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What Critics Are Saying About Shazam!

It's the kind of superhero origin story every kid has dreamed of experiencing themselves: 14-year-old orphan Billy Batson struggles to adjust to a new foster home and finds himself the victim of bullies at school, but his life is soon flipped inside out when he's chosen by the mystical wizard Shazam to be his champion, obtaining the ability to transform into a godlike superhero by uttering a single word. As far as vigilante inceptions go, Shazam's is one of the most fun — it may not take the top spot of origin stories in terms of coolness (no radioactive spiders or genetic experiments gone wrong), but it's up there like a fever.

Fans of the DC Comics character will get to see him blast onto the big screen when Shazam! opens on April 5. Hype for the film, which stars Asher Angel as Billy and Zachary Levi as the musclebound man he metamorphoses into, has been high since July 2017, when Warner Bros. and DC Films confirmed they'd launch Shazam! shortly after Aquaman. Teasers, trailers, and tantalizing promos promised a lighthearted, laugh-filled adventure — and had everyone believing Shazam! could be the film to bring brightness to the mostly gloomy DC Extended Universe. 

Reviews for Shazam! are officially in, and we finally know whether the film soared or sank. Here's what the critics are saying. 

More than just a DC delight

People knew from the moment the first teaser for Shazam! dropped during San Diego Comic-Con 2018 that the film was going to be quite a different DC offering. Billy's foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) cracking a joke 30 seconds in, young Billy giggling when he learns the wizard who is about to give him superpowers is legitimately named Shazam, and adult Billy flossing while testing out his new abilities, then chomping on chips and trying to flirt with girls after he takes down a couple of thugs in a convenience store? Yeah, not the type of stuff one would normally find in a grim, gritty DC Extended Universe movie. And Shazam! is better for it, with critics exalting it as one of the best DC films in history. 

Hear it for yourself: Hugh Armitage of Digital Spy called Shazam! "DC's slickest, funniest movie yet." IGN's Jim Vejvoda said it's the "most joyful and sweet movie since the days of Christopher Reeve's Superman." ScreenCrush editor-in-chief Matt Singer wrote that "DC movies are suddenly fun again" and that he has "nothing but positive things to say about Shazam!"

More than that, critics feel Shazam! isn't just a triumph for DC — it's also one of the greatest movies in the superhero genre, period. Like Mark Hughes at Forbes said, "One of the best DC superhero origin films ever made, Shazam! is also one of the best and most fun superhero films from any company."

Zachary Levi was born to play Shazam!

Some actors melt into the roles they take on so effortlessly that it feels as if their sole purpose in life was to be that character. Ryan Reynolds slipped into the red-and-black leather suit to play Deadpool with ease, and is now as much a part of the Merc with a Mouth as the anti-hero is a part of him. The lines between fact and fiction blurred into nothingness with each new turn Hugh Jackman took as Wolverine. Robert Downey Jr. has played Tony Stark with such panache it seems the Marvel Comics character was the man he was always meant to portray. 

Now we can add Zachary Levi and Shazam to the list, as critics are in agreement that Levi was born to play The Big Red Cheese.

"Levi is a delight in the central role, hilariously conveying the goofy adolescent within the strapping body of his musclebound superhero," wrote The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck. Variety critic Owen Gleiberman praised Levi's performance, writing, "Zachary Levi brings off something so winning it's irresistible ... [he] uses that innocent quality to take the superhero stuffing out of the material — and to let Shazam discover his identity in a way that makes this the freshest origin story in some time." The Guardian's Benjamin Lee said Levi approached Shazam with "a puppyish charm, launching himself into the role with total abandon." And Jim Vejvoda at IGN added, "Zachary Levi was born to play this superpowered man-child."

The kids aren't all right — they're amazing

Zachary Levi isn't the only star of Shazam! who caught critics' eyes. To say that the younger cast (primarily Freddy Freeman actor Jack Dylan Grazer, young Billy star Asher Angel, and Faithe Herman, who plays the boys' foster sister Darla) give impressive turns would be a definite understatement. The teens who top-lined Shazam! didn't just entertain — they astounded with nuanced performances that bolstered both the film's comedic moments and its sentimental elements. (More on those later.)

"Angel and Grazer work together beautifully as the teenage boys bonding over their joy at discovering Shazam's powers," Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter wrote in his review, noting that both delivered "terrific" performances. Vox's Alex Abad-Santos gave particular praise to Grazer's Freddy Freeman: "Grazer shows glimmers of vulnerability — sometimes it's just a small slowdown in delivery or a tense lip — beneath his character's scrim of sarcasm and irreverence." 

Of the teen ensemble in Shazam!The Associated Press' Lindsay Bahr wrote, "The young actors assembled here are astounding, and immediately captivating, especially Grazer as Freddy and Herman as Darla who nearly steal the show. It's why when the film asks you to believe that it's really about family, and not merchandising, you're on board." Bahr felt Grazer was on par with Levi as the best in Shazam!, stating, "Grazer and Levi are perfectly matched for the job [and Grazer] is beyond his years with his ability to draw a laugh."

