Directed by David F. Sandberg | Written by Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan | 130 min | ▲▲△△△ | Crave
Here’s a tough movie to review. Like the first Shazam! movie this is entirely aimed at the pre-teen set, a four-colour superhero movie actually for kids. That’s not a bad thing, right? I won’t deny there’s every possibility the kids in your life might get a kick out of this G-rated CGI-heavy picture. For anyone old enough to drive, I’m warning you: this one’s pretty generic and pretty forgettable.
One of the things I enjoyed about the first movie was how obviously it used Toronto locations, standing in as Philadelphia. It might seem like a small thing but shooting on actual streets, even when pretending to be another place, gave the picture a distinct flavour. I’m unconvinced anything I’m seeing in this film, with the exception of the plate shots of the Philly skyline, is outside a studio.
Shazam! is inspired by Greek myths, which they go heavy on in this one. We meet the Daughters of Atlas — Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Anthea (Rachel Zegler from West Side Story), the latter who pretends to be a high school student in order to meet Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), maybe the most charismatic of the superhero kids we met in the first film.
Grazer and Zegler have chemistry, but it’s too bad the movie doesn’t really give them (or the rest of the family) much of a chance to be teenagers together — this Shazam! movie is more interested in the gods and superheroes plot: The Atlas ladies want a magical staff in order to regain some eldritch power and restore their land (and maybe destroy the world). It’s all pretty confusing, TBH. I did enjoy the moments where the appearance of magical creatures like cyclops, dragons, and unicorns made the movie seem like it might be a proper remake of Clash Of The Titans — something stronger than the recent abomination.
Shazam (Zachary Levi) himself — who was nicknamed The Big Red Cheese in the comics by his nemesis, Dr Sivana — is wracked with self-doubt about his role in the family and as a hero, which gets tiresome quickly. His anxiety sets up an opportunity later on for a sentimental slice of self-sacrifice, which delivers no real emotion. The picture directly references the Fast & Furious franchise, which makes sense since so much of this thing is about the strength and security of a loving family — that oh-so original theme. At least they have a little bit of fun with it.
Yes, we get a little crossover with other DC universe heroes — Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) makes a brief appearance, as does her terrific theme music — but one of the things that seemed special about the first Shazam! movie was how self-contained it was, and tonally so different from the other DC heroes. That doesn’t mean if they continue this franchise they couldn’t keep it kid friendly and unique, and maybe actually give the teenagers more screen time and more to do. Maybe don’t wait long, producers — those kids are growing up.