[Movie Review] Shazam! (2019)


USA | Fantasy, Comedy, Action | PG-13 | Director: David F. Sandberg | Writers: Henry Gayden, Darren Lemke | Cast: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mark Strong, Djimon Hounsou | English | 132 minutes

Let us jumpstart this review with a quote by David Ehrlich of IndieWire, a professional skeptic when it comes to superhero films: ‘Shazam! is basically if Shoplifters was a superhero movie directed by Sam Raimi. It works like a charm from start to finish. [...] it sure traffics in the same emotional territory (and is really quite delightful).’ It shouldn't make any sense, but somehow it does, and I'll try to tell you how the movie takes on the weight of Ehrlich's (and many others') endorsement.

’Shazam!’ advertises itself as a family movie, though I'd like to further the discussion as to whether it is first and foremost a movie about family, mainly because the story is lush with translucent indications of existential crises. This is the story of Billy Batson, a mere fourteen-year-old who is so hell-bent on resisting people's acceptance of him in favor of his obsession toward the only person in his conviction who can validate his identity.

Somewhere down the line and by sheer coincidence, he is handed a great power he never asks for. It comes with a parting message, the answer to which he still doesn't have at the time: a sense of self. ‘Are you pure of heart? You have to be... you're all we have.’

By this point, it seems like Billy has never grown out of the frantic disorientation he underwent all those years ago. He has never cared enough to decide who he is other than the son of his lost mother, nor is he sure that it is up to him. He has never felt whole, and this is where family comes in. Billy finds family through self-discovery, and mutually, he finds himself through family.

So is this a movie about family? I'd argue it's more about the becoming of a person, especially when coupled with the psychology of the (well set-up) villain, but ‘Shazam!’ proposes that family -- one that you choose -- is the ultimate key to that. (How very Shoplifters of it.)

These profound undertones are delivered in such a vivacious, lighthearted, hilarious manner. ‘Shazam!’ may be deceptively charming and light in its tone but it never downplays the audience's emotional maturity. It is what makes the film special, aside from the fact that it offers a grounded, humane, sometimes unsophisticated perspective of power that we the everyman incorporate, all through the honest, innocent eyes of children. (Let's be real, superheroes belong to a rather exclusive posse.) It is also worth applauding that ‘Shazam!’ manages to maintain its vibrant individuality while paying a proud homage to its DC heritage.

Granted, the movie might have benefited from toning down its humor in the third act as it could have given the narrative more space to explore the contrasts and parallels of Shazam and Sivana's mindsets, but it's nothing bothersome -- more so if it's intentional, in the way that ‘Shazam!’ appears to try to steer clear from heroic rhetorics (refer to the villain speech scene in the final showdown), maybe in its awareness of its own jolly front, which is only a few wrong banters away from becoming campy and cheesy. It takes pride in being a little movie with a big heart, and it's something that's impossible not to enjoy.

Finally, this movie obviously wouldn't have worked without the talents of its perfectly assembled cast. Zachary Levi is born for the titular role -- it's somewhat comforting that you can still hear Billy Batson in adult Shazam's voice. Jack Dylan Grazer is a superstar, and Faithe Herman is a scene-stealer. The rest of the cast is no less riveting. I just can't wait to see more of them... hopefully in a well-deserved sequel.

Review written by: Nabilla Arsyafira

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