In 2011 this film critic wrote of the JJ Abrams/Steven Spielberg movie Super 8: “Alas, in attempting to reach serious Sci-Fi fans and children, by wanting to be all things to all people, the movie tends to dissipate by serving two masters.” Eight years later as DC Comics and Warner Brothers work to dig themselves out of the Ben Affleck/Batman disasters, succeeding with Wonder Woman and Aquaman, perhaps the next logical move is to indoctrinate the 2019 youth to DC Comics while hoping to hold onto the teenage and adult movie crowd.
They may have succeeded.
Yet it is Zachary Levi, the 39-year-old actor starring as Shazam!, who irks me almost as much as the dreadful brat from the 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger bomb Last Action Hero. Levi is “Jim Carrey obnoxious” acting like a 15-year-old in a 39-year-old man’s body. The Tom Hanks film Big from 1988 featured a 14-year-old actor, David Moscow, playing the young Hanks in one of many body-switching movies…many…that proliferated in that time period and continue into today. This ain’t no Clark Kent run to the phone booth body switching, this is actually two different actors to play one part. And it is the younger actor who gets it right.
Levi played Fandral in 2013’s Thor, the Dark World and 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok and in this motion picture which smartly uses mostly unknowns, the actor flubs an opportunity to flex his thespian muscles. Thankfully, as referenced above, it’s the children who show better acting abilities – unlike the previously noted Austin O’Brien from Last Action Hero, giving Shazam! its solid focus towards a younger audience.
I get it. I do. Wonder Woman and Aquaman gave DC/Warner the box office jolts very much needed, so this “original Captain Marvel” / Superman character does not have to be as serious as Thor or Iron Man, yet notice how DC has made a point of drifting towards the Marvel universe formula, including the use of actors, behind the scenes people and themes who/which helped establish Marvel/Disney as the powerhouse that it is.
The problem, for me, is Zachary Levi’s intentionally befuddling persona as Shazam! Uggh! It is distracting, almost clownish and while it will make for family fare, it’s outside of what has become a reality of superhero motion pictures: playing it straight.
What I do love about the film is its venture into the amusement park in an adventurous way that Beverly Hills Cop III attempted to do but missed the mark…by a wide margin. From the wizard’s lair to the Ferris Wheel (I was hoping more for the funhouse but…) the main action in a land of wonderment for the young and the young at heart was a good call. It’s just that the stone gargoyles are also a bit cartoonish but Hollywood is working on that…
There will certainly be a sequel and maybe by that time this Shazam! and its actor, Levi Zachary, Zachary Levi, Levi What’s his face, whatever, can both grow up. All in all, it’s quite entertaining and despite all my criticism the good far outweighs the bad, so go see it and have fun while doing so.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.