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#TAPReviews | “Shazam!”

Just say the word. Or a few about where this measures on the DCEU barometer.

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If you are familiar with this blog (obviously you are if you are reading this) or familiar with me (you are not because why would you be?), you know that as far as the DCEU goes, I am, for the most part, unimpressed. And this has nothing to do with some one-sided obsession in the nonsensical Marvel Vs DC Vs Everybody else debate. Quite the opposite actually. I love DC. For the most part setting the standard for the action and adventure superhero comic. So successful they were at it that the heroes they created pierced the zeitgeist.

This great potential is what I felt DC Comics had in their arsenal that Marvel did not. Which furthermore was a variable that was bolstered by age. And when we talk about veterans and the golden age of comics, aside from Superman, one hero had the grandeur, patriotic zeal  and the circus strongman physique (stocky by today’s gym standards). That hero’s name is Captain Marvel Shazam! 

And yes we are going to touch on what arguably is the first and most memorable fight for copyright in comics, and Marvel winning the rights to Captain Marvel, despite many of their prolific characters being obvious, blatant rips of DC counterparts. I say this only because it does have bearing on how we see and view Captain Marvel Shazam! and the stories we can tell with him. After all what is in a name but destiny.

And Zachary Levi took the mantle of the wizard and dawned what felt like a rubber suit with muscles in leaked images. However his cantor and workout regime soon shut down much of the negative talk. Can we say we hate the ‘workout’ rollout. And while many of the comic book iterations showed Captain Marvel Shazam! bestowed with the wisdom of Solomon, the DCEU went with the later iterations that portrayed the grown superhero still retaining his child-like wonder. This is closer to the Captain Marvel “Big Cheese” we see in Shazam!

With all that said, how does Shazam! measure up in the scheme of things, both as a singular entity and part of the current DCEU? 

 
SPOILERS AHEAD
 

Say the magic word ⚡

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Billy Batson is by all appearances a lost cause. A rebellious youngling with constant run-ins with the law, when he is not running away from group homes in search of his mother  after being separated from her in a crowd all those years ago. Batson, however, has one last chance, being welcomed into a new, loving group home. Naturally, a jaded, withdrawn Batson, who still believes his mother is somewhere out there waiting for him, looks a gift horse straight in the mouth. Nevertheless, fate would have it that a selfless act defending his group home siblings would whisk Batson away to a realm of magic to stand before the great wizard Shazam! 

The wizard however is weak from standing sentry over the recently escaped cardinal sins – demonic apparitions that represent the seven most sinister of human traits: Envy, Greed, Wrath, Sloth, Lust, Pride and Gluttony. All the evils in the world released by DoctorSivana, who was denied the power of Shazam after failing a test of character as a little boy all those years ago.

The Wisdom of Solomon.  The strength of Hercules. The stamina of Atlas. The power of Zeus. The of Achilles. The Speed of Mercury. These are the grand attributes bestowed on to a wayward foster child abandoned by a mother and a society that did not love him enough. However, Batson was not the first to be offered or gifted with these powers. There was a champion before him. A glimpse seen in a fiery apparition telling the story of a man who betrayed the call of hero-dom and chose revenge. An apparition and first iteration of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Black Adam. The standout nemesis of Captain Marvel Shazam! 

Ultimately, Batson accepts this power buy touching the Wizards shaft to transfer his power into the chosen champion… a phrase that honestly just gives resounding credibility to Freud and Psychoanalysis. 

Naturally, being the irresponsible teenager that Batson is, his road to discovery, assisted by superhero fanboy and foster home sibling Freddy Freeman, is filled with taking on low-level criminals in exchange for snacks and monies and discovering Shazam!’s abilities with little regard for safety of themselves and others. You know, typical teen shit. In steps Nirvana. And he is playing host to a legion of demonic forces nestled in his eye after being released from the entombment in the Cave of Shazam! Now Batson has some quick lessons to learn, from mastering his newfound powers to balancing the onus that comes with it. All the while, you know, trying not to die.

“Captain Sparkle Fingers”

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At first, I thought this was just a pet peeve of mine. But upon seeing a video of Zachary Levi speaking on the history of Captain Marvel Shazam!, I see that I am not alone in this. Short of it is, the Shazam! you see in cinemas was once upon a time known as Captain Marvel. Due to the copyright on the name running out and DC Comics being slow to the punch, Marvel Comics swooped in and laid claim. Hence the situation we have today. “So what is the big deal you have?” I hear you ask. For one, Captain Marvel Shazam! can no longer say his own name without the VFX artist being charged with creating lightning and smoke and sparks and fart-like clouds.

But what is wrong with Shazam!? It is unique. Indubitably so. But even in that there is a problem. It is the name of the Wizard. The word Shazam! that transforms Batson into Shazam! Kinda robs the word of its power, no? Which then leads to the fact that his name, therefore, cannot be uttered by himself without revealing his youthful identity. That’s pretty irksome. And it does put the ‘Captain Sparkle Fingers’ quips into perspective. A hero with no true name. Tradition would have it that it is the woman that takes the man’s name, but this one has gone overboard.

Maybe its the karma gods doling out their sweet nectar after the cheeky bullshit DC Comics pulled off back in the day. DC Comics brought Whiz Comics into the most used fighting arena in the comic book medium today – the courtroom. DC accused the publisher that Captain Marvel Shazam! was a rip of Superman. Winning the lawsuit, DC sends Whiz Comics into legal hell and ultimately buys out the franchise and Captain Marvel out of the rubble. Imagine creating a character which was said to be a rip only for that same company to buy up the rights to him and feature him alongside Superman. Pissed.

