Cinematic Releases: Shazam! (2019) - Reviewed

There is an ancient spirit that lies between the fabrics of reality, waiting to choose one worthy and wise enough to bestow these gifts upon, to learn the ways of his kind, a dying breed of which he is the last. He could pick anyone, anywhere, at any time. It could be the last person anyone would think of- it could be a pure, innocent child with a heart of gold, untouched by the temptations and lusts of this world. He has been searching for decades, perhaps centuries, for the perfect successor. Say his name, and be imbued with his unfathomable powers.

To say that Shazam is a shock to the system would be an understatement. It's not just one of the best DC entries in this extended universe yet- it may very well be one of the best DC comic book movies since 1978's Superman. It knows exactly what it is and what its audience wants from it. It's well aware that its character may have suffered from being horribly outdated if not done right, so what better way to subvert that than turn it into an outright family comedy? It feels so radically different from all the other DC movies (perhaps that's partially thanks to it not being directly connected to the extended universe, actually being under an entirely new DC films label that is meant to release other solo outings not connected to the current Justice League), but it's really that jolt of inspirational comedy and juvenile antics that makes it so endlessly entertaining to watch. Even when Billy Batson turns into the adult-sized electric superhero, his child's soul still remains. Zachary Levi (Tangled and Thor Ragnarok) keeps up that childlike persona in a fashion that doesn't feel the least bit cheesy or stupid, but rather somehow charming and unforgettable once you see him for the first time.

Shazam is less a straightforward comic book movie than it is a charming family comedy. There are valuable character developments and lessons that can be found that are almost unbecoming of the standard superhero genre. It's far less focused on a generic villain backstory (which there is one, but it's too played down to be anything truly detrimental) and places its developing family story right at its heart. Its trailers really don't do it justice- this is undoubtedly a film that takes place in the same universe as the other DCEU films, but wisely sets itself apart from being directly connected to any overarching story in that timeline. Batman, Superman, and Aquaman are all name-dropped at one point or another, but their presence has no bearing on the events; which is to say that this is safely a completely standalone film that thrives on its own without any forced connections or followups (though a brief mid-credits scene gives hope for a sequel).

Considering that Shazam is part of a new, separate DC label outside of the somewhat hastily constructed initially Extended Universe, there's a healthy possibility that we may have begun to enter a new renaissance of sorts for the DC films label. Previous entries have suffered from an overpowering dark and drab atmosphere that sucks all the fun out of what superhero films are supposed to be about. With Shazam, we get a boyish kind of charm that we initially got from Christopher Reeve all those years ago. It's probably too early to assume that we can see more films hearkening back to those good old days, but I can sure dream that we might at least see some more surprisingly entertaining and fun blockbusters that break the conventions that DC has kept prevalent for the past fourteen years ever since Christopher Nolan stormed onto the scene with his gritty realism. Shazam is the most fun you'll have in a theater all year, if you're prepared to take it less seriously than you might any other comic book cinematic universe entry nowadays. Think of it as the Deadpool of DC, if Deadpool were a teenage kid with abandonment issues. It's a lot better that way, trust me.

Shazam hits theaters April 5th.

-Wes Ball