This movie is Big meets Spider-Man, with a touch of The Goonies, as if it were made by Spielberg. That might all sound like a good thing, and at times it is. But really, it’s just a big mess of a film. That’s because it wants to be a sad story about kids living in a foster home, and other times wants to be Deadpool-lite. And it can pull those things off sometimes, but other times, they don’t segue well and it’s a mess tonally. It also gets repetitive.
When I was reviewing this on the radio, I was asked about the origin and the TV show. The show was in the mid-70s and I never watched it. I believe there were also two different film versions, one with comedian (and I use that term loosely) Sinbad, and basketball star Shaquille O’Neal (although that movie was called Kazaam, so maybe it was something different. I didn’t see either).
Here’s the story. A young boy gets stuck in a car, and when he opens the door, it leads to a magical lair (the word will make you chuckle after seeing the movie). He meets a wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). In an opening segment that’s rather long, he’s asked to approach several stone gargoyle creatures (each representing one of the Seven Deadly Sins) and a ball of light, which the wizard implores him not to touch it. Shazam says only the pure of heart will end up possessing his powers. The boy wasn’t deemed to be the right guy for the job, and he’s sent back to his dad and brother. After they tease him about his Magic 8-Ball, boy does that give this kid daddy issues.
We meet another boy, Billy Batson (Asher Angel). He gets lost at a carnival, and gets put in the foster care system. The couple running it are sweet (Cooper Andrews from The Walking Dead, and Spanish actress Marta Milans). But Batson is a rebel and is having none of it, even though the other kids living there are adorable and friendly. Batson shares a room with Freddy Freeman (which would totally be my DJ name if I got back into DJing). He’s a superhero aficionado, which is fun, to a degree. It gets old quick, with all the references to D.C. characters.
When Batson hears Shazam’s voice on a subway, and the doors open to the lair, he does inherit the powers. I found that a bit confusing when we find out he stole a collectors item that belonged to his roommate. Not sure how that makes him “pure of heart.”
When Batson says “Shazam” he turns into an adult (played by Zachary Levi). And just as we all laughed in the trailers when he takes out the liquor store robbers, the full scene is even funnier (and it’s nice that for once, the trailers didn’t spoil the best jokes from it). The problem is, just as I’m enjoying the childlike enthusiasm Levi displays in the character (the same way we adored watching Tom Hanks in Big), something hit me like a bullet off Superman’s chest. Uh…Billy Batson was kind of calm, cool, collected. He was streetsmart. He could fight with much older kids that are picking on someone weaker. So, why when he becomes an adult, does he start acting like a giggling, goofy 10-year-old? Either Batson’s should’ve been acting that way, or…they should’ve toned down the goofiness Levi displayed; except they were soooo trying for that Big vibe (hell, they even showed two characters on a light-up piano toy).
The movie generally does a good job in making the scenes fun. A boy looking like an adult, makes some of the decisions you’d think he might make (going into a gentleman’s club, for example; side note: it’s odd that they’re called “gentleman’s clubs” when, the few times I’ve been in them, the crowd was mostly the opposite of “gentleman.” Perhaps I should save that rant for my next review of a strip club instead of a movie review).
Other things he does with his powers, you don’t see coming. And that is a lot of fun to experience. I just suppose that with superhero fatigue, and having already seen better snarky superheroes (Iron Man, Deadpool, and the Guardians of the Galaxy crew)…it felt like this wasn’t necessary. Unless it was to make a superhero flick for the family (and it’s probably not so appropriate for the real youngsters).
A number of the jokes didn’t land. I’m not so sure the villains worked, either. I’ve always loved Mark Strong, and he’s got the perfect sounding voice for a bad guy. Yet he didn’t do much for me here. His murderous creatures didn’t, either. Perhaps it was the Gene Simmons tongues they were all sporting and the fact that you couldn’t tell who was who. They also didn’t instill the kind of fear they should have. They were big, brown, and…looked like something you might see in a toilet (speaking of which, why when Levi tried to look angry or serious, did he look like he had to hit the toilet?)
The film had a few touching scenes. It had a few laughs. It was fun to hear Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” during a montage when Shazam is figuring out his superpowers.
It was fun how a pair of bullies were handled, although at one point Freddy tells Billy he can’t kill them because, “They’re not super villains, just a couple of douchebags.”
It was a funny line, but it made me think of something later in the movie. Why did Shazam also turn into a bit of a d-bag? A number of the things he did once he got superpowers, are d-bag behaviors.
The 3rd act is such a long, boring fight sequence and the movie is two hours and 15 minutes long. It needed to be an hour and a half, and it would’ve been a great picture for the DC oeuvre.
I thought the length of it would bother me, since I had to leave a CinemaCon party in Las Vegas to catch an 11 p.m. showing of it. Since I wasn’t tired, that wasn’t the problem. It’s just the fact that the movie didn’t need to be this long.
2 stars out of 5.