“Shazam!” hits the target with comedy and heart

Updated: Aug 14, 2019


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS

Magically transformed into superhero Shazam, Billy Batson - played by Zachary Levi - entertains the citizens of Philadelphia, and picks up a little cash for himself.


4K frame shots courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment


“SHAZAM!”


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; PG-13 for intense sequences of action, mild profanity, and suggestive material; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Movies Anywhere, Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)


Best extra: All great fun, but “The Magical World of Shazam” provides a good making-of experience









IT APPEARS DC Comics has embraced the fun since the success of “Aquaman.” Now comes “Shazam!,” another international hit from the publishers of the big three, “Batman,” “Superman” and “Wonder Woman.”


Those heroes are name-dropped often in the film written by Henry Gayden, whose previous credits include “Zombie Roadkill.” Swedish director David F. Sandberg also felt he was a strange fit for a superhero movie. A former free lance animator, his “Lights Out” (2016) caught New Line Studios' attention just as he was just finishing “Annabelle: Creation” (2017). “They were pitching it to me like ‘Big’ meets ‘Superman,’” he says in “The Magical World of Shazam,” one of several bonus features in Warner Brothers' package. “The big challenge for me was just taking on a project of this size, ‘cause it’s a bigger movie than I’d done before.”



“He was clearly ready to step up to that next level. And in the same way that James Wan had stepped up from ‘Conjuring’ to ‘Aquaman,’ it made sense to take Sandberg from ‘Annabelle’ to ‘Shazam!’” — Peter Safran, producer



Zachary Levi, a big kid trapped in an adult’s body, takes the starring role and runs with it. He’s the charm that gives "Shazam!" it's heart. Levi has delivered a sense of fun since his days as “Chuck,” a TV series now streaming on Amazon Prime. He was the voice of would-be thief Flynn Rider/Eugene, in Disney’s “Tangled,” and is the new love interest for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” As the adult Shazam, he has no problem balancing the sudden-superhero swagger, with awkward kid, Billy Batson.



On a quest to find a hero who is "pure of heart, the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) finds young Thaddeus Sivana (Ethan Pugiotto).

But the boy is corrupted by the Seven Deadly Sins, frozen into statues in the wizard's chamber. Shazam returns Thaddeus to his home ...

... And the continued abuse by his father and brother.

Young Billy Batson (David Kohlsmith) becomes separated from his mother at a local carnival. He is placed in foster care but never gives up looking for her.

Billy hoped his mom would win a toy tiger for him at the fair. Instead, she wins a compass key chain so he'll "always find your way back home."



“I’ve always been a bit of an energy-filled type of person. I just get to show up on set and be like, ‘I get to do this? I get to fly around and fight bad guys?’ All right!” — Zachary Levi



“Shazam,” as a character and book, wasn’t that well known. “I didn’t know much about Shazam. Growing up, Shazam wasn’t really one of the superheroes that I knew,” Levi says in “Who is Shazam?” The movie dips into all of its various incarnations.


The series was created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck in 1939 for Whiz Comics, where he was called “Captain Marvel.” Orphan Billy Batson meets an ancient wizard who gives him the power to become a superhero, with a unique power that shows up near the end of the film. The magic word “Shazam” gives Billy the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. The comic outsold Superman for a while, which peeved the now-DC Comics. They sued, claiming the character was a rip-off. “Shazam’s” publisher eventually dropped the battle, and Shazam aka Captain Marvel, ceased publication ... until 1972, when DC brought him out again just as Marvel Comics released their own “Captain Marvel.” It became DC’s turn to give in, and they renamed the character and his book, “Shazam!”



“Unlike a lot of other characters – like Superman, who is an alien from another planet – Shazam is magic.” — Zachary Levi


For true fanboys and girls, the movie is filled with Easter eggs from the comics, like the ever present tigers. Billy’s mom tries to win her son a tiger at the carnival; later, there’s a tiger patch on Billy’s backpack, stuffed tigers in a store,where Shazam gives one to a frightened little girl. It’s a reference to Mr. Tawny, who was Billy’s talking tiger friend in the original comic. Could this hint at a character to come?


Billy arrives at another foster home, the one run by caregivers Rosa Vasquez (Marta Milans) and her husband Victor (Cooper Andrews).

Billy and his new family - Mary Bromfield (Grace Fulton), Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand), Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman), Eugene Choi (Ian Chen) and Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) - wait for the school bus.





Now grown up, Dr, Sivana (Mark Strong) uses his wealth to continue his search for the wizard's cave and the Deadly Sins.

Sivana absorbs the power of the Seven Deadly Sins and confronts his father and brother at a board meeting.

During the confrontation, Sivana's family and the board members are killed by the demons.


