As it turns out, all superhero brands are doomed to try and repeat the success of the titan like Marvel Cinematic Universe. Flashy colours, typical soundtrack choices and a tongue-in-cheek element of comedy are neutered in those projects frequently, but more so in Shazam, which attempts to riff on the harsh combination of happy-go-lucky heroes fending off villainous-yet-comic world dominators. A lust for power and personal pride is always the backdrop for these baddies, and for those that oppose them, the draw and reward of family and personal satisfaction is found. With Zachary Levi leading this particularly dumb charge, his case of mistaken identity leads to some manic moments of humourless action set pieces and a traditionally bland variation of superheroes saving the day.
Each superhero film offers a nonsensical, digitally-enhanced entity for a villain to ponder, an inevitable MacGuffin that will aid their world domination. Annoyingly unoriginal, the only true variable is character, and there is little of that to be found within Shazam. Childish enough to fend off serious criticism, but not catering to children in that typical, manbaby defence of the DCEU thus far, Shazam finds itself in a fascinating middle ground. Asher Angel’s performance as Billy Batson is fine, and that is about as good as it gets for this David F. Sandberg piece. He does not convey anything with either emotion or interest, but who can blame him?
To be fair, Sandberg is at least bothered about bringing this titular character to the big screen. With no previous knowledge of the guy or what he does, Batson and his alter-ego are regarded and displayed with such annoying simplicity. Everything that happens within Shazam is due to a desire for power, nothing more. It is mere happenstance that the eponymous hero and Doctor Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) eventually cross paths. There is one key issue with the relationship between the two, in the sense that it simply does not matter. Friendly neighbourhood antics with the looming threat of impending doom, it takes some time for the two of them to interact with one another.
Shazam strikes me as a film that, had feebler minds gotten to it sooner, would be described as “Lynchian”, because odd things sometimes happen throughout the two hours of drivel. Still, there is only so much to adapt before Shazam gets messy. An origin story that takes up all of forty-five seconds and creates laughter that will last a millennium, it is key to understand that we can laugh at Shazam, but not with it. Its humour is dead in the water, but its backstory and characters are so flagrantly trying to steer themselves away from convention that it comes full circle. Trying to envision a time of originality, Shazam instead becomes another round of typical cannon fodder, a film so stuck in the charmless nature of this genre that it begs the reasoning as to why anyone would ever need to watch more than fifty of these identical, soulless products. Still, it wouldn’t be a DC film without Queen on the soundtrack.