Friday, April 5, 2019

'Shazam!', Gaaahh-lee!

Drinking that famous "COLA" Beer.

For those excited for Shazam! because they think it's the long-awaited re-release of that genie movie starring Sinbad, you're going to be disappointed. And for those excited for the big-screen debut of the Whiz/DC superhero once known as Captain Marvel, well, I've got good news and bad news.

The good news: Shazam! is not another emo-filled, murkily filmed, depressing entry in the DC universe. It's light, both in its visuals and its story, includes a superhero that doesn't take himself too seriously, and at times it reminded me a bit of the 1977 Superman, back when comic book movies weren't a genre we were expected to revere.

The bad news: it's way, way too long, strives to be funnier than it actually is, and saddles an already lackluster villain with a gang of truly uninspired monsters.

Both hero and villain have an origin centered on a meeting with an aging wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), in set-ups that take way too long, and never truly make sense. This aging wizard, the last of a council of seven, is looking for his champion, someone "pure of heart" to take over his duties and protect the world from the Seven Deadly Sins, which are, for now,  safely frozen in stone in his chamber.  When a young Thaddeus Sivana  is chosen (for reasons never explained) but fails the test, he grows up pretty bitter about it, spending his life trying to track down that wizard (when he isn't dealing with his extreme daddy issues).

Enter orphaned Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a foster kid on the constant search for the mother who disappeared years before. He's street smart, and always on the run, but willing to try out a new foster home, headed up by the saintly Vasquezes (Cooper Andrews and Mart Milans) and filled with five other foster kids of varying ages and ethnicities, including Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), a superhero aficionado. (He has a certified bullet that bounced off of Superman, who, don't forget, is real.)

The wizard Shazam, who after 40 years, still hasn't found a champion, summons Billy (just why Billy is chosen is, once again, never made clear) and decides to make him his heir, granting him the power to turn into an adult superhero (played by Zachary Levi) whenever he says the word "Shazam!" (And yes, Billy thinks that's pretty silly, too.)

What follows is a superhero version of Big, with Billy confiding in Freddy, and the duo teaming up to figure out just what powers Billy has, and just what they can do with them. Unsurprisingly, early choices include buying beer, going to a strip club, and busking for coin like a Times Square Elmo. The scenes between Levi and Grazer's Freddy owe an obvious debt to the aforementioned Big, though too often I just wished they were funnier. A lot of gags are tossed off like lightning bolts, but not many land.

But the movie's biggest sin is its Seven Deadly Sins. Why, why was the decision made to create completely generic "monsters" that look like rejects from a cheap 1990's film, and are completely indecipherable from each other? They're supposed to represent seven sins (which, why? If Shazam's power comes from Greek gods?), but I couldn't point out Sloth from Lust to save my life. They aren't interesting or scary; they're just loud and brown.

Shazam! is definitely better than the majority of DC's recent cinematic offerings, and I certainly wouldn't mind seeing the character teamed up with other DC characters in future films, but as a standalone movie, it had my inner 14-year-old dreaming of the ability to speed up time, or at least hit a magic fast forward button in the IMAX theater.