Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Lightning in a Beer Bottle: Shazam!

The real Captain Marvel makes his debut in Shazam! (David F. Sandberg, 2019). Inspired by the whimsical adventures of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family from way back in the 1940s, Shazam! tells the story of orphan Billy Batson, an orphan boy who can transform into the World's Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel, by yelling "SHAZAM!"

SHAZAM, of course, is one of the most famous acronyms in comics, and it describes the powers bestowed on Billy:

S - Solomon's wisdom
H - Hercules' strength
A - Atlas' stamina
Z - Zeus' power
A - Achilles' courage
M - Mercury's speed

It's just a shame that DC surrendered use of the "Captain Marvel" name to Marvel Studios when the character and his family have so much history behind them. Kudos to the filmmakers, though, for avoiding what I feared most: calling Captain Marvel "Shazam." Sure, it leaves the hero without a proper sobriquet, but the search for a superhero name for Billy Batson's adult form becomes a fun little comedic thread woven through the film.

Minutiae aside, is this a good movie? Well, it's funny and family-friendly (in the sense that it honours the best family values, like caring, understanding, respect, and tenderness). It's well-acted across the board, and while the screenplay isn't brilliant, it does the job - though I found the pacing a bit rushed. It would have been nice to dedicate a little more time to Billy's arc. It works, but it would have been more plausible had the creators spent more time on character development and shortened the initial fight a bit. The creators also take some liberties with Sivana, turning him into a kind of low-rent Black Adam instead of the mad scientist he's supposed to be, but I can see why they made the choice for the sake of story economy.

That being said, these are minor complaints. As with Aquaman, I'm grateful that DC's characters are being treated with a little more playfulness and less grand import. Save the dark stuff for the Batman family (but maybe lighten them up just a little too, huh, Warner Brothers? Just don't go camp. No one will ever do a better camp Batman than the 60s TV series, so don't go there.)

Kudos, too, to the filmmakers for adding at least three references to Big, two obvious and hilarious, one a little more subtle but appreciated. 

1 comment:

Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

I hate the idea of a hero who can’t say his own name, but I get why they did it. I just wish the comics had gone with another “captain” name,
Ike Captain Thunder or suchlike.

The girls and I quite enjoyed the movie, but were surprised how dark parts of it got (like the boardroom scene) compared to the goofiness and whimsy of the rest of it. Zachary Levi deserves a special commendation, but the whole family was awesome, and never cloying.