Film Review: ‘Shazam!’

The Worlds of DC greets its newest hero…

Spoiler-free review

Shazam

Zachary Levi enters the Worlds of DC in ‘Shazam!’ from Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema (c. Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema).

Starring: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Faithe Herman, Cooper Andrews, Marta Milans

Directed by: David F. Sandberg / written by: Henry Gayden (story by Henry Gayden & Darren Lemke, Shazam created by Bill Parker & C.C. Beck) / 132 minutes

What’s it about?

Foster child Billy Batson, granted god-like powers by a mysterious wizard finds he must grow-up sooner than expected when he finds himself faced against the threat of an ancient evil…

In review

Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema’s Shazam! Is the latest offering from the ‘Worlds of DC’ cinematic universe, a sweet, fun and funny superhero romp that wears its childlike innocence and sense of adventure with pride. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel or stand amongst the very best of the genre but Shazam! is non-the-less a good time and a crowd-pleaser with a spirit that harkens back to the Christopher Reeve Superman films.

Based on one of DC’s lesser known – but oldest – characters (who at one point was selling more comics than Superman and originally known as Captain Marvel until legal issues got in the way), Shazam! sees troubled fourteen year old foster child Billy Batson (Asher Angel), struggling to adjust to life with his new adoptive family, encounter a mysterious wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who believes Billy to be pure of heart and selects his as a successor to his incredible powers – by merely saying the word “Shazam” (which on the face of it seems silly but is actually an acronym of Greek gods Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury), Billy’s body transforms into that of a muscle-bound adult (Zachary Levi) endowed with an almost limitless range of powers and becomes the only hope of preventing evil demons, known as the Seven Deadly Sins, from being unleashed upon the world by the crazed Dr, Sivana (Mark Strong – formerly Sinestro in Warner’s ill-fated Green Lantern) who plans to seize the power of Shazam for himself.

Shazam! doesn’t hide from the fact that it’s essentially a superhero version of Tom Hanks classic Big (with a hint of Spielbergian magic) and much like Spider-Man: Homecoming did with the coming-of-age films of John Hughes, it simply goes along with it. Although the opening act may be a little sluggish it serves to give viewers a proper introduction to the characters and draw you into Billy Batson’s story – a significant part of which is his friendship with his foster brother and superhero fanboy Freddy, superbly played by It’s Jack Dylan Grazer and it’s the chemistry between the cast and their respective characters (which also includes an undeniably cute turn from the talented Faithe Herman as young ‘sister’ Darla) that really makes things click. Angel and Grazer are obvious standouts but it’s when Zachary Levi enters the frame that Shazam! hits its stride. The former Chuck star is absolutely the perfect choice to play the empowered version of Billy and he exudes the right combination of youthful excitement, awkwardness and physicality the role demands, handling all the action, heart and humour (an integral and well executed element of the film) with equal skill and with a believability and vulnerability that sells the idea of a boy in a man’s body. As Sivana (whose father is played by John Glover – Smallville’s Lionel Luthor), Mark Strong provides a decent amount of menace and danger – pitched with an appropriate touch of corniness. Sivana is by no means one of the all-time “great” villains but Strong does well with the character, for which we do get a bit of a backstory that helps define his motivations.

Shazam! is not as action orientated as other comic book blockbusters but it still has a fair measure, mostly reserved for its hero-forging middle section where Billy/Shazam must quickly master his abilities in a deadly face-off with Sivana and the climactic finale as he grapples with the creepy CGI-horde of the Seven Deadly Sins and director David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation) has a firm grip on it all. These moments are certainly exciting but in the end it’s the family-focused, character driven aspects of Shazam! that make it all-the-more appealing and whilst it may make some fans hungry for a return of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman it expands the DC film universe as it continues to find itself on firmer footing.

The bottom line: a solidly entertaining comic book flick with a great leading cast, Shazam! successfully balances emotion, laughs and superhero punch-ups to engage the masses.

