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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Shazam 2019: Not as Funny or Light as Reviewers Promised

Reviewers say that "Shazam" is light and funny, that it gets to the heart of being a bullied child and yearning for power, and that it did not display the boring pomposity of so many recent comic book movies. The main character, Billy Batson, is an adolescent boy in the body of a superhero. "Shazam," reviewers promised, is the superhero version of "Big," the 1988 Penny Marshall hit about a boy who magically enters an adult body. The reviewers were only partially telling the truth. "Shazam" contains too many scenes that are pompous, hateful, violent, and just plain weird in a movie that suddenly switches into cute, crippled child mode. Zachary Levi, a 38 year old actor who plays Billy Batson, is very good, sweet, funny, and believable as a child in an adult's body, and he deserved a better movie. But he and the producers are raking the bucks.

"Shazam" opens with an assault on those most evil of villains, white, Christian, wealthy, heterosexual, American men. Three males are traveling in a car at Christmas time. Bing Crosby is singing "Do You Hear What I Hear," over the car radio. The father is a vicious creep who mocks his youngest son, sitting in the backseat. His prized first-born is up front with him.

Long story short: the youngest son, who is being picked on, is offered power by a wizard, but he blows it because the eye of Sauron offers him the ring of power – no, wait, sorry, wrong fantasy. Basically Satanic beings offer the kid power. This motif is ultimately ripped off from the New Testament's "Temptation of Christ" narrative. It's ironic that schlocky Hollywood movies rip off the Bible even as they bash Christianity. Get used to the bashing and the cultural appropriation. There are Christmas trees throughout this movie. The superheroes are all pseudo Messiahs. Nothing new here.

The youngest son grows up to be Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong). He's obsessed with gaining the power he couldn't receive when he was a greedy little brat. Eventually Sivana will get that power and use it to murder his abusive brother and father. He walks into a boardroom full of rich, white, Americans. Using demons, he violently murders them all. A couple of observations. Hollywood would never produce a big budget movie that included such a violent, hateful scene where a church or restaurant full of black people were violently murdered. And what the heck is this scene doing in a movie that is supposed to be for little kids? Mark Strong's performance as a man focused on the coldblooded destruction of human life belongs in a serious treatment of some historic atrocity.

Anyway. Billy Batson, a foster child, gains superpowers and fights Sivana. You've seen it all before. There are funny, light, "Big"-like scenes. Their placement in the movie served to make this viewer conscious that this movie could have been different, it could have been thoroughly light, funny, and innovative, and instead it is a mishmash of styles, tone, and agendas.

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