lair by Wizard Shazam to become the champion to keep the seven evil powers in check, twelve year old Billy is selected to protect the world, but the wizard gives him no instructions. Meanwhile, a previous candidate to be champion, Dr. Sivana (played by Mark Strong), who was denied, returns and is chosen by the seven evil powers to be their champion. This is when the heart of the movie takes off.

A fun part of the film is Freddy helping Billy figure out what his powers are. The two twelve-year-olds do what twelve-year-olds would do testing ideas, some good some not so good. Billy proclaims the wizard's name, "Shazam!" to become the superhero or to return to himself, as he and Freddy try to figure out how to live out the dream life of a kid being a superhero. They learn he can't fly, falling flat on his face, but that he is impervious to pain. In fact, the two sneaking out of the foster care house late at night and going to a convenience store, stop an armed robbery. As part of their discovery process they tease the robbers into shooting Billy, watching the bullets bounce off. "It kinda tickles," Billy giggles. There is all kinds of silliness between the two new buddies as the movie fully explores this relationship, and it works.

Eventually Dr. Sivana shows up to challenge Billy. And the two are of equal power. This contest puts everyone connected with Billy in danger, so while Billy originally just sloughs it off he finally realizes he has to take it serious. This is where the fun wears off. The movie drags on as it takes an enormous amount of time to resolve the conflict between Dr. Sivana and Billy. Honestly, they could have done it in half the time. As is, they cheapened the charm.

What the superhero movie genre needed was a sense of humor after taking itself too seriously for too long, and Shazam! fits the bill just great. (Just next time, guys, resolve the conflict more quickly, OK?)

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