'Shazam!' Reviews: Early Response Suggests the DCEU Doesn't Need Batman

Early reactions to Shazam! are coming in from critics who attended an initial screening this week, and there’s a consensus: Warner Bros. and DC have another winner. With reviewers calling it a “family-friendly joy” and “damn near perfect,” it seems as though the real strength in the DC “Extended Universe” could be in underexposed characters who aren’t Batman or Superman.

On Thursday, which just so happened to be the night Captain Marvel hit theaters, film critics who saw Shazam! early published their reactions to the movie on Twitter — full reviews will be published later this March — and reactions are positive. Most people seem to agree that Zachary Levi shines as the film’s lead, while the film itself feels reminiscent to family movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Some critics also praised the film’s emphasis on family.

Shazam! is DC’s most joyful & sweet movie since the era of Christopher Reeve’s Superman,” wrote IGN’s Jim Vejvoda, “a funny yet earnest coming of age story about a boy who learns that, well, with great power comes great responsibility. It doesn’t reinvent the superhero movie wheel, but it’s undeniably fun!”

Terri Schwartz, also of IGN, “LOVED” Shazam!. “It’s an absolute blast, very much carried by a strong cast of kid actors and an awesome performance from @ZacharyLevi,” Schwartz tweeted. “There’s so much heart and humor in this film — not to mention a positive message and great twists. It’s a needed burst of joy.”

Ash Crossan of Entertainment Tonight praised Shazam!, saying: “#Shazam was damn near PERFECT in my book. My FAVORITE DC movie (DCEU? What are we saying now?) by far. Pure of heart, incredibly funny, full of in-jokes and references. Brought me a childlike joy to watch. This role was MADE for @ZacharyLevi… & Jack & Asher & the entire cast.”

Peter Sciretta of Slashfilm writes that the film feels evocative of a bygone era of family movies like Big and Home Alone, as “a crowd pleasing family-friendly joy-filled wish-fulfillment superhero film which gets a bit over the top and cheesy at times. It’s fun and funny, and I was surprised at how much it wears it’s heart on its sleeve.”

One the film’s highest praises comes from Mike Cecchini of Den of Geek, arguably one of the biggest Shazam fans I know. In an emotional thread, Cecchini praises the work of director David F. Sandberg and the film’s cast, saying: “I’m gonna go out on a limb and call #Shazam my favorite DCEU movie. It is really well balanced, gets the magical wonder of the character and his world right, and somehow never feels like it’s trying too hard.”

Adds Cecchini, in other tweets:

“#Shazam sometimes feels like if Joe Dante or Robert Zemeckis made a superhero movie in 1985. It’s a family movie, but the villain and the magical stuff is just scary enough to give it that edge, and it never swings too far in either direction.”
“But yeah, the #Shazam world is a tricky balance to strike, and they absolutely got it. As a lifelong fan of the character, I seriously never thought anyone would be able to get this right.”

Cecchini, speaking as a fan, has a point: Who ever would have gotten Shazam right? Originally a Fawcett Comics creation who outsold Superman comics in the 1940s (and was actually named Captain Marvel), Shazam dwindled into relative obscurity as comics and pop culture changed over the decades.

Flash forward to 2019, and here we are in a time when filmmakers can’t seem to get a grip on Superman or Batman — both Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck have left their high-profile roles as their slated films remain in limbo — but second-tier characters like Aquaman and Shazam get very good movies. What a world!

It’s sometimes hard to talk about superhero media in hindsight, because the seismic impact of one movie can make retrospective thought seem dumb. Yes, believe it or not, no one outside comics knew who Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor were. They weren’t Spider-Man, they weren’t X-Men, so movie studios didn’t want them. Consequently, this allowed Marvel to turn them into billion-dollar franchises on their own.

So to say Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn were also, once upon a time, obscure characters, might seems silly, but it’s also true. Outside of the Lynda Carter show and the occasional Halloween costume, the thought of a Wonder Woman movie seemed inconceivable. Ditto for Harley Quinn, a supporting character from Batman: The Animated Series who wound up soaring to the stratosphere as the only good thing in Suicide Squad and is probably the only thing sticking around for the sequel.

I can’t help but look at Aquaman and Shazam! and wonder if this is what the “DCEU” should have been doing all this time. Of course it makes commercial sense to go out swinging with the biggest toys. But because of our strong familiarities with those characters, it didn’t make sense when we then saw Zack Snyder’s baroque vision for what should have been easy, breezy pop.

The world is still without a Batman or Superman, but at least we have a Shazam.

Shazam! hits theaters on April 5, 2019.

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