My wife and I have a strong affinity with a small town in southern West Virginia named Hinton. The town has a vintage, single-screen movie theater which we always wanted to see a movie in, except it was never showing anything we wanted to see when we were visiting the town. Although we are not predisposed to superhero films, we finally saw a movie at The Ritz when they screened Shazam!.
We had a blast watching the movie, and I wondered how much of that experience was seeing it in a great theater. There aren’t any theaters of this vintage (1929) in the area we live anymore, so it was amazing to see a movie in an art deco palace. Also, my memory has only families in the theater with us, and it was nice to see everybody have an enjoyable evening out.
I finally watched Shazam! a second time recently and I am pleased to report it was as enjoyable an experience at home.
Part of why this film clicked for me when so superhero movies have not is because of the focus on characters. Asher Angel plays a teenaged orphan who has ended up in a group home after escaping from, or being kicked out of, numerous homes. This new home is filled with the expected assortment of oddball characters, notable Jack Dylan Grazer as a superhero obsessed outcast.
I should mention at this point that, in the world of this movie, superheroes are real and worshipped by the public. Angel essentially lucks into an appointment as the titular hero only because he is the last possible option. By saying “Shazam!”, he toggles back and forth between his teenaged self and an adult superhero played by Zachary Levi.
This development forms a bond with Grazer, and some of the movie’s best moments come from these two determining which superpowers Levi has. This type of scene is indicative of the best moments in this movie—realistic (well, action-movie realistic) characters develop in an organic manner, determining how they will function in a fantastic scenario. Similarly, the other characters in the group home eventually become more essential to the plot and, once again, through developments and plot mechanics that make sense in the world of the film.
Despite being character-driven, the movie is packed with the expected special-effects sequences. Fortunately, these don’t overwhelm the picture, though I wouldn’t have watched Shazam! based on those effects alone.
The best thing I can say about the movie is something I worry will sound flippant or dismissive, but it’s the heart-felt truth: it is a very nice movie, and that is a great thing for a film to be.
Dir: David F. Sandberg
Starring Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer
Watched on blu-ray