We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s case, by shouting out one word – SHAZAM! – this streetwise fourteen-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult superhero Shazam. (from IMDb)
While Marvel has carefully built an interwoven cinematic universe, it’s no secret that their rivals, DC have tried to cut corners to build something similar. They’ve floundered with a few releases, and have axed or delayed planned films because of it, but recent successes Wonder Woman and Aquaman have brought with them glimmers of hope for the franchise. Now, four months after the release of Aquaman’s 1-billion-dollar box office take, we have a much lighter outing in Shazam!.
With each promo and trailer for Shazam!, there was a distinct focus on the silly and youthful vibe of the film. And, really, that’s a good representation of the film’s nature. However, what you never get a glimpse of is also a very dark, horror-esque side to the story. Early on, we discover that the Wizard Shazam, who wants to pass on his powers to someone worthy (and “pure in heart”), is literally holding back in captivity the Seven Deadly Sins. These creatures are large, demonic creatures representing each of the seven sins. At first, they’re just shown as statues with red eyes and scary, booming voices that try to entice the wizard’s candidate. Later, however, they’re unleashed, and we see them in their full evil, grotesque glory. While the film seems to be marketed at families, these ghostly demons are truly the things that nightmares are made of. They bring with them plenty of violence too (one bites the head off a man, although its not gory), and it’s likely to spook the pants off anyone just expecting it to be a light little superhero story.
Otherwise, Shazam! is really every bit as fun and delightful as it promises. I loved Zachary Levi in the show Chuck and he brings that same kind of innocence and fun to his character of Shazam here. Asher Angel is excellent as the 14-year-old Billy, and he is given a pretty wide spectrum to play here. He’s quiet and pensive, struggling with abandonment and loss from a young age, as well as trying to find his place in life as a teenager. This film is just as much about family dynamics as anything else, and we see how an unhealthy familial architecture leads to Thaddeus becoming the villain (played by Mark Strong), and Billy’s bond with his newfound foster family being far more positive and redeeming. It’s also an interesting theme regarding the Seven Deadly Sins, temptation, and pursuing a pure heart. (Which also brings forth an interesting theme about how difficult it is to find a truly pure heart. Religion does not come in to play with the film directly, but there’s certainly plenty to discuss following the film.) The number 7 is repeated throughout the story as well – from the Seven Deadly Sins to the seven realms, seven wizards, and even numbers shown on characters’ doors and such. The movie is rich with symbolism, with some being Christian mixed with other worldly ones. (The foster family seems to say grace at meals, but never mentions God by name.)
The tone of the movie is a bit inconsistent, but not in such a way that it feels wrong or erroneous. If I had to compare it to any Marvel film, it’s probably closest to Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man in tone and execution. However, the horror elements with the Seven Deadly Sins really add such a darker and scarier element to the film. It almost makes this a horror comedy. There’s a see-saw feeling between the horror and comedy at the beginning, but the comedic elements are still on the lighter side. It’s not till Levi pops in as Shazam that the real laugh-out-loud moments begin. And it’s those moments that really help soften the horrifying visuals of the sins, giving the horror aspects a bit more of an amusement park grade thrill than a cower-in-the-corner fear. Still, it’s intense for this kind of film (especially since I don’t think it’s expected). It’s so much so, that I strongly advise NOT showing Shazam! to your kids. (Which, too, was sadly misleading, because the preview for this movie played before such more family-friendly PG-rated movies, like Dumbo and The LEGO Movie 2.) Perhaps that’s what happens when a director who’s really only previously directed a horror film (in this case, Annabelle: Creation) takes on a superhero film, but the whole nature of the villainous story is surprisingly dark and sinister.
