There’s a good chance that in recent weeks or months you’ve heard at least one person say or at least one person write that ‘there are way too many superhero movies right now’. The fact there are more appearing in cinemas now than there were when Iron Man first hit our screen in 2008, that’s indisputable. But this motion of ‘too many’ – that is one I think can be disputed. The fundamental ingredients of superhero movies, and the comics they come from, are routed in thousands of years worth of tradition and storytelling. Look at Greek and Roman mythology. Look at Egyptian hieroglyphics. Look at The Epic of Gilgamesh, the earliest surviving great work of literature that dates back to 2100 BC. We, as human beings, love reading about heroes; people with powers helping those in need. There could be a line of argument, however, that some of the superhero movies themselves have begun to adhere to a formula that could be described as samey.
That is a very long-winded introduction to get to my point – to me, Shazam is an antidote to ‘those’ movies. And identifying how and why it is an antidote; that’s the fun bit. For fun is the operative word when describing this movie. It is so, so, so much fun. Zachary Levi as the eponymous Shazam, the superhero alter-ego of 14-year old Billy (played by Asher Angel) delivers a fantastic comedic performance. It’s breezy in delivery, but never throwaway. The moments of slapstick are aptly balanced by moments of fierce determination and flickers of conflicition. Both the six and ten laugh tests are passed with ease in the film’s first section, but these are then beaten down by some proper belly laughs courtesy of Levi.
Although the film does follow the expected path, to some extent – the origin movie approach is tried and tested – it also manages to offer some surprises too. To counter the lightness and comedy there needs to be moments of shade, many of which come from Mark Strong’s dramatic take on villain Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. To make a superhero movie great, there must be a great villain. A tour of Marvel’s ever-increasing back catalogue attests to this. Strong is a great villain, as pithy as he is menacing. He’s an excellent foil to Levi’s Shazam, both in terms of delivery but the material they are provided with. In some ways they are doppelgangers, having followed a similar path their lives have taken distinctly different turns for reasons semi-within their control.
Their inevitable confrontation/s are immensely enjoyable to watch, possessing a knowing campness that is loosely reminiscent of Adam West’s Batman clashing with Cesar Romero’s Joker. In fact Shazam‘s action scenes could even have believably have onomatopoeic speech bubbles alongside them and not be anachronistic. Such is the lightness of tone the film possess, helped by the fact that the entirety of the action is character-driven. Their motivations are established and tensions created by well developed relationships – family is truly at the centre here. This is reinforced by in-jokes and references that are littered throughout, adding to the sense that we the audience are part of that family too.
There’s real joy to be had by watching Shazam, a contagious feeling of childish glee and enthusiasm induced by the fact the film’s creators clearly loved what they were making. Full of heart; charming and utterly delightful.
Shazam is in UK cinemas from 5th April.