Dear Alex Lawrence,
Imagine being given powers by a master of electricity who goes by a single name. What would you do? How far would you go? Could you overcome temptation from the seven deadly sins that would suddenly reveal themselves? If so, you might be worthy of the title -
This dream is actually realistic for someone like you. As the Best Boy Electric, you’re probably next in line to inherit the thunderbolt throne and control the (literal) power on set. It would be a natural progression from your daily activities managing your department’s budgets, schedules, set-ups, and tears downs. I expect you wouldn’t screw around. So this is where I’ve exhausted any parallel between you and a 14-year-old-boy being jolted into the body of a superhero with super powers.
For most other people, this kind of snap-your-fingers transformation is pure fantasy. Elemental wish fulfilment, and the premise of superheroes from Spider-man, to Wolverine, to Deadpool. Having not watched the trailer, I expected Shazam! to be closer to the latter in terms of winking, knowing storytelling, but it’s much closer to Spiderman: Homecoming in its treatment of playing with new powers. And once that part of the film kicks in, with Zachary Levi on screen, the film finally gets some life. Because the first 30 minutes I was wondering why anyone even bothered to turn the lights on at all.
The backstory section of the film is a slog and virtually laugh-free. The script doubles down on the delinquent parent drama, setting up both the hero and villain stories. And yet the absurdity of the premise is given short shrift without any connecting logic as to who is given the opportunity to take on Shazam’s powers. For a film with a glowing lightning bolt on the chest as a main theme, there’s very little early acknowledgement of the absurd premise. We are deep in DC comic land, and desperate for some relief.
It does come, and hinges completely on Levi’s performance. There’s no character consistency between him and Asher Angel (the 14-year-old version of himself), so the laughs are based on Levi acting how a teenager would act, as opposed to playing with the specifics of how Angel acts. Luckily, Levi brings the energy to his performance that Angel exhausted flipping his side-swept bangs.
The other tone mixing that seems at odds with the film’s spirit is the treatment of the gargoyle-ish Sins. They’re rather terrifying, emerging from dust and decapitating victims with a single bite. It might be trying to borrow the mish-mash of horror and comedy from the original Ghostbusters, but there’s no comical Key Master as a counter balance.
On the whole, DC films have certainly lightened up, but it wouldn’t hurt for you to push for making things even brighter next time. You know, when you eventually take the power for yourself.