With that said, the content is entirely of the PG-13 variety, if not even pushing the envelope a bit at times with the aforementioned horror elements. The film opens with an intense scene that sets up our villain, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, who we meet as a child as he rides in the car with his father and older brother. Both are very condescending towards him, and after he meets the Wizard Shazam suddenly and is returned to his place in the car, his father berates him and they get into a nasty car wreck (in which we assume his father dies). It’s a doozy of a way to set up the film, and a very good idea of the kind of movie we’re getting into. Billy, as a hero, is shown from the start to lie, steal, and do some less than noble deeds. However, the story does show him grow through the course of the story (he’s a 14-year-old boy who has bounced around foster care homes for most of his life, after all). One scene shows Billy as adult Shazam buying beer with his also under-age friend Freddy, but when they go to drink it, they decide it tastes terrible and go to buy more innocent (and legal) snacks instead. There isn’t much by way of sexual content, but Billy, while going on a selfish spree of things he can now do as an adult superhero, goes inside a strip club called The Booty Trap. We never see inside, but we do see him leave there, with Freddy asking him if he saw anything. Later, he and some others end up there again, kind of accidentally (it’s played as a big laugh), and some other under age kids leave with mixed reactions of disgust (and Freddy walks out covered in glitter). Language is frequent but seldom strong, with at least 5 uses of the “S” word (some spoken by the teens), as well about a dozen uses of God’s name as an exclamation and 1 “J-sus Chr-st” used in vain by a character with a small role. One of the last scenes of the movie show a man on the news screaming and cursing with roughly 5 bleeps used in place of what is mostly the “F” word being spoken (It’s intended to be funny). Otherwise, there are no fully audible “F” words in the film. The violence–which there is plenty of–is largely bloodless. One of the demonic sins wraps its mouth around a man’s head, presumably biting the head off, and then throws the body out the window (it’s framed in a way that nothing is shown to be gory). The car wreck at the beginning shows Thad’s father lying in a pool of blood beside the car. Later, a person touches a magical door, questioning its power, and we quickly see them start burning and withering and decompose as they scream (it’s pretty gross and intense and unexpected). Shazam has a bloody nose during a fight scene, and after Thad is hit in the back of the head with a blade, we see a bloody line with a drop of blood running down it across his bald head. The finale involves a lot of superhero fighting with destruction and people being thrown around and threatened by all of the Seven Deadly Sins monsters. Also, I should mention–and this could be a spoiler to some, so fair warning–that the story involves child abandonment, rejection, and all-around bad parenting (in fact, it doubles down on it). They redeem this theme by the end, but anyone sensitive to these kinds of themes may want to know about that ahead of time. I definitely found a few moments to be heart-wrenching.
Shazam! on IMAX was a great presentation (especially the exclusive extended teaser for Godzilla: King of the Monsters), but I wouldn’t say the film took advantage of the format in the same way other films tend to (like Captain Marvel showing more of the picture vertically, for example). Still, it’s my favorite viewing format these days, so I’d still recommend seeing it in IMAX if you can.
Intensity aside, Shazam1! is such an oddball of a film that is refreshing to see, especially coming out of the lackluster DC Comics movie world. It’s super funny, it has a heartwarming (and heartbreaking) theme about family and belonging, and plenty of action to keep you entertained. Unfortunately, it’s not the family film the ads hint it might be, but the grown up superhero fans should find plenty to enjoy about Shazam!. Oh, and there are two additional scenes at the end, one during the credits and one little joke after the credits have totally ended.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 4/5/19)
4K UHD / Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Along with the feature film in 4K UHD, the 2D Blu-Ray disc and digital copy of Shazam! are the following Extras:
Shazam! in 4K UHD (2:11:41) – Not all 4K transfers are alike. DC’s latest entry in their cinematic universe makes its debut in 4K–along with the other usual viewing options–and it’s definitely a quality transfer. The colors are vibrant, the clarity is razor sharp, but the only downside is that the picture does tend to look grainy at times. It’s not terrible by any means, but compared to some of the best 4K films I’ve seen (Dunkirk is among those for sure), it does tend to look rather grainy at times. You would probably be just as fine with the regular Blu-Ray release of Shazam!, but the 4K definitely has the color vibrancy on its side as a plus.
Superhero Hooky (4:07) – This is a short “motion comic” story starring Zachary Levi voicing Shazam as he is interrogated by the high school principal about the kids going missing during class (so they can thwart an art theft). It takes place after the events of the film. (1 “cr*p”)
The Magical World of Shazam! (27:09) is about how the director came on to the project. We see lots of previs animatics, making-of footage, behind the scenes moments and even audition tapes. We also discover that Zachary Levi had auditioned for adult Freddy and that’s when they realized he’d make a great Shazam. This also covers the details and designs of the costume, the glowing logo on the suit and the problems they had with it, and how they accomplished the bus scene stunt. It then covers Mark Strong as the villain and his experience in the flying rig. They also filmed the mall fight in a real, active shopping mall (with real patrons, since they couldn’t shut it down for filming), and put the toy store in just for the movie. They then talk about reshooting some scenes in Philadelphia, the immense The Rock of Eternity set, designing “the sins” monsters, and having to recreate Philadelphia digitally for the finale. (3 “S” words, 2 “Oh my G-d,” 1 “a” word, 1 “h*ll,” 1 bleeped “F” word)
Super Fun Zac (3:19) features cast and crew talking about Zachary Levi and how he goofs around all the time and is high energy and a lot of fun on set.
