I’ll get to the Big Red Cheese in a minute.  First, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to present here, for the first time, my not-in-the-remotest-bit-objective summary of the DC cinematic universe to date. 

Man of Steel led the charge, a movie that had us all standing up in our seats and shouting “He did what now?”  What should have been a blockbuster entrance to the planned shared universe, left most of us in a state of puzzled disappointment.  I mean, how difficult is it to find the joy in Superman?  Conversely, how much effort must one undertake to make a Superman flick that goes dark in the end?  Zack Snyder certainly found a way to suck all the life out of the farm boy with the big red cape.  How is it possible to get something so elegantly simple so effing wrong?  It’s not without precedent, mind you, what with the way everyone’s always on about how great of a comic All-Star Superman is, even though Grant Morrison shows zero respect for the character, with all due to respect to Morrison, he’s written some great comics but Superman is not his bag but everyone always goes on about All-Star Fucking Superman and I just can’t…

All right.  I’m fine.  Man of Steel.  Not my movie.  Check.  Moving on.

Next came the needlessly bombastic Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, a non-sensible pile of steaming manure, if I’ve ever seen one.  At least, until the third act when Wonder Woman shows up.  But even then, by the point in which she turns up, things are just too far gone.  “Your moms is called Martha?  Hey, mine too!  Let’s not fight.  Here, have a Hostess apple pie.”  Laugh.  Freeze frame.  Fade to credits.  Or whatever.

This led to the inevitable Wonder Woman solo movie.  Well, hey now…  Sure, the third act gets a little unravelly, but things might be starting to look up over there at Warner Brothers.  There’s actual color (like in an actual comic book), a bit of humor, some characters that we actually give a damn about…  Maybe the DCEU isn’t going to be a total wash after all.  Third time’s the charm?

Then came Justice League, which only served to confirm our earliest assessments.  If the third time was the charm, the fourth time was the shitty dry cereal left in the box after you’ve fished out all the marshmallow charms.  Was there a villain?  Who remembers?  Those sure as hell looked like parademons, but I don’t remember them calling them such.  Still, Momoa was pretty good and the Flash had a couple of decent lines…

Aquaman proved that actual, true-to-the-comics color truly does exist in the DCEU (especially in terms of Mera’s hair).  And there’s humor?  The audience actually laughed once or twice?  What is this wizardry?  Aquaman is big and pretty and very nearly operatic in scale, just like Jason Momoa.  Also, it was actually sort of fun.

So, after five movies, the fine folks at the DC movie factory have trial-and-errored to discover that audiences of superhero comic book movies seem to respond to:

  • 1. Characterization
  • 2. Humor
  • 3. Colors (esp. primary)
  • 4. Escapist fun

Go figure, right?

….all of which dovetails perfectly into DC’s very own Captain Marvel, the hero also known as Shazam.  And I dare say it’s possible the DCEU has finally found its proper tone.  It only took half a dozen movies, but, you know, whatevs.  SHAZAM! is exactly the DC comics movie we all needed, whether we wanted it or not.  It’s light, it’s fun, it’s surprisingly heartfelt, and it allows its main character (and, in turn, the audience) to feel the joy of being a superhero.  And, believe it or not, having superpowers and a colorful bodystocking probably should not necessarily preclude a brooding darkness of the soul.  Like the comics it uses as a source, it skews a tad young for its PG-13 rating, just as some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe flicks skew a bit older for the same rating.  And that is not a criticism.  This movie is more likely to ignite the passions of young comic fans than most of the Marvel stuff, just as Christopher Reeve’s first Superman movie did for those of us who were kids when it first hit the screen.  Not that I know anything about that.  Ahem.

Right out of the gate, let me just say that Zachary Levi is every bit as charming and funny as he was back when he was manning the Nerd Herder desk at the Buy More.  Even my 15yo daughter, with her perpetual eye-roll at the world and everything in it, stops just short of admitting a micro-crush on Zachary Levi.  He’s great in the movie, but I fully expected that.  Sorry to sell you short in this review, Mr. Levi, but you fully met my expectations and you’re not who I’m here to talk about.  Just know I love ya anyway, brother.

What I found to be the most pleasant surprise and, frankly, the breakout element of this movie, is the young cast that comes together as Billy’s fellow foster kids, becoming his support structure and family.  Each is unique and well-cast, but more importantly, they all form a cohesion that builds and supports the case this movie makes about family.  A couple of the boys could possibly have benefitted from a tad more depth, but there was only so much screen time to go around, ya dig?  Who would have thought Asher Angel was ready to carry the weight of a blockbuster big-time superhero movie?  How are we supposed to get Jonah Beck back on the ultimate pitch, now that he’s seen mad superhero action?

It would be possible to argue that Freddie Freeman was as much a part of this story as Billy Batson, but that’s probably due largely to the excellent performance by Jack Dylan Grazer, who you might recognize as Eddie from the recent film version of Stephen King’s It.

Incidentally, Kevin Feige is going to be kicking himself for not already having Faithe Herman signed and filming a Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur movie, because she absolutely IS Lunella.  She’s also an excellent grounding wire for Billy’s newfound identity.  And she’s hilarious.

If I was forced to point out a weak point in this movie, it would likely be the antagonist(s).  Doctor Thaddeus Sivana feels a little mwah-hah-hah generic as villains go, but it doesn’t detract from the sense of menace Mark Strong presents in the role.  This is as much Sivana’s origin story as it is Billy Batson’s, and that part is intriguing.  Heck, we even get John Glover, proving once again that he exists to show DC fanboys all the things not to do as a father.  Sivana gets a bit overpowered by the third act, but it at least gives our title character someone to smack around as he completes the first toddler steps of his hero’s journey.  The other part of the villain equation is the Seven Deadly Sins, and I wish the filmmakers had taken a bit more time to specify each from the other.  The frenetic pace of their appearances make it difficult to fully appreciate the obvious design work that went into differentiating Sloth, Greed, Envy, and the rest of the seven dwarve– er, sins.  It’s not as muddy as Ang Lee’s Hulk fighting gamma dogs underwater at night with dark camera filters, but it still could have benefitted from a step back to establish specificity.  All of which feels pretty nitpicky, considering how much I truly enjoyed the two hours I spent watching this movie.

Overall, the effects are solid and the action set pieces are orchestrated clearly and with a logical methodology.

This being an early review, I’ll refrain from discussing any story elements here, but suffice it to say that if you are a fan of Shazam and the extended Marvel Family, you’re in for quite a ride.  There are easter eggs galore, several blink-and-miss-’em references to the broader world of Shazam (try to spot Talky Tawny and the purposely vague set-up for a villain whose presence will hopefully grace the sequel).  There’s even a sly nod to another kid-in-a-grown-up-body movie during a scene in a toy store, which I had to explain to my kids at Five Guys after the movie because not one of the uncultured little pop culture luddites has ever seen Big.

SHAZAM! is a big, fun flick that should serve to give us all hope for the future of the DCEU.

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