‘Shazam!’ review: DCEU on laughing gas

David Sandberg’s latest offering Shazam! appears to be DCEU’s desperate endeavor to shed it’s dark and despairing themes that we’ve grown accustomed to, and embrace a refreshingly light and humorous tenor now that the production house is drinking in the last chance saloon. And yet, it leaves quite a lot to be desired. Shazam! tries to be funny, but the jokes don’t really land unless you’re a 13-year old adolescent, or simply, someone who gets your funny bone tickled even at run-of-the-mill gags. However, some quality quips and wisecrackers are indeed delivered early on, as Shazam – hammed to the hilt by Zachary Levi – and his foster brother-cum-bestie Freddy Freeman – essayed superbly by Jack Dylan Grazer – come to grips with the former’s hidden superpowers. Without giving much away, even his transformation into Shazam/Captain Sparklefingers/Red Cyclone/ yadda yadda yadda, is frankly comical. And so is that of Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. But the whole narrative of the film is such it doesn’t want you to take any slice of it too seriously. Just sit back and condition yourself to nonchalant spectatorship while the movie just whizzes past. DC is merely flirting with its whimsical fantasies here, letting its two central characters have a gala time under the sun. Even as things get serious with Dr.Sivana threatening to wreak havoc in his hot pursuit of Shazam’s glorious powers, the confrontation lacks the necessary urgency or dread normally associated with such a superhero versus supervillain face-off. But then again, as aforementioned DC is trying to be frivolous. Credit where credit’s due: DC has paid close attention to many of its follies with earlier production, but some boxes are still left unchecked. Like Steppenwolf in Justice League, Dr.Sivana doesn’t imbue villainy convincingly, whereas the humor needs to be wittier and catering to adult audience too. As far as visual effects is concerned, it’s a massive letdown after what Aquaman delivered. Of course, both movies tread different narratives. But the scenes that are actually leveraged by CG are shambolic: the seven sins that Dr.Sivana exudes are just too comical. Hence, places where they try to be really gory and gruesome doesn’t pack a punch. And this is one of the movie’s own undoings. Expectations riding on David Sandberg after delivering box-office successes like Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation, was naturally high, especially considering he was entrusted with the rebuilding of the otherwise faltering DC Universe. And he does deliver on a few accounts, regardless of the shortcomings. Shazam! does a decent job when drawn parallels to its DCEU predecessors, but if you’re expecting Deadpool-esque humor or stakes of Marvel’s standards, you’d be disappointed. DCEU still has streets to traverse.