Deleted and Alternate Scenes with Optional Director’s Intro (39:01) – There are 17 alternate/deleted scenes. You can watch these as-is or with commentary introductions from director David F. Sandberg. For those, he doesn’t speak throughout the whole sequence, but he quickly offers some insight into the sequence as it starts and lets it play out normally from there. “Wizard Prologue” shows Wizard Shazam talking to the sins as he traps them in their statues. “Alternate Beginning” is a different setup from the car crash in the finished film. We see young Thad in 1974 at his family’s mansion. It features a different actor as his dad (he’s not nearly as good as the one in the finished film at all), and has Thad ride to The Rock of Eternity via an elevator. “Billy on the Subway” shows Billy riding alone and rehearsing what he’d say to his mom if he finally met her. For “Alternate Group Home Intro,” Sandberg said he tried one long track shot like he did in his film Annabelle: Creation, but he felt it ended up not being personal enough for meeting the characters. The next one is an alternate version of Thad and his doctor assistant interviewing other witnesses of the Wizard Shazam’s tests. Sandberg ended up reshooting it because he felt the office they were in looked too clean and wasn’t “moody” enough. “Billy Sneaks Out” shows Billy trying to leave the group home at night, but Mary catches him and convinces him to stay (1 “a” word). The next scene is a little moment where Darla hugs Billy at school and he tells her they’re not really siblings so she doesn’t have to treat him like one. “Sivana Christmas Party” is the pay-off for the original mansion setup. Adult Thad goes to the mansion and crashes the Christmas party, turning his brother into a pile of dust and then killing everyone else there (which we don’t see). It then shows him sitting alone inside eating their food and talking to his now-dead family, who are now just piles of dust on the floor. (The board room scene in the finished film is exceptionally stronger.) “Shazam and Darla Tea Party” is a really cute scene featuring Darla asking Shazam practical questions, like where do his clothes go when he changes into Shazam and back. “Alternate Lightning with My Hands” shows the original version of the scene as it was shot in Toronto. It features more bus moments that flesh out the accident (but I think they were right to cut those… like a pencil rolling down the aisle being what tips it over the edge? Ugh). “Additional Montage Beats” shows little bits and pieces of Freddy listing powers Shazam might have, and we see more tests (these were pretty fun!). “Freddy Hung from Locker” briefly shows him hanging by his underwear from a locker door (ouch!). “Alternate Carnival Fight” is about 5 minutes long and is the original cut of the scene. It features some unused moments, but ultimately pales in comparison to the final version. “Freddy Flies by Airplane” is a cute little moment where a kid spots adult Freddy flying by an airplane like Superman. “Family of Thrones” is a pay-off scene where the kids and Billy as their Shazam identities sit in their respective thrones at The Rock of Eternity. They also notice one throne remains empty and wonder who it might be for (Shazam! 2, anyone?). I kind of wish they’d figured out a way to fit this scene in at the end. Lastly, “Alternate Ending Family Beats” shows the group home family lighting up a big Christmas tree, and then the kids “going outside to play” as they yell “Shazam!” and leave to fight crime together.
Gag Reel (3:16) – The gag reel is a fun one that shows the cast messing up lines, adlibbing and just having a lot of fun on set. (1 “S” word)
Who is Shazam? (5:42) gives a brief origin of the character and how the film borrows heavily from the “New 52” reboot of the comic series. They also talk about the heart of the character as well.
Carnival Scene Study (10:24) gives us a closer look at how they accomplished the sequence, the stunts, using a real ferris wheel (and destroying it), eventually redoing the scene to go bigger with it, and more!
Shazamily Values (6:07) – This fun little featurette profiles the kids and their adult versions.
Finally, there’s a feature-length Commentary by Director David F. Sandberg (2:11:41). Overall, the featurettes are solid and do a nice job of showing how the movie came together.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 7/13/19)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Billy, while going on a selfish spree of things he can now do as an adult superhero, goes inside a strip club called The Booty Trap. We never see inside, but we do see him leave with a plate of wings (and he comments on his experience. Freddy asks him if he “saw any boobies”). Later, he and some others end up there again, kind of accidentally (it’s played as a big laugh), and some other under age kids leave with mixed reactions of disgust (and Freddy walks out covered in glitter)
Vulgarity/Language: 5 “S” words, 11 “Oh my G-d,” 2 “Oh G-d,” 1 “J-sus Chr-st,” 4 “h*ll,” 4 “a” words, 1 “d*mn,” 1 “d*ck,” 1 “d*mn,” 3 “sucks” (1 of them is written in the end credits); 1 “cr*p,” 5 bleeped “F” words during a TV news broadcast.