Shazam! is in cinemas now.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

TV Review: ‘Supergirl’ S1 EP1 “Pilot” – SERIES PREMIERE

Starring:  Melissa Benoist, Mehcad Brooks, Chyler Leigh, David Harewood, Calista Flockhart, Jeremy Jordan

Series created by:  Ali Adler, Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg

Episode Directed by:  Glen Winter / Written by:  Ali Adler, Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg / aired in the UK:  29/10/15

What’s this episode about?

Struggling to make her way as a reporter for National City’s Tribune newspaper, when an incident that endangers her sister’s life occurs Kara Danvers decides it’s finally time to embrace her Kryptonian heritage…

In review

Based on the DC Comics character and from the producers of Arrow and The Flash, Supergirl joins the increasingly crowded pantheon of current comic book television series (which those afore-mentioned shows aside, includes other DC based properties Gotham and the forthcoming Legends of Tomorrow) but this time, quite rightly, with a female lead.

An all too brief prologue explains Kara Zor-El’s arrival on Earth (having escaped from the destruction of her home planet, Krypton) which due to an excursion into the ‘Phantom Zone’ occurs twenty four years after her infant cousin, Kal-El landed.  With Kal-El having established himself as the titular Man of Steel himself, Superman, he leaves Kara in the care of the Danvers family to allow her to find her own path.

Fast forward to present day in National City and we see Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) struggling to forge a meaningful career at the Tribune newspaper headed up by the steely and cold hearted Cat Grant (a rather ‘catty’ turn from Calista Flockhart) and where Kara shares her woes and angsts with co-worker and best friend Winn (Jeremy Jordan).  Frustrated with the status quo, when her adoptive sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) is involved in a plane accident, Kara decides to embrace who she really is and utilise her abilities to help the innocent.

Melissa Benoist (formerly of Glee) is a likeable lead, deft at switching between both sides of her character, from displaying the happy-go-lucky bumbling unease as the bespectacled Kara Danvers to the strong willed determinations of the Girl of Steel (which Grant decides to name ‘Supergirl’, much to the annoyance of Kara who was hoping for something more along the lines of Superwoman).  She shares decent chemistry with her co-stars, with plenty of fun exchanges with Flockhart and Jordan and positive family ties with sister Alex (unfortunately we only get a glimpse of adoptive parents Jeremiah and Eliza Danvers – played by nineties TV Superman Dean Cain and one-time silver screen Supergirl Helen Slater, respectively).  The pilot of Supergirl also introduces us to another major character in the form of Superman’s best pal Jimmy – now taking himself more seriously as James – Olsen with a restrained yet promising and appropriately modern performance from Mehcad Brooks.

The Supergirl pilot’s key action sequence in which Kara leaps up, up and away(!) to save a crashing aeroplane is not entirely original, yet proves suitably tense and exhilarating (bolstered by some outstanding visual effects) and provides an event in which the Girl of Steel can be revealed to the world.  In contrast, the climactic showdown with villain Vartox (Owain Yeoman) comes off a little less refined and somewhat clunky…but I guess you can’t have it all?

Overall, the pilot for Supergirl is solidly entertaining with a tone largely reminiscent of the Christopher Reeve Superman films.  Whilst there are elements that will mainly appeal to a young adult demographic there’s still plenty of action and mythology to satisfy comic book fans.  There’s some necessary tip-toeing around the issue of Superman’s existence which despite the continuous references to “him”/”he” becoming a little tiresome, is generally well handled and the release of superpowered criminals from the Phantom Zone could prove either a blessing or a curse (remember those formulaic villain of the week episodes in the early days of Smallville?) but with a couple of neat twists and a likeable lead (and no less a strong female character for younger viewers to aspire to) there’s a good chance that Supergirl will fly.

The bottom line:  The pilot for Supergirl shows promise, despite some potentially formulaic elements there’s plenty of fun, action and comic book mythology to satisfy a varied audience.

Supergirl airs in the UK Thursday evenings on Sky One.  US viewers can catch it on CBS.

What did you think of the Supergirl pilot?  Share your thoughts below!

Melissa Benoist makes for a likeable lead in the new CBS series 'Supergirl'. Image belongs: CBS/DC Comics.

Melissa Benoist makes for a likeable lead in the new CBS series ‘Supergirl’. Image belongs: CBS/DC Comics.