Although it's the seventh movie in Warner Brothers' DC Extended Universe series, David F. Sandberg's Shazam! comes across like it is from a parallel universe. Amidst the origin story of a hero whose name is never decided upon, this lighthearted coming-of-age comedy is a lot different in terms of tone and production design than its grim predecessors.
Shazam! opens in 1974 when a young boy named Thad is tested by Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), the last member of the Council of Wizards, who is seeking a champion to inherit his magic and take over his role. The champion must be pure of heart and strong in spirit. Unfortunately, the boy fails the test when he is tempted by creatures that personify the Seven Deadly Sins. In the present day, a grown-up Dr. Thad Sivana (a wonderfully sinister Mark Strong) finds his way back to the Wizard and taps into the dark magic provided by the creatures.
Teenage Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who lost his mother at a carnival, has been in and out of foster homes. He is placed with the Vasquez's who have a group home with five other foster kids, including superhero “expert” Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). Billy chosen by the Wizard, receiving his magic powers when he says the Wizard's name, Shazam. It turns him into a costumed adult (Zachary Levi in a nuanced comedic performance atypical for the genre) but because Billy doesn't understand what his powers are, Freddy devises tests to learn them, making Shazam! into a cross between the movie body-switching comedy Big and the TV series, The Greatest American Hero. After Billy becomes a viral sensation while discovering his powers, Sivana wants Shazam's magic for his own.
Henry Gayden's script is well written. Being a superhero movie, the outcome is predetermined on who will be the victor. However, the journey the audience takes with the characters, who appear as realistic individuals because of the talented cast, is Shazam!'s great strength. In addition to the action and laughs, the movie strikes the right emotional chords. Billy is understandably cautious about connecting with others after losing his mother at such a young age. Yet, what he learns about family helps him on multiple levels, a theme applicable to the viewers.
The video is presented in 1080p displayed at an aspect ratio of 2.4:1 and looks super. Primary colors are bold hues. Billy's costume alone demonstrates this with the rich red and bright yellow. Whites are accurate as seen in his cape and blacks are inky. The image offers a solid contrast and fine texture details, the ridges in the costume make this apparent. The CG work blends well with natural objects. In the extras, they reveal having to recreate the Philadelphia skyline, which looked seamless as Billy plays with lightning.
The audio is Dolby Atmos, which filled my 7.1 system nicely. Scenes are augmented by ambiance effect and Benjamin Wallfisch scores. The action effects move around and across channels. The bass is powerful but never overpowering to the point of distortion. Dialogue is always clear, and all elements are balanced well together.
- The Special Features, all in HD, are:
- Superhero Hooky (4 min) - A motion comic in which our hero attempts to explain why the six kids ditched school. It's a bit silly and geared towards kids.
- The Magical World of Shazam (27 min) - A behind-the-scenes look that delves lightly into the three different production stages of making the film.
- Super Fun Zac (3 min) - Praised by his cast mates, Levi's natural personality shows why he was perfectly cast in the role.
- Deleted and Alternate Scenes (37 min) - Sixteen scenes with an option to hear the director’s introductions.
- Gag Reel (3 min) - Moments of the cast flubbing scenes and acting silly.
- Who Is Shazam? (6 min) - A look at Shazam and Sivana in different media.
- Carnival Scene Study (10 min) - A breakdown of the climatic action sequence at the Christmas carnival.
- Shazamily Values (6 min) - Better watch the movie before looking at this extra about Billy's foster family.
Currently my favorite of the DCEU, Shazam! is an absolute treat and a refreshing take on the genre. The only reason I wouldn't call it a family film is because it might be too violent and the Sin creatures too scary for little ones. Otherwise, I highly recommend it. The high-def presentation of the video and audio delights the eyes and ears. Would have preferred more extras and had them go into more depth, but I am very glad to add this Blu-ray to the library.