by Alan Yudman
When I was kid, late on Saturday mornings there was a live-action series on CBS title SHAZAM! It featured a 17-year-old kid with long, late ’70’s hair and his mentor who would drive around the country in a Winnebago, helping those who had been wronged. Billy Batson was the kid and when the situation called for super powered help he’d yell SHAZAM! and he would transform into the red-suited Captain Marvel. It was corny, but I liked it. Now some 40 years later, he’s back!
This version is decidedly different than that old show I enjoyed so much. Here Billy is a younger kid who has no one to guide him. He is a foster kid who has bounced from home to home since he got lost at a fair when he was very young. The name Captain Marvel is not spoken, for logical conflict of interests reasons with Marvel’s version. Instead the hero, played by Zachary Levi is SHAZAM!. The 1970’s show was played straight.. this one is played for laughs more often than not. It’s a refreshingly light touch for DC.
I had heard great things about the movie so I was looking forward to a 2 hour plus thrill ride. I walked out somewhat satisfied, but mostly disappointed. The tone of the movie is fine and Levi is great as the goofy super who is just learning his way around the hero game. Asher Angel is also more than good as Billy. I guess my problem is Levi’s goofiness overwhelmed Angel’s innocence. I needed more reason to believe Billy was worthy of this responsibility.
There was one plot hole you could drive a city bus through. The main problem is with the bad guy. Mark Strong is a great actor and he plays the “bad” better than just about anyone. He glowers, he has the menacing growl in his voice. I’m a fan. His origin story was fine, I got it. He didn’t get the power he was promised and obsessively pursued it for his entire life. But when he stole those powers we got no explanation about the 7 sins and who they were and why they existed. We’re just left to believe they are bad. And why were they sins? They demonstrated no sinful behavior. They simply destroyed and killed seemingly just because Strong’s Dr. Sivana wanted them to. It was a real head scratcher. Questioning the purpose of the villain leaves the audience wanting.
Also Dijimon Hounsou’s character is a wizard. He was part of the council of Wizards, but he is the only one left. We kind of got a story about what happened to the others. But why are they Wizards? Where did magic or wizardry come in? There is absolutely no evidence of it other than the Wizard telling us it is so.
Billy’s story worked. His realization about family motivated his heroism. The transition of his foster brothers and sisters was awesome. And the ending was satisfying.
Oh and the mid-credits scene was completely baffling. It seemed to set up the next movie but used a character you really had to think about to remember whether he was even in the movie (spoiler, he was).
I’ve made this point over and over. Origin stories are tough. You have to service the back story and the transition. It’s a lot to stuff into a movie. Each filmmaker feels it necessary. It does create an arc for the hero, but maybe there are better ways to execute it. It took nearly an hour before Billy finally got his powers. That was too long and it was very slow until that point.
I hope they iron out these issues before the next time Billy yells SHAZAM! to save the world. Because the bones of a good franchise are there and with some care this could be a great story going forward.