A Super-Big promise

Before Warner Bros. and DC Films so much as released a poster for Shazam!, Zachary Levi dished up an intriguing detail about the film: that it would feel like a mash-up of Superman, the 1978 superhero film starring Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel, and Big, the 1988 comedy featuring Tom Hanks as a young boy trapped inside an adult's body in a story of wish fulfillment gone awry. "I am just out of my mind excited! I get to do my version of Big, basically. It's like Superman meets Big, and that's just so fun," Levi told Entertainment Tonight at the time. 

That descriptor repeated hundreds of times by members of the media discussing Shazam! ahead of its release. Thankfully, it truly does play like a mix of the two beloved movies. "This film owes an obvious, oversized debt" to Big, said The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck in his review of Shazam! Over at CNET, Richard Trenholm wrote that Shazam is "a superpowered version of classic comedy Big that completes DC's magical transformation." 

Sounds like Levi has something in common with Shakira's hips: he doesn't lie. 

Feel-good fun

Living in a world as cruel as this one can often be, humans crave good vibes in any form they can find them. A hot cup of cocoa and a rom-com marathon, a towering plate of nachos with extra jalapeños, a day spent glued to the corner of the couch, a deep and meaningful conversation with a friend, a near-overflowing bathtub filled with bubbles (and a champagne glass filled with them too) — happiness-seeking methods vary from person to person. But having seen Shazam!, critics are saying the superhero film is packed with so much feel-good fun, it might soon become a universal remedy to beat the blues.

"It's an escape from your troubles," said ScreenCrush's Matt Singer. "You feel good when it's over." Wrote Forbes contributor Mark Hughes in his review of Shazam!, "The film is such a feel-good family-friendly joyously exciting and amusing production, people will keep recommending it to their friends and loved ones, and many will return for second and maybe even third viewings." ComingSoon.net's Alan Cerny compared Shazam! to a puppy, writing that it's warm, winning, and wears its heart on its sleeve. "Shazam! invites everyone to have a good time. It doesn't have a mean-spirited bone in its body," he stated. "Shazam! has a big, goofy smile on its face, and you can't help but smile back. This is a puppy dog of a movie."

Surprising sentiment

To credit Shazam! for its many lighthearted charms isn't to say that the film is a one-note affair — critics say it also has a big, beating heart and a surprisingly sentimental central story. 

Since we aren't in the business of spoiling films, we'll simply say this: Shazam! is as much about Billy Batson learning to be an actual superhero as it is about him discovering the powers he has as a normal teen. It's as much about his desire to form an identity as a vigilante as it is about reuniting with his birth mother while allowing himself to grow close to his foster family. It's about friendship and love, about the pain of abandonment and the sweetness of belonging, and, as the film flat-out says in one moment, about family being more than just a word. For many critics, this is what makes Shazam! so special. 

The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck called the "emotional components" of Shazam! "moving," while Alex Abad-Santos at Vox gave a hat-tip to screenwriter Henry Gayden, who knew "that humor and comedy are ways to approach sensitive ideas" like kids "feeling unwanted after being abandoned by their parents, or what it's like to live with a disability." Added Abad-Santos, "Humanity is what Shazam is fluent in. And if we're lucky, Shazam assures us, we can share a little bit of that magic, our magic, with others."

A slight drag

So far, so fantastic for Shazam! — but critical response to the film hasn't been perfect across the board. A few critics mentioned they felt the finale drags a bit, though they did admit this was a very minor complaint in the grand scheme of things — a personal nitpick rather than an aspect of the movie that takes away from its other wonderful qualities.

Frank Scheck at The Hollywood Reporter stated that "combat fatigue" sets in long before Shazam! brings out the big guns, and that results in the film feeling about 30 minutes too long. "What should have been a fun, fast-paced 105 minutes or so is dragged out to a butt-numbing 132," his review reads in part. Digital Spy critic Hugh Armitage felt similarly, but made it clear that his overall thoughts on the film weren't swayed one way or another by the inflated third act: "The finale drags on longer than it needs to, but Shazam! is so much fun that it's a minor complaint."

Not-so-super supervillain

It can be argued that a hero needs a villain who is as bad as they are good — like Batman needs the Joker, or the Fantastic Four need Doctor Doom. When it comes to superhero films, villains can either make or break the whole story. In the case of Shazam!'s Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, the nefarious inventor and industrialist who had a rough childhood and holds a grudge against Shazam for reasons revealed in the film, he does neither. A fair few critics weren't totally blown away by Dr. Sivana — mainly due to how the character was presented and not down to Mark Strong's performance as the evil-doer. 

"Sivana is a stylish but ultimately forgettable menace," Alex Abad-Santos of Vox stated. Lindsey Bahr at The Associated Press agreed: "Dr. Sivana is woefully underwritten... although Strong does his best being the straight, serious guy. For the most part it comes across as less of a threat and more of a buzzkill that gets in the way all the fun we were having with Freddy and Shazam."

