A Happy Shazam Review – A delightful time in the DC universe (for once)

zachary levi as shazam
Go in expecting fun and a lot of heart. Not your typical DC entry. Thankfully.

I’d heard from the rest of the RunPee Family that Shazam was a disappointing remake, even though I had big hopes DC would finally put out a fun, lithe, winsome feature, with a superhero I could have fun with (unlike Batman, Supes and the rest of the grim gang). Sadly, I waited an abnormally long time to see it. I typically see major genre films on opening night. I finally caught Shazam tonite. And I had a GREAT TIME.

Sure, the Shazam villain sucked

I’ll start with what wasn’t so great, since it’s only one lame thing: the bad guy. He wasn’t that interesting, and his seven deadly sins were just poorly-written/depicted fools.

But that didn’t matter

You know what? Most of the time, not even the nearly-perfect formula of the Marvel Cinematic Universe gets the villains right, especially in origin films. I’m kind of used to that.

So, in Shazam I could just get up and pee during the bad-guy scenes, and be burblingly present for what I really came for — the immense fun of young Billy Batson and his handicappable friend Freddy, figuring out how to be a superhero with little to no instruction. And their test recordings. And in finding a lair. A LAIR. (Preferably behind a waterfall, with seven bedrooms….hehehe. Where do I get one? There should be realtors doing this as a specialty.)

I loved that Shazam actually takes place in the DCEU, a world where these champions exist, and Freddy spends his entire young life making a study of them. It all ties in. He’s a great ‘chair guy’, so to speak, and a crucial component of Billy’s story. Freddy’s foreground/background nods to the Justice League are everywhere if you pay attention, and that somehow makes the darkness of those other DC flicks less despondent.

What did I want out of Shazam?

Just this: a fun DC movie that would make me happy, take me away from real-life worries for a few hours, and hopefully infuse a sense of joy into a franchise I gave up on long ago. And I got what I needed — an origin story that may not be as clever and heartfelt as MCU’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, but offered a new young hero who needed to learn heroing. You know: Billy Batson could take a bus to Queens and hang out with Peter Parker over some nice New York shwarma. I think those two young heroes would have a lot to commiserate on.

I wrote elsewhere what the anagram SHAZAM stands for, so I won’t repeat it here. And while I’m not sure the big red guy (um, not Santa, although he does make a great “cameo” in this Christmasy movie) really showed off the Wisdom and Stamina gifts, that’s okay. THE KID IS 14. Give him some time to work it out. Billy even came up with a decent catchphrase by the end.

Also, I noted a lot of nods to popular culture, including a great reference to Tom Hank’s classic Big. Remember the giant piano key scene? (I let out a loud whoop at that point, but the rest of the packed theater didn’t. Am I the only one old enough to have caught that reference? Whatever. DC did good.)

Here’s what I really want to say about Shazam:

I smiled the entire time, giggled, clapped, cheered. In essence, I had a great time at the movies. And that’s all I really want when I spend my time and money to watch some bit of magical make-believe: make me happier than when I walked in. Send me home like a kid on Christmas morning.

I’m not saying Shazam is as clever or thoughtful as a typical Marvel movie, but I do tend to grade the MCU on a curve. For DC to make me feel this good, I have to bump Shazam into the A range. I liked the characters, the foster family, the resolution (I don’t care if the plot didn’t make much sense rationally — I’m very forgiving with fantasy films); I liked Zackary Levi’s inspired goofy portrayal, and I absolutely freaked with joy at the last second cameo.

You know what? Here’s the thing: do you like gritty DC? Then maybe Shazam isn’t your cuppa. Personally, I can’t wait for a little more silly fun to jump start the Justice League Crew.

Movie Grade: A-

PS: Shazam was a Saturday morning TV kid’s show in the 70s. I enjoyed it then, but this remake is much more cool. The original show, along with their sister show Isis, played it straight. This Shazam is much, much, better. I think if I watched any of the old Shazam TV episodes, I’d be appalled. Times change, and not everything “nostalgic” ages well.

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Vera and Dan discuss their Peetime choices for Shazam and in a rare instance agree on all three choices.

Movie Review – Justice League (RunPee Jilly’s POV)

Now DC has its own cinematic universe. That’s fine: I won’t turn down good entertainment. I’m a geek through and through, and NEED my sci fi fix to sleep well at night. But DC has a history of being either 1. Disappointing, or 2. Really and Truly Grim. Contrast this to Marvel and the Avengers, which engages me, making me happy. Life is tough enough; my entertainment choices should make me laugh and smile and feel better about being alive. Mostly, Marvel does just this.

