When DC Comics revived Captain Marvel in the 1970s, it was out of step with the audience and struggled to find success. Ever since, the publisher has been trying to find a formula to make the character and his world relevant to the readership. With Carol Danvers’ popularity as Captain Marvel ascendant, DC finally capitulated and began calling Billy Batson’s alter ego Shazam to keep the two from being confused.
With Captain Marvel out in March and Shazam out in April, there’s a good reason to rename the latter. (No one back in the day would ever have imagined either getting a big screen treatment or coming out so closely together.) Warner Home Entertainment has released Shazam in all the usual formats this week and it remains a fun, but not perfect film.
After countless screenwriters tried to crack the light-hearted world created by Bill Parker and CC Beck, it appears that Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke found their clues less in the classic work and more in the contemporary incarnation from Geoff Johns. As a result, if you loved the older stuff there’s plenty to like and even more of you love the new take.
We have the wizard (Djimon Hounsou) seeking someone with a pure heart to take his powers and defend the world from the Seven Deadly Sins. So far so good. After rejecting poor little rich boy Thaddeus Bodog Sivana (Ethan Pugiotto), he waits until he finds Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a homeless teen seeking his birth mother (Caroline Palmer). In trouble, Billy is taken to a group home run by Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews) and meets his foster siblings. As he struggles to adjust, he also is given the powers of the gods.
The whole foster family is a Johns addition and introduces a new sense of family, skewing far from the source material where Billy and Mary Bomfield (Grace Fulton) turn out to be twin siblings. Later, when they all gain rainbow-colored costumes it dilutes the Marvel Family feel.
Anyway, Billy turns into the World’s Mightiest Mortal (Zachary Levi) and has trouble acting like adult. While Billy tugs at your heart strings and Shazam is funny, they act as entirely separate beings rather than symbiotically connected. We see him trying to make money by putting on lighting shows (a power he doesn’t have in comics nor needs). To me, this is the biggest fault with an otherwise entertaining film. The sheer exuberance the adult displays is totally absent from Billy and the wisdom of Solomon seems entirely missing from the film.
Just as he’s getting acclimated to his power set and trying to find a name for himself, an amusing thread, the adult Sivana (Mark Strong) has been corrupted the Seven Deadly Sins and uses their power first for revenge against his father (John Glover) and then trying to gain the powers he feels are rightly his.
The problem here is that Sivana was a scientist and the conflict between them since 1940 was always science versus magic. Here, it’s magic versus magic and the David and Goliath riff is exchanged for muscle versus muscle. Strong does a fine job, but feh,
The siblings all have their moments to shine before Shazam shares his power with them, turning one family into another, just in time for the climax at the carnival. I’ll admit, the varying kids are all interesting, engaging varieties and their adult versions are good-looking heroes, but the adult heroes are just boring.
Overall, the movie works just fine when viewed as Big with Super-Powers but it could have been so much more. Director David F. Sandberg does a fine job making us care for the characters and keeps the action pieces moving, a growing challenge with every subsequent super-hero film. I’d be curious to see what he does with a sequel.
The high def transfer retains the 2.39:1 aspect ratio and is a strong image. The colors pop, the blacks are deep, and the lightning crackles. This definitely retains its comic book look and feel which goes a long way towards the enjoyment. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is possibly a touch better than the visuals so the music and special effects pop.
The Blu-ray comes complete with an above-average assortment of special features starting with Exclusive Motion Comic: “Superhero Hooky” (4:05) which reminds us why motion comics have never taken off as a medium although its nice the cast does the voices in this short. We than have The Magical World of Shazam (26:56) which briefly covers different aspects of the film’s production; Super Fun Zac (3:13); Deleted & Alternate Scenes (37:27 total), with Sandberg explaining why he reshot or edited out each scene giving you additional insight into the production; Gag Reel (3:16); Who is Shazam? (5:42), a too-brief history of the character in comics; Carnival Scene Study (10:22); and Shazamily Values (6:06) pairs the kid and their adult counterpart for some fun commentary.