Alcohol/Drugs: We see adult Shazam buying beer with his also under-age friend Freddy, but when they go to drink it, they decide it tastes terrible and go to buy more innocent (and legal) snacks instead; There may be some other miscellaneous drinking in the film.
Blood/Gore: After a nasty car, we see Thad’s father lying in a pool of blood beside the car; A person touches a magical door, questioning its power, and we quickly see them start burning and withering and decompose as they scream (it’s pretty gross and intense and unexpected); Shazam has a bloody nose during a fight scene; A man falls inside a bus dangling off the side of a bridge and hits the windshield. We see some bloody scrapes on his forehead as Shazam works to save them; After Thad is hit in the back of the head with a blade, we see a bloody line with a drop of blood running down across his bald head; We see a crack-like scar on Thad’s face after a glowing orb lodges itself into his eye; We see an old man crumble and wither away. (It’s not meant to be scary, but it may be a little gross to some.)
Violence: Lots of comic book style violence; A young boy is enticed by the Seven Deadly Sins to touch a glowing orb. Wizard Shazam hits his hand before he can touch it; A car spins out of control to try to miss an oncoming car. When it comes to a stop, it is hit by a truck, causing the car to flip multiple times. It throws the driver from the car and we see them lying in a pool of blood; A teen locks some police officers inside a store; A person touches a magical door, questioning its power, and we quickly see them start burning and withering and decompose as they scream (it’s pretty gross and intense and unexpected); Thad, as an adult, finds the Wizard Shazam and attacks him, freeing the Seven Deadly Sins from their (scary) statues and the orb lodges itself into his eye, breaking his glasses; Two older kids pick on Freddy and start hitting and beating him. Billy reluctantly decides to hit them back with Freddy’s crutch and they chase after him; We see an old man crumble and wither away; Shazam and Freddy test his powers and he accidentally fries a telephone pole. He also tries to fly but falls to the ground hard; Shazam speeds over to help a girl who is getting mugged and he roughs up the mugger a little bit; Shazam goes into a convenience store to get beer when suddenly a couple robbers come in. They hold the cashier at gunpoint and then shoot at Shazam. The bullets bounce off his chest and then Freddy encourages them to shoot Shazam in the face. We then see the bullets just bounce off his skin. He responds by throwing them through the store window, wrapped up in Christmas lights; Thad shows up in an office board room where we find his father in a wheel chair (having survived the car crash) and his older brother by his side. He tosses his brother out the window through the glass and then unleashes the Seven Deadly Sins who proceed to attack and eat the board room members. (One even bites the head off a man and throws him out the window too). We see on the outside of the room where a receptionist hears faint screaming from inside and then we see people being hit up against the windows as they scream to be let out. We then see the room littered with dead bodies (there doesn’t appear to be blood), and Thad unleashes Greed on his father. We see the doors close and hear his father’s screams; Shazam zaps people’s cell phones with his lightening blasts and it causes one guy’s phone to overload and burst; Shazam tries to “leap a tall building in a single bound” and accidentally smashes through an office building window; Freddy finds Shazam showing off out on the street, shooting lightening from his hands when one burst of power accidentally zaps a bus, causing it to go out of control and start falling off a bridge. Shazam rushes over to help and we see several people fall down inside the dangling bus and land on the windshield glass; Thad finds Shazam on the street, grabs him by the throat and hits him several times (showing he’s not invincible to the power the villain possesses). Shazam tries kicking Thad in the crotch, which just makes him madder, and the two begin fighting in the street. Shazam tries fleeing but Thad keeps catching up to him and beating him. The fight travels to a nearby mall where Shazam smashes through a ceiling into a dressing room and Thad pursues him through a toy store (where Shazam tries throwing toys at him); We see Thad slamming Freddy against a locker and threatening him; We see the Seven Deadly Sins menacing a carnival and chasing around people, including children. A lot of destruction is caused, including a ferris wheel being broken and tipped over, etc; Thad holds Billy’s face underwater at one point, trying to drown him; And other comic book style action violence.