Ok, so Aquaman may have been a dumb as a bag of halibut, but it was fun, dammit. A LOT of fun to be exact, which judging by the gloom to chuckle ratio of the DCEU thus far is a big deal because by throwing open wide the doors that Wonder Woman unlocked (and ignoring the awkwardly self-aware quipping of Justice League altogether), Aquaman has paved the way for the DCEU’s first actual legitimate comedy. Not bad for a film with an octopus drum solo…
But guess what? Shazam! may actually be the best of all of them.
For a start, it’s actually insanely likeable, the story of young orphan Billy Batson gaining the ability to transform into a superhero with the simple yell of a word is sheer 80’s wish fulfilment on a level not quite seen before and plays essentially the Tom Hanks vehicle Big but with superpowers (there’s even a scene with a giant floor keyboard in a toy store). With the addition of his wacky new foster family made up of adorable and funny weird kids, there’s more than a few hints of Adventures In Babysitting too. In fact the kid level stuff is SO strong, you get the passing notion that Shazam! would actually make a far better double act with Spider-Man: Homecoming or Bumblebee than anything else in the DCEU’s current back catalogue.
The magic word here, is fun. Broad, infectious fun and director David Sandberg just may have put out something so incredibly exuberant, that some if the old DC guard may seem hopelessly antiquated in comparison.
Despite being about kids, the movie refuses to pander to them (a little too much actually as Sandberg’s horror roots show through quite excessively at times) as Billy’s seriously tragic back story carries serious weight and is more than enough to coast the movie through it’s endearingly ridiculous origin.
Zachary Levi is magnificent as Shazam!, putting in one of the biggest child-as-a-man performances ever and Mark Strong is sternly effective as his cycloptic opponent but it’s the child cast that truly make the film work, something that becomes incredibly apparent during the ambitious, anything goes finale.
Wedging itself cosily on the outskirts of the DCEU – Jack Dylan Grazer’s excitable sidekick wears a stunning array of DC merchandise – yet never letting it yank it’s story off course, Shazam! learns and builds from lessons learnt by it’s predecessors and shows that there’s still life in the DC franchise yet.
And all it took was a word…