Outside of the stellar and well-executed entry, Wonder Woman, it’s been a disastrous run (to say the lease) for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). They built their brand on a darker and grittier counterpart to Marvel’s jovial, more action-packed, calling card but it never really materialized. And with Wonder Woman’s ability to ratchet-up the comedic charm, a fresh transition slowly began. But this revitalization still never took-off for DC, even with the stronger reviewed but, once again, uninspiring release, Aqua Man. No matter the delivery, this cinematic universe continued making money but at the expense of artistic quality. However, DC may have just found the spark it needed with this weekend’s release of Shazam!, a Big meets Superman mashup that hopefully helps DC finally catch lightning in a bottle.
Billy Batson’s (Asher Angel) a teenage foster child who got separated from his mom in a mob of people as a kid. But refusing to recognize that she never kept looking for him, Billy continues to run away from every subsequent foster home in hopes of relocating his mother. In the meantime, Billy is sent to live with a formerly-fostered couple who have taken in six children of their own. The teen struggles to give his new family a chance until he’s summoned by a mystical wizard (Djimon Hounsou) and gifted an immensely powerful superhero alter ego named Shazam (Zachary Levi). With the aid of his new family, Shazam must stop the world from the wrath of Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) and his demonic sidekicks.
Despite serving as a foundational building block for the future of DCEU, and certainly standing as a formidable film it its own right, we can’t overlook the fact that Shazam! is as frustrating as it is fun and energetic. We often tend to mischaracterize artistic quality based on relative comparison, and for that reason the hype surrounding Shazam! is admittedly overblown. David F. Sandberg has crafted a hilarious and emotional thoughtful spin-off that massively outstretches its novelty. One of the most endearing qualities of the film is its Big-like story where a child transforms into a man and a tidal wave of laughs ensue. This aspect was wonderful and enjoyable to no end. I even appreciated the piano-dancing callback to Tom Hank’s career-building film (I hope you noticed it). Yet, Shazam! piles on the minutes and coasts beyond the two-hour mark with sequences of scenes that fail to build the characters or progress the plot. Periodic laugh-out-loud moments in between help mask the film’s occasional meandering, but it inevitably spoils an otherwise worthwhile improvement to the DCEU. The film’s primary villain isn’t given much depth or attention to detail but Billy’s foster family and collection of new siblings are nicely developed and conjure a curveball to the story (for those unfamiliar with the comics). Shazam! is an entertaining ride that separates itself from the majority of mediocre entries within the DCEU, but one that hopefully marks only the beginning of greater things to come for Marvel’s rival film universe.