Shazam! – The Importance of Not Taking A Movie Too Seriously
January 10, 2020
Superhero movies – they’re inescapable. Since Marvel’s Iron Man hit theaters in 2008, superhero movies have dominated the box office. This past July, Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame surpassed 2009’s Avatar as the highest grossing movie of all-time, garnering 2.798 billion dollars. Thus far in 2019, there have been seven superhero movie releases; four out of seven of which have spots on the top-50 highest grossing films list. However, despite the passion that some superhero devotees have, the unending influx of superhero films can be exhausting for the average person. Marvel’s cinematic universe is sprawling and hard to follow; it spans 18 movies, takes place on 8 different planets, and is home to about 75 characters. For someone who hasn’t seen every movie, it can be difficult to follow all of the backstories and plots in a large ensemble film like Avengers: Endgame. Fans of Marvel take the films incredibly seriously; they hound those who haven’t seen every film, or worse, those who dare to criticize the franchise.
I have paid my dues as a Marvel fan. For the past seven years, I have seen every single Marvel movie on its exact release date. If you ask me any question about the extensive Marvel Cinematic Universe, I will probably be able to answer it. Therefore, I feel justified in saying this: Marvel movies are boring. Most of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have formulaic plot lines, dull color palettes, and annoying, reoccurring jokes that the audience is supposed to take as “witty.”
However, I don’t see every single Marvel movie on its release date just to torture myself. Marvel movies, especially in the hands of more stylistic directors like Taika Waititi and James Gunn, can be fun. The main problem with them is that they take themselves too seriously. Everyone – Marvel super fans, directors of the films, and even the Academy – takes superhero films far too seriously for the average viewer to find any enjoyment in them anymore.
Geeky middle schoolers in 1972 did not pick up the newest issue of Iron Man so they could analyze its artistic merit; they read comic books because they were fun! Marvel movies, for the most part, have lost what their initial draw was – fun. Now, Marvel movies focus less on the fun, campy side of comics, but on half-baked themes of loss and morality. Perhaps if these more serious themes were better explored, they would be more appreciated, but for now, they leave audiences exhausted and drained of all energy as they leave the theater.
Similarly, DC Comics’ cinematic universe, the DCEU (DC Extended Universe), suffers from the same heavy-handed thematic problems. After releasing Man of Steel in 2013 and Batman vs. Superman in 2016, audiences expressed their dissatisfaction with the dull movies, and DC listened. Although DC’s movies are typically as droll as Marvel movies – not well written, with bland color schemes and even more bland characters – their most recent releases have a leg up on Marvel movies – they are genuinely fun!
Over the Thanksgiving break, my dad and I had a movie night where we watched the newest edition to the DCEU: Shazam! Chronicling the story of Billy, a boy attempting to escape the foster care system who stumbles upon magical powers, Shazam! provided my father and I two hours and twelve minutes of undiluted fun.
Shazam! embodies what people love about comic book movies. It has an engaging plot line, balancing camp with more serious moments, and a cast of larger-than-life characters that take the script and run with it, creating characters that explode off the screen. In particular, Jack Dylan Grazer and Zachary Levi’s buddy cop dynamic shines, with Grazer as disabled foster sibling Freddy Freedman and Levi as the titular hero, Shazam. The two are able to riff off of each other perfectly, delivering well-timed jokes and silly gags and developing an impressive on-screen partnership that’s rare to find between actors so far apart in age.
Rounding out the silliness, Asher Angel delivers a mature performance as Billy Batson, the young foster child who stumbles upon magical powers that turn him into the hero Shazam. Although Angel’s performance is at times lacking, he delivers on all of the film’s emotional beats, portraying the grief of a child looking for his mother with an ease that isn’t common in actors his age. When Billy isn’t in his Shazam form, Angel and Grazer carry on the same chemistry that Grazer and Levi have, delivering jokes with the same vigor.
The charm of Shazam! lies in what most modern superhero movies lack – a family friendly appeal. While most superhero films cater to adult audiences, crafting gritty narratives that can oftentimes be a bore, Shazam!‘s target audience lands between families looking for a fun time and nostalgia-filled fans looking to see a faithful adaption of their favorite hero. By catering to families, director David Sandberg creates a movie that oozes warmth. While cheesy at times, Shazam! sends a message of love and acceptance, of finding family where you least expect it.
Despite its flaws, Shazam! was a refreshing installment in a genre that’s recently become quite tedious. Superhero movies are a trend; although they’re popular in the moment, people are going to eventually get tired of the endless stream of action movies that lack heart. Shazam! proved to audiences that superhero movies don’t always have to adhere to the same stale themes and story arcs, and are allowed embrace the inherent cheesiness of the genre. If more superhero movies take notes from Shazam! and take themselves less seriously, then maybe superhero movies will prove the genre’s longevity.