Still, plenty appreciated what Strong brought to the role. The Hollywood Reporter's Frank Scheck was one of them, writing, "Strong uses his fierce intensity and taut physicality to make his villain suitably fearsome even while providing subtle comic flourishes along the way."

Standing O for Sandberg

The name "David F. Sandberg" might ring a few readers' mental bells, but it won't be for his work in the superhero genre. Sandberg first made a name for himself in horror, directing shorts like The Drawing Box and Closet Space before making his feature debut with the 2016 hit Lights Out and following that up with 2017's Annabelle: Creation. While a creative switch from one genre to another isn't uncommon (Jordan Peele did it when he jumped from comedy to horror with his feature film debut Get Out), the thought of horror aficionado Sandberg tackling a movie like Shazam! did leave some skeptical.

As it turns out, Sandberg is every bit as skilled in the world of superheroes as he is gifted in the universe of spook. Critics adored what Sandberg did with Shazam!, writing that he brought "flawless comic timing," "a likable message about the value of family, friendship and teamwork," and a sprinkling of scariness to the silver screen with his "coherent, tactile direction."

"Director David F. Sandberg delivered a near-perfect distillation of everything a Shazam movie should be, with the precise nuances and aesthetics and performances to achieve the tone and style the film needed in order to succeed," said Forbes contributor Mark Hughes. "I cannot praise enough the performances he got from his cast, and his overall ability to make such a relatively smaller-scale personal film still feel big, bold, and epic." 

A balancing act done right

Writers and directors can so often lean too far to one side when trying to craft a film that makes audiences laugh and think deeply about its sentiments. Shazam! avoids being too much of either of those things — due in large part to director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Henry Gayden. Keith Phipps of The Verge commended the creative duo for successfully walking the fine line between humor and heart — and never forgetting the cheerful tone of the source material when tiptoeing into darker, more emotionally impactful territory.  

"Gayden and Sandberg attempt a difficult balancing act with Shazam! ... But even when the filmmakers let their project come across as a little frightening, they also have to find a way to stay true to the original comics' fun, kid-friendly spirit," wrote Phipps. "If Gayden and Sandberg truly wanted a film more in line with the Snyderverse entries, they could have made it... Gotham and Metropolis get superhero icons who rarely smile. Philly gets a goofball, and that turns out to be a lot more fun."

Vox's Alex Abad-Santos was pleased that "fun doesn't always outweigh grimness," adding, "Shazam!'s hilarious script and unflinching commitment to the earnestness of its comic book source material work in tandem to deliver the joyous high notes it's going for. Had it been deficient in either, the experience wouldn't have been as charming or entertaining, or as touching."

You ain't seen nothin' like this before

Fandango managing editor Erik Davis wrote in his early reaction to Shazam! that it's "unlike anything DC has done before." Countless critics agree: Shazam! is both something totally new for the DCEU and a film that subverted expectations to become "one of the most fun superhero movies ever made."

By blending together the vibes of '80s comeies and early-2000s superhero pics — while never feeling like it's hocking nostalgia or pandering to fans of either – Shazam! pulls off something incredible. As Slashfilm's Hoai-Tran Bui wrote, "Shazam! is more of a spiritual throwback that captures the sincerity and silliness inherent in the superhero genre."

Forbes contributor Mark Hughes said that Shazam! is a wholly unique kind of superhero film: "I walked out of Shazam! thinking this is what we would have gotten if Spielberg had made a superhero movie during the 1980s."

Beatrice Verhoeven of TheWrap said in her review that Shazam! "doesn't break the mold" of the superhero genre "so much as it plays with how flexible the mold can be," and in doing so, serves as a respite to audiences. "Shazam! is such an unexpected joy from start to finish — at a time when Hollywood is choking to death on all the superhero films that studios keep ramming down its throat, here comes one that looks at the genre in a different light and reconceives it on a human level."

A sunny new era of the DCEU?

Will these positive reviews for Shazam! translate to box office success, and will the film be enough to change the face of the DC Extended Universe forever, setting a bright new standard to which all future franchise entries will follow?

Plenty are confident that Shazam! will act as the turning point for the cinematic franchise that has struggled from the outsetVox senior culture reporter Alex Abad-Santos regarded the film as "proof that Warner Bros. has found its groove." Lindsay Bahr of The Associated Press applauded it as "a lightning bolt of unexpected joy that is certainly worth your time and money." Mark Hughes shared his estimation that Shazam! could earn $500 million or more worldwide — with the most vital factor in anticipating "blockbuster success for Shazam!" being "how utterly fantastic this film really is."

Overall, Shazam! seems to have everything going for it: pitch-perfect performances, a strong script, a tasty combo of hilarity and tenderness — all things needed to take Warner Bros., DC Films, and the DCEU to new heights. Digital Spy's Hugh Armitage said it best: "Aquaman hinted a bold, new approach to DC's movies that doesn't try to emulate the MCU's successes. Shazam! makes good on that promise, waving goodbye to the grim-faced Batfleck years, leaving us excited about what they'll do next. The future looks bright."