So, DC. Specifically, The Justice League. I’m old enough to remember the original Saturday morning cartoons about the Justice League, AKA Super Friends. I liked it then, Wonder Twins and all. Now, I’m cautious. Ambivalent. Waiting to see where things go.

Here’s what I’m thinking: we had the earnestly serious but ultimately depressing Nolan-version Batman films. Health Ledger made those watchable. Then we had some rebooted Superman flicks that were also dark, which for Supes is simply unforgivable. Superman is about lightness, apple pie, and good vibes, and making the world a better place. See Superman in the 1980s, when it was done right. Ya with me?

The new Superman made him unbearably moody. I understand a broody Batman, who is admittedly an alcoholic, a loner, and just a breath away from being a supervillain himself.

Then DC brought them together in Batman vs Superman – more grimdark stuff – and Suicide Squad, which was…okay? Guardians of the Galaxy it wasn’t,  though it tried. It shot high, landed low.

Finally, DC hit a home run in Wonder Woman. YES! It was exactly what we, the long-suffering fans, hoped for. Fun, a tiny bit joyous, ambitiously pretty, and sprinkled with humor. It felt like Fantastic Beasts in the Harry Potter franchise and the first Captain America movie: all three take place roughly in the same timeframe.

This loooong lead in brings us to Justice League. Did it do the job, bring it, give us what the DCEU needed? Hmmmm, somewhat. It was definitely an ensemble piece with fun beats, good 70s tunes, and an amiable premise. However, the producers seemed in too big a hurry to catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s not earned. The MCU has a lot of groundwork and years on DC. When The Avengers came together, it was simpatico.

To explain: We “get” Diana Prince/the Wonder Woman. She carried Justice League on her lithe Amazonian back. We know her; we like her. She brings the action and the humor. She leads the team. I have no WW complaints.

The Batman? Hmmmm. Gloomy and underserved. I don’t have much to say on his role in JL, besides, “What the frak he was thinking to bring Supes back?” Oh, is that a spoiler? (Not if you watched the trailers.)

It’s been said here before: the problem with Superman is that he’s too powerful. You can only hurt him with Kryptonite. There’s not much else to say or do with this guy.

He also makes The Flash unfortunately redundant. Why have someone who can run fast when Superman can best him in speed?

But, speaking of The Flash himself: awesome. Admittedly, he owned most of this film’s humor, and the actor was up to the task. He’s clearly the DCEU version of Spiderman, and I want more. Gimme, gimme. I’ll be very happy to watch the standalone Flash film when it comes.

But then, there’s Cyborg. He’s a cipher, an Iron Man without the personality. I think he could have been better written. Next…

That leaves Aquaman. Superbly cast and executed — he needs his own origin movie. That’s all, mike drop, end of story. I loved the energy, the raw power he brought to the screen. What was frustrating: his character’s lack of mythological depth. What is the deal with Atlantis? What’s his relationship with Norway? Do fish obey him or what? Stuff was missing. In the meantime, I LOVED what we got, which was funny and engaging, both. DC needs to move up his movie in their queue, and drop the terrible pathos of Batman and Superman, who are frankly played out.

It’s not like you HAVE to pander to the fans, but in this case, give the Bat a break. Move on. Give us something fun and pretty and new. We want good storytelling, not another angsty reboot.

So, the JL movie was fine. The villain was a bust, but hey; I’m used to that and have learned to ignore it. Steppenwolf was a low-rent Sauron from Lord of the Rings, but I frankly don’t care. Marvel has had its share of Macguffin villains (see Guardians of the Galaxy, my favorite MCU movie). So, I can forgive the Justice League baddie as a sucky ripoff, as long as the ensemble story works. Which it mostly does. (Oh, and the “Mother Boxes” — give me a break. Infinity Stones much? Come up with your own plot. Even Voldemort was original.)

Altogether, was Justice League good? Well. It was fine. Middle of the road; basically non-offensive superhero fare. See it in the theater, but don’t pay extra for IMAX or 3D. Joss Whedon’s involvement helped the banter significantly (you can really tell his lines in this – they stand out – mostly with The Flash, and Aquaman).

To sum: the best DCEU movie yet, coming in just a hair ahead of Wonder Woman (mainly because I loves me a good ensemble film). But, really, if I had to choose, I’d see Thor: Ragnarok again. That movie just slayed me, and I’ve seen it four times now.

Movie Grade: B-