Every time a Marvel movie comes out, it’s met with excitement. It’s an event. When a DC movie comes out, it’s still an event. Just one where most people who buy a ticket want to see what this latest train wreck looks like. Wonder Woman helped stop the flooding of garbage DC movies, and Aquaman made a bajillion dollars, helping remove some of the tarnish from DC. The latest entry, Shazam!, about a 14-year-old foster kid named Billy Batson who becomes a superhero, could’ve easily been the biggest train wreck of them all. Instead, it’s the most thoroughly enjoyable movie in the DC Universe.
But Shazam! doesn’t start out that way. The opening scene, a flashback explaining the origins of the film’s villain, Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), is as clunky and awkward as anything in Suicide Squad or Justice League. The writing and editing are a mish-mash of bad ideas and stunted dialogue, making it almost fitting the whole sequence ends with a car wreck. There are scenes like this throughout Shazam! – especially the ones with Dr. Sivana – that struggle to mine true melodrama, but once Zachary Levi shows up as the title character, the fun gets kicked up to 11.
At its core, Shazam! is about wish fulfillment. What would a 14-year-old do if he instantly become an adult imbued with superpowers? Have fun? Play pranks? Shoot lightning out of their hands to the tune of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger? Yes, yes and yes. For Shazam!, with great power comes great irresponsibility.
The infectious fun in Shazam! glosses over a lot of the film’s flaws, but not all. The special effects aren’t that great, the villain is bland and plot holes abound – the original Shazam! (Djimon Hounsou), who ends up giving Billy his powers, has the seven deadly sins imprisoned in stone in his lair. But why? It’s never explained beyond the fact that the sins are bad. There’s also a fair amount of product placement for the other DC film properties, mainly Batman, Superman and Aquaman. It was a surprise that none of the Blu-ray versions of their movies popped up.
Compared to Marvel films, Shazam! would fall somewhere in the middle. It’s wholly entertaining but suffers from a lot of the same things that hold some Marvel movies back, like a poor villain. But hold Shazam! up against every DC movie since Man of Steel and it’s arguably the best of the bunch. DC is clearly moving in the right direction, but there’s still work to do before they can match Marvel’s level of quality.