Film: “Shazam!”; Director: David F Sandberg; Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong; Rating: ***(3 stars)…writes Subhash K Jha
There is something to be said about bringing back the ‘F’ word into cinema. Fun, fun and more fun than I’ve had in a super-hero film years…Shazam! leaves us breathless with its sense of self-wonderment.
It’s like going back to the roots of the super-hero genre to discover where the heroics really started.
“Flying or invisible?” our super-hero’s best friend Freddy (played by scene-stealer Jack Dylan Grazer) wonders aloud when Billy shows up as Shazam. That’s as basic as the super-hero genre can get. The truly endearing thing about this artless piece of kitschy cinema is, it doesn’t demur from dropping the dynamics of the super-hero genre into the crackling cauldron of the comic. One minute you are dazzled. The next minute you are giggling helplessly as the superhero falls back to earth with a thud.
Often, I felt the palpable and unapologetic naivete of a plot that embraces goodness as the spine of modern existence. So there is this foster home run by a too-good-to-be-true couple where kids of all ages and races co-exist as though orphanage had just been immunised from tax exemption by the Government. And to think shelter homes are now more Dickensian than ever before.
An entourage of entertainers bubble forth into this sparkling homage to heroism. The actors all get it. They know the trick of a truly palatable super-hero film is to energise the protagonist’s traditional hijinks with doses of humour.
A winking warmth embraces the goings-on as 15-year old Bill (Asher Angel) transforms into a full-grown superhero (Zachary Levi). So, overawed is Bill by his own makeover that he spends a lot of time preening posturing and posing for selfies with fans all over city that doesn’t need to be saved. Just tweaked here and there.
This façade of flippancy doesn’t diminish the film’s subliminal message on family ties and how these can overcome the most obnoxious evil.
I am not too impressed by the film’s portrayal of evil. The archvillain (played with middling vileness by Mark Strong) tries to join in the mood of self-deprecatory humour and makes a miserable hash of his character’s evil quotient. For the Good Versus Evil tropes to remain serviceable the film needed a consistently malevolent opposition. Instead what we get is a villain and his caucus of CG-driven monsters who are too much into the light to be distinguished by the darkness.
What works, and works really well, is Bill/Shazam’s guileless initiation into the self-important super-hero scheme. Save The World never seemed more fun to do. It’s all done in the spirit of frisky folklore, not to be taken seriously. But never to be trivialised either.
In one sequence the ancient wizard commands Billy to “take hold of his staff.”
“That’s gross,” Billy guffaws. But the laughter retreats as the wizard shows he means business. Light and dark moments play an endearing hide-and-seek in this film which won’t take itself too seriously. But it doesn’t mean it will allow us to do the same.