DC Studios has learned a lot of lessons since 2016’s disastrous “Batman v Superman.”
I say disastrous because it was hated by most critics and fans. That’s not to say that it didn’t make over $800 million, because it did. But, considering the fact that it’s also one of the most expensive movies ever made, it’s hard to say how financially successful it was.
2016 was also the year of “Suicide Squad,” another dubiously successful, yet critically reviled DC joint. Yes, “Justice League” was still to come, and the shared universe that the studio tried to craft did produce an “Aquaman” and “Wonder Woman” movie — though it’s looking more and more like those might well be stand-alone series.
The dream of a Marvel-esque expanded endeavor appears to be well and truly dead. Speaking of the competition, however, this week DC produced their own Captain Marvel film — actually the original Captain Marvel, now better known as Shazam.
Shazam, or, as he was originally known, Captain Marvel, was introduced by Fawcett Comics in 1940, along with a raft of other Superman-esque heroes. Publishers all over the spectrum were looking to get into the superhero comics game, and everyone had to have a caped costumed hero of their own, most of whom lasted and few years and were never heard from again.
Those that stuck around were eventually hit with litigation from Detective Comics (now DC) for copyright infringement. A claim that, more often than not, resulted in settlement and the disappearance of said character.
Captain Marvel, who could summon the power of the ancients by uttering the word “Shazam!,” was one of the most popular of the titles that got the ax after the lawsuits were filed. Later, DC Comics acquired the character from Fawcett and retitled him Shazam, as Marvel Comics had already established their own titular Captain.
This character was somewhat unique in the fact that he starts as a boy, Billy Batson, who becomes a superpowered adult by using his magic word. Captain Marvel, later Shazam, also followed another popular trend by establishing a super-powered family to shake things up on the comics page. There have been a few other attempts to create television and film versions of the character, but they’ve been spotty at best. This latest attempt, however, is breaking box office records and looks to have some staying power.
The film opens in 1974 on young Thaddeus Sivana, riding in a car with his father and brother who belittle him mercilessly. Suddenly, he is transported to a magical cave where a slightly goofy wizard proceeds to monologue about goodness and worthiness. Sivana is also hearing the voices of seven creepy demons who urge him to take power by grabbing a magical orb. The wizard, however isn’t having it, and sends him back to the real world with the admonition, “You’ll never be worthy!”
If that isn’t a way to create supervillains, I don’t know what is. The focus then shifts forward about 45 years to young Billy Batson — a foster kid whose desire to find his real mom, lost in a crowd when he was only 4, outweighs any societal consideration. Billy lies, runs, and is basically selfish as all get out, never having the courage or confidence to stick it out with a foster family.
That is, until he is placed with the Vasquez family, a quirky household with six kids, a mom, and a dad. Though parents and kids are as welcoming as they can be, Batson has his own issues, and his eventual summons from the aforementioned wizard does nothing to make him a more likeable character. Considering that Billy is 14, I guess it’s not surprising that he uses his newfound powers to buy beer, short-circuit ATM machines, and hawk selfies. Eventually, however, the now-grown up Dr. Sivana arrives with stolen powers of his own, threatening Batson’s newfound family and bringing things into focus.
“Shazam!” is a lot of fun, with a bit of a goofy tone and lots of cute little moments, including one where adult super-Billy is fighting in a toy store and finds himself hopping around on a giant floor keyboard, a la “Big.”
Actor Zachary Levi, from the series “Chuck,” has a very cartoony look about him, playing the broad jokes well. The rest of the cast, including Mark Strong as the villainous Sivana, do a fine job, playing the to the tone of the film. The tone, however, is a little rocky, which is probably my only real complaint about what is, otherwise, an enjoyable romp.
“Shazam!” is a movie that is marketed to kids, not necessarily older teens, and yet is scarier in scenes than is strictly necessary. I had to keep checking on my 9-year old to make sure the vision of terrifying demons eating people weren’t going to drive her from the theater. To be sure, there’s no blood, but things can be plenty scary without gore. That aside, however, “Shazam!” is very entertaining, and a welcome course correction for a studio that was seriously floundering in a genre that it helped start. Grade: B+
“Shazam!” is rated PG-13 for scary scenes and comic book style violence.
To my readers: Unfortunately, this will be the last column I write for the Peninsula Clarion. I have enjoyed this column and have been proud to engage in this ongoing conversation with you for nearly 20 years. This column started when I, working as a part-time graphic designer for the Clarion, asked my then-boss, Shanon Hardy — now Shanon Davis of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce — why it was we didn’t have a local movie critic.
“If you want it, you’ll probably have to write it,” came the reply, and that’s exactly what I did. For free for a while, and eventually for a small stipend. Thank you, Shanon. Thank you to everyone at the Clarion over the years who helped me get this column print on a regular basis.
Over the course of nearly 900 weeks, I only missed two columns. I published from all over the country and all around the world. Thank you to everyone who has come up to me in the aisles at the grocery store or stopped me in the halls to let me know how much you either agree or, more often than not, disagree with my assessment. It’s been a privilege to be able to write about movies for so long — it’s going to be hard not to have this outlet. The next time you see me out and about, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say. Until then, thank you again,
— Chris Jenness
• By CHRIS JENNESS, For the Peninsula Clarion