“If a superhero can’t save his family, he’s not much of a hero.”
DC’s struggling attempts to mirror the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have left me wanting them to shelve the shared dark and gritty Snyderverse in favour of individual movies with wildly different tones to reflect their vast stable of characters. Shazam! shines for just that reason, a self-aware exploration of how a child would respond to superpowers that has more in common with Kick-Ass or Deadpool (albeit with violence toned down for a teen rating) than any recent DC film. Zachery Levi is a perfect choice for Billy Batson’s alter ego, bringing childlike exuberance to his physical performance and drawing heavily from Tom Hanks in Big. The supervillain conflict is formulaic and the film runs out of steam by the end, but genuine humour keeps this a light-hearted entertainment experience that hopefully encourages DC to greater variety.
A surprisingly enjoyable (rather than scary) experience, It is filled with a series of beautifully shot and creatively weird scenes, having more in common with Stranger Things‘ blend of nostalgia and the supernatural than most contemporary horror. Jump scares are few and far between, in favour of steadily building atmosphere. Where modern horror tends to focus on individual isolation (a reflection of current anxieties), It is told from the perspective of the Losers Club, a group of unpopular adolescent outsiders. Disquiet arises through the group’s collective isolation from the community and particularly the adults in their lives. Like much of Stephen King’s work, It explores the loss of innocence and the murky underbelly of small town American communities. The film is slightly too long for its content (a cinematic streamlining of the book’s first half) and splashing through identical sewers becomes repetitive. Despite the recently released sequel, this first chapter feels complete if not always cohesive — perhaps due to its extended gestation period under multiple directors — and its most striking imagery will certainly linger in the mind.