Shazam! is a magic word

We had our doubts. Like everyone. But Zachary Levi goes some ways to quell the naysayers. Moments of charm and funny with the dash of a winning smile was enough to bring out pouting frown of approval. You know the one. This however wanes when you start making comparisons. To Superman. Who’s little ‘cameo’ at the end just made me think “stand-in” and near extinguished my hopes for a violent Superman vs. Captain Marvel Shazam! clash-of-titans brawl. Not to mention Black Adam is going to legit dwarf Captain Marvel on screen.

I am not sure I am the fan of the full-on child in a man’s body trope either. This takes some things away from the “Wisdom of Solomon” trait, but I can’t be mad if his child-like wonder kicked in at times where the adult should be. The humour worked in most places and did okay to bring back some some of the glee back in comic book movie. I would have, however loved it if Batson was younger. To see the fully vibrant, child-like enthusiasm dialled up a notch in Captain Marvel Shazam! A full-fledged man with a sprite like curiosity would’ve been enjoyable to see. Somewhere between Zachary Levi and Meghan Good’s character. And that was disturbing Miss Good. That level of recession is only enjoyed by Freud and those frequenters of that sub-category of fetishism on Pornhub. Which all leads us to the one cameo we did not see coming…

All hail the Marvel Family Shazam! Family.

Doctor Sivana’s goal is clear. He is driven by the need for ultimate power, guided by the 7 evils inhabiting him. He, or at least the legions inhabiting him want the mantle of the Shazam! and take residence upon the 7 thrones, to become the masters of all magicks. Dr. Sivana would just need to Batson to transfer his new found power to him and the demons via gripping his magic shaft. Freud’s ghost was in the corner taking notes, surely. But Captain Marvel had a better idea. He got his foster kid siblings to grab his magic staff and… okay.  Basically he endowed anointed his foster siblings with the power of Shazam! and like that the Marvel Shazam Family was born. And in all honesty we, like Elvis, are a fan of preteens and Captain Marvel Jr. Shazam Jr. But it never feels the same without the xenophobia and Anglo-American jingoism. Mac Raboy would be disappointed, surely.

DC Comics’ most mortal and villainous sin

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The injection of comedy was a welcomed respite from the DC roster. But like all things DC at the moment, how Shazam! fits into the disarray that is the DCEU is anyone’s guess. Will he suddenly get serious in some later iteration. Him and the Flash competing to see who is the most unfunnily funny? 

Keeping it Shazam!, some of these ‘comedic’ scenes went on for a few scenes too long. However, Levi delivers as a modern twist on the Big Red Cheese.

Doctor Sivana is further proof Mark Strong is one of comic book films overlooked darlings. Which we feel is like coming to work and doing your best but the company ultimately is Enron. He owned the role of Sinestro in Green Lantern, the butt of a now-stale Ryan Reynolds joke. Now DC enrols him in the role as bald-headed nefarious villain. And kudos for that scene where he acquires the eye marble demons. Like a goddamn bullet to the head.

Is it just me or should the mortal sins utilise their unique characteristics somehow to subdue their enemy. Lust was not even responsible for Shazam! frequenting the Gentlemen’s Club to meet all the nice tittied people. So in that sense, none of these monsters stood out. Fairytale did a better job of personifying the seven deadly sins.

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Shazam! was popcorn-popping decent. Nothing that will change your mind about the current DCEU or its trajectory. It’s fun for what it is, and given DC’s recent run of things, they arguably are enjoying the little respite from the drudgery. And frankly, I am not even looking that hard for a sequel. I got more excited to see the visage of a hooded Black Adam rise with terror and might. Way more than the cryptic Sivana and that caterpillar. Which if this is what they are leading with, it… well, it leaves one thinking “why bother”. The caterpillar teased is The Mister Mind, a mutant, hyper-intelligent alien worm possessing telepathic abilities. He also spins silk… like really fast – and communicates with a “talk box” which he wears around his neck. Talk about your ultimate villain.

So when this is teased, it convinces me DC is the good guy that lost his way, but managed to do something right amidst his death throes. Time to close your eyes and slap the full DCEU reboot button.

The Shazam family, their child counterparts and the seven Demons were a whole lot to digest, especially seeing we are being introduced to all of them for the first time. Needless to say I am a fan of the lithe depictions of Captain Marvel Jr., Raboy was always one to look at the bigger picture, creating much dynamism working twice up – twice the size of the intended comic book cover print.

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Alas, DC Films take much of its cues from what is directly in front of them, watching what’s happening in the other aisle, the Mortal Kombat 11 plug and other none-Shazam IP specifics. It’s a good watch, but it does fall noticeably short by ways of nostalgia or legendary status or that we are on the cusp of a great era of DC Films. This is where a Snyder-esque use of film iconography would have actually come in handy.

Call me when the Joker gets here.

#TAPReviews | Shazam!
3.9 Reviewer
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Pros
  • • Teasing of Black Adam
  • • The suit's is actually decent
  • • Mark Strong's Sivana
Cons
  • • Silk worm invasion?
  • • Too many characters for an introduction
  • • Drawn-out Moments of humour
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