10 Apr 2019

Review - Shazam

From At The Movies, 7:32 pm on 10 April 2019

The battle between the mighty Marvel Comics franchises – The Avengers, Spiderman, Deadpool and the restand their rivals, DC Comics - home of Batman and Superman - was essentially all over until recently.

Marvel films were the clear winners – fast, witty, charming and above all fun.  

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Photo: Supplied

By contrast the DC movies seemed committed to being no fun at all, following the dark blueprint of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies.  

It got so bad that their big stars, Batman and Superman, ended up fighting each other to the death.

Who wants to see that, we wondered?  But last year things started to look up for doomy DC, on the back of two unexpected hits. 

Wonder Woman proved endearing as well as feminist, and clearly didn’t take herself too seriously. And Aquaman was downright hilarious – occasionally on purpose.

DC Comics had tripped over, if not the secret then at least a bright idea - to go back to its comic-book roots. 

Before comic-books were called Popular Culture, aimed at ultra-serious dudes at Comic-Con, they were - you know - for kids. And no film is currently more child-friendly, dumb and thoroughly enjoyable than Shazam.

Shazam starts off a little dark and DC, when a kid has a car-accident back in the 1970s, then is whisked away to a mysterious, shadowy cavern – a cavern that looks like the set of an old 1940s movie serial.

It looks like the old serial because a lot of Shazam is the original serial plot, including the mysterious wizard who encourages the kid to do the right thing.

The 1970s kid turns out to be a washout, and he’s sent back.  Cut to now, and a troubled teen with the none-more-Forties name of Billy Batson.

Billy is given a last-chance foster-home with a mixed bunch of other orphans, including a kid on crutches called Freddie, with a nice line in sarcastic comedy.

One day, Billy finds himself on a mysterious train that takes him to a familiar shadowy cavern and a wizard still determined to find a Champion.

The Wiz sees something in Billy, and offers the chance for him to reach his potential. All he has to do is grab the magic staff.

The snigger is the giveaway to the tone of the movie, but suddenly Billy has transformed into Shazam – a cheesy, lovable-mutt version of the Man Of Steel. He panics, rushes home in his transformed state and wakes up his mate Freddy.

In other words, it’s a superhero variation on the old Tom Hanks body-swap comedy Big, with the added bonus that he can switch between his two identities with the use of the magic word.

He will eventually learn that with Great Powers comes Great Responsibility - though first he’s got to work out what those great powers are.

Once he learns them, Billy aka Shazam behaves like any 15-year-old kid suddenly given the keys to the kingdom – he makes an idiot of himself for a while.

But why wouldn’t he? He’s a kid, even when confronted by the Bad Guy – the first 1970s kid all grown up and now played by the villainous Mark Strong. 

Strong plays it straight – as straight as you can when the rest of the film is coming across as an outsize episode of Scooby Doo. This isn’t a criticism, by the way. 

Where the previous DC films prided themselves on earnestness and a high body count, Shazam read the words over the title and put the “Comic” back into the “Comic-Book Movie”.  And about damn time.

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