Shazam: Superhero fatigue

There isn’t anything remarkable, groundbreaking or transcendent about “Shazam,” the latest in a never ending cavalcade of superhero movies “you just have to see on the big screen.”

The latest offering of DC Comics films from Warner Brothers is invariably entertaining in the moment, but lacks a certain dynamic energy that will resonate with moviegoers after the credits roll.

It’s got a clear, unique hook to draw audiences.

“Shazam” follows foster kid Billy Batson, the prototypical well-intentioned delinquent who bounces from group home to group home until a wizard grants him the power to transform into an adult superhero in vaguely Superman-esque attire.

This premise offers up some genuinely funny moments as Billy and his new foster brother test the limits of Billy’s Shazam alter-ego.

But as with much of “Shazam,” scenes are dragged out well past the point of repetition as director David F. Sandberg proves well in need of some serious editing to trim the film’s bloated 132-minute run time.

The success or failure of “Shazam” hinges entirely on the dual performance of Asher Angel as teenage Billy Batson and Zachary Levi as his adult alter-ego Shazam.

Despite a lack in synchronicity between the two performances – Levi feels less like a strong Batson than an entirely new character – “Shazam” delivers on a pure entertainment level as both Angel and Levi grab the attention of audiences and rarely let go.

Levi especially is well attuned to the heightened humor of the role and still conveys a convincing amount of comedic range to make Shazam less of a one-note caricature.

Both actors display great chemistry with Jack Dylan Grazer, who often steals scenes as Billy’s foster brother Freddie Freeman.

Not all of the jokes land as much as Sandberg and screenwriter Henry Gayden would like, but “Shazam” hits much more often than it misses when some combination of these three actors are on screen.

More in keeping with the majority of the DC Extended Universe movies, “Shazam” is significantly darker in tone than its relatively cheery trailer might suggest.

The film’s villains include demonic personas of the “seven deadly sins,” grotesquely designed CGI gargoyles that terrorize and brutalize at will.
“Shazam” also borrows quite liberally from irreverent, R-rated superhero flick “Deadpool,” mixing in that film’s subversive nature by poking fun at genre tropes and other DC movies as well as ramping up the innuendo to the upper limits of the PG-13 rating.

As a result, “Shazam” occasionally feels derivative and may be upsetting for younger families who thought it may be more in the vein of “Wonder Woman” or “The Incredibles.”

Where “Shazam” particularly grinds to a halt is in the extended backstory of the film’s primary villain, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, featuring gritty and exceptionally brutal scenes that far overcompensate for the lighthearted tone of Billy’s journey to become Shazam.

Veteran character actor Mark Strong has become notable for giving a series of solid performances in these blockbuster villain roles with films like “Sherlock Holmes,” “Green Lantern” and “Kick-Ass,” another film “Shazam” likens itself after much more than it should.

With Sivana, Strong gets to the point where playing so many similar evildoers becomes repetitive and his Sivana suffers from a relatively muted, bland performance that belies just how much time is spent trying to build the character up.

As superhero films continue to dominate the cinematic landscape, the sheer weight of quantity has begun to far exceed the quality most films in the genre can deliver.

In a vacuum, “Shazam” is an exceptionally average film.

Among superhero movies, and especially those outside the Marvel brand, there’s a lot to like about “Shazam.”

It’s just not super.

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