In the film, fourteen year-old Billy Batson, played by Asher Angel, was separated from his mother at a carnival. He was brought up in foster care, but never stopped running away to look for her. His new foster brother, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), is an orphan. Smart Mary Bromfield (Grace Fulton) was originally Billy’s long lost twin sister, but that element has been dropped. She is five years older now, about to age-out of foster care, and looking for a college. Other members of Billy’s foster care family include Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman), Eugene Choi (Ian Chen), Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand) and caregivers Rosa Vasquez (Marta Milans) and husband Victor (Cooper Andrews).

The great wizard Shazam, played by Djimon Hounsou of “Gladiator” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” seeks his successor, a hero that is pure of heart. His attempts have failed, but not before he accidentally creates Billy’s arch enemy, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong). An abused child, Sivana is drawn to the powers of the Seven Deadly Sins. Backed by his family fortune, Sivana never abandons his quest. When Billy takes on the wizard’s abilities, he has a full-grown adult villain waiting for him. 


“[In the beginning, Sivana] was a thwarted scientist who was aggrieved that the world didn’t appreciate him. But the Sivana that I play is based on Geoff Johns’ New 52 incarnation, which is the much more frightening, muscular one.” — Mark Strong



VIDEO

Digitally filmed on Arri Alexa cameras at 3.4K resolution, “Shazam!” is a good looking picture on 1080p and 2160p formats (2.39:1 aspect ratio). It is loaded with CGI effects – creatures, fight scenes, flying, sets – so the final master comes in at 2K. HDR10 toning and Dolby Vision gives the 4K an added boost in color, but the HD is not far behind. Color is bold and richly saturated; detail and contrast are excellent throughout. Lightning blasts range from tiny “zots” charging cell phones to massive displays in the sky. 


Billy is stoked to suddenly have superpowers – even if he didn’t get to choose his costume. Strong’s gravitas – and black leather jacket – is a great contrast to Billy’s levity and scarlet, gold and white-caped ensemble. The seven deadly creatures are gray and appropriately nasty, but detail is memorable when they come to active life in the finale.




Freddy helps Billy discover and use the powers of Shazam.

Now that Billy can appear as an adult, the kids decide to buy some beer. They run into a pair of thugs in the process of robbing the store, where Shazam saves the day.

Billy/Shazam saves Freddy from school bullies Brett and Burke Breyer, played by Carson MacCormac and Evan Marsh.



Freddy and Billy decide they need cash, so they use Shazam's powers to access an ATM.




AUDIO

The eight-channel Dolby Atmos track is a knock out. Height effects begin in the Wizard’s cave as he announces his purpose. It’s sure to rattle the room – and the neighbor's apartment downstairs. But height effects are good as Billy/Shazam learns to fly, in lightning blasts, and in the final battle. Dialogue, with subtitles available in several languages, is always clearly delivered. The default Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack is also very good.


Benjamin Wallfisch of “It” (2017), “Blade Runner 2049” (2017), and “Hidden Figures” (2016), composed “Shazam’s” classic high adventure music. It’s got a great John Williams’ ‘80s vibe. Added pop includes Eminem's “My Name Is” and “The Real Slim Shady”; Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and the Ramones' “I Don’t Want to Grow Up.” 


“There’s a lot of pieces … a lot of stuff going on at the carnival [climax]. I’m used to doing things smaller and being like, ‘Okay, what’s the low-budget nifty solution to doing this?’ But one of the producers told me, ‘I don’t usually say this, but you should go big.’” — David F. Sandberg, Director

EXTRAS

Bonus features are found on the Blu-ray disc, and are lots of fun beginning with an animated-style cartoon, “Superhero Hooky.” “The Magical World of Shazam” looks at the development and creation of the film with interviews from the filmmakers and cast. “Super Fun Zac” is a more detailed look at Levi’s performance on and off screen.


“Who is Shazam?” goes into the history of the character and comic book; “Carnival Scene Study” explores the big finale, and “Shazamily Values” looks at the younger actors and their experiences. There’s a gag reel, and 15 deleted/alternate and extended scenes, all introduced by David Sandberg. These are great, and left me wondering if there could ever be an alternate or extended version of the film.


“I don’t know what they saw in me having done two horror movies for them, but ["Shazam"] sounded like the best idea in the world.” — David F. Sandberg, Director

We don’t know either, David, but looks like New Line made a good choice. “Shazam!” is a movie that stands up to repeat viewing. Like comics of old, it lets us lose ourselves in the fun. What more could we ask for?


— Kay Reynolds



Dr. Sivana wants ALL the power, and threatens the fledgling superhero, trying to persuade him to give it over.

Billy manages to escape Sivana, but must also rescue the passengers in a bus he accidentally crashed.


Billy - who well remembers the day he lost his mother in a crowd - finally finds her.






The Seven Deadly Sin Demons arrive to threaten Billy's new found family.



Billy - now Shazam - calls on his family to help him defeat Sivana and the Sin Demons.

Life is looking up for Shazam, the new hero in the DC Universe.





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