With most recent superhero films, I’ve found myself becoming more and more unsatisfied and, quite honestly, bored with their uninspired and repetitive beats. I find that there’s either superhero films that fall into a specific formula to guarantee success and mass audience appeal, or those that attain a label of “dumb fun”…and not much else. If we’re referring to the mass audience appeal side of the spectrum, I’d generally cite more recent MCU films. In the “dumb fun” side of the spectrum, I’d refer to something like Aquaman, a film that’s doesn’t attempt with trying to make anything compelling and just merely exists as flashy white-noise in the background. But very rarely, you’d get a film like Shazam!, something that’s so content with existing within its own parameters that you’ll be hard pressed not to find yourself smiling for the majority of its run-time.
Unlike other entries into the DCEU, Shazam! thrives on its ability to stay distant from the constant attempt at being a smaller piece in a larger cinematic universe puzzle. This is a self-contained story through and through, with a clear and established tone that brings forth new life into this repetitive genre. There isn’t anything particularly new on offer, but when it’s done well – it’s done extraordinarily well. Where as other are films praised for their ability to be “dumb fun”, which usually falls into the trappings of self-seriousness, Shazam! knows exactly what it needs to be and sticks with it until the very end. No universe building. No obnoxious callbacks or references (although there are a few clever and subtle nods), there’s no bullshit weighing it down. It’s brilliantly executed, and the film’s carefree tone is the entire backbone to the experience.
Part of what sells this tone so well are the performances, particularly from Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer. Levi is hilarious throughout, but the two have an incredible chemistry that not only adds to the humor of the film, but also provides its heart. For as light as the tone is, there’s a surprising amount of grounded and human elements that feels like a complete breath of fresh air for the genre, hearkening back to a simpler time of blockbuster comic book films that didn’t constantly feel like a cog in the studio system wheelhouse. It brings the comic book film down from its pedestal and begs it to pertain to a smaller scale endeavor. Even when it decides to use flash and spectacle, it feels earned throughout its gradual buildup, even when it dragged on by the end.
When I realized that my face hurt from smiling so damn much when the film ended, I knew that we had a real winner on our hands. There’s nothing more exciting than a blockbuster that feels like it has actual passion, drive, and creative control behind it to allow it to stand out and feel genuine.
Shazam! Opens Nationwide April 4th