This is going to be a non-spoiler review (I’m only directly discussing stuff revealed in the trailers) because I did manage to see this early, even if it was only the night before general release. Honestly, the movie did catch me by surprise a couple of times and I feel like I want everyone going in to have the same chance at that that I had.
Also, continuing with the Facebook blustering: do not expect me to call the superhero “Shazam” at any point in this review. The movie is named Shazam! The wizard is named Shazam. The superhero is named Captain Marvel, and I don’t give a damn what DC or Warner Brothers’ legal departments have to say about that. If having two superheroes named Captain Marvel confuses you in a world where three superheroes are played by blond white men named Chris, I can’t help you.
I also have bad news for you about who the real “Captain Marvel” actually is.
So. Yeah. Go see it. Go see it go see it GO SEE IT GO SEE IT GO SEE IT RIGHT NOW. This is exactly– exactly— the movie that I wanted to see, and you should go see it right now.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, standard disclaimers; I get enthusiastic. But I’m having a really hard time right now imagining how a movie about this Captain Marvel could have been any better than this one was, and I’m starting to have some hope that at least some corners of the people involved in making movies for DC have a clue about what they’re doing. They’ve now produced two great movies (Wonder Woman and Shazam!) and one (Aquaman) that … well, wasn’t actually good really but was awfully enthusiastic and fun. Okay, the rest of them have all been some flavor of hot garbage, but … progress, right?
Here’s the thing: You can’t do grimdark Captain Marvel. You just can’t. It doesn’t work unless, like in Kingdom Come, the point is that absolutely everything has been corrupted and fucked up. Captain Marvel’s childlike innocence and faith are at the core of the character, and while they’ve wisely made Billy Batson a bit older than usual for this movie they still get what he’s supposed to be. Much like Wonder Woman, this movie actually understands the character they’re making a movie about(*), and it remembers the very fucking important fact that Captain Marvel is supposed to be a Goddamned superhero and superheroes are supposed to save people.
And they kept Zach Snyder and his cancerous-ass direction as far away from this movie as they could, and they did it a hundred percent right, and they very much should be rewarded for it. I want this movie to make a lot of money, and I want the people responsible for DC’s movies to learn from it, dammit. There is no trace of the Murderverse in this movie. It’s wonderful.
The acting in the film is across-the-board phenomenal, particularly the two leads and the kid who plays Freddy Freeman, and if the movie has a flaw it’s that Freddy almost seems like he’d make a better Captain Marvel than Billy Batson does. He’s the heart of the film, though, and while Captain Marvel is an inherently cheesy superhero (one of his nicknames is literally The Big Red Cheese, y’all) the movie dips into the cheesiness without ever being overwhelmed by it. The action is well-shot, the effects are phenomenal, and– rather unexpectedly– the bad guy and his minions are scary as hell, to the point where I’d caution against taking anyone under 10 to see this without previewing it first. It’s PG-13 for a reason. Is it weird that a movie about a kid superhero can’t be seen by kids? Maybe a little, but again: they aged Billy up a little bit and the movie is a bit more mature than one with an 11- or 12-year old Billy Batson might be. This movie isn’t PG-13 because they say “shit” a few times, even though they do. The movie is PG-13 because Dr. Sivana is too scary for a PG villain.
If you are the type to be irritated by Superhero Physics, where a bus can fall off a bridge and be caught by a man standing underneath the bridge and no one in the bus is harmed because the superhero caught the bus … well, remember that Captain Marvel’s powers are literally magical and maybe be prepared to have to roll with that. Because there is a lot of Superhero Physics in this movie. He’s magic. You’ll be OK.
So, yeah: we’re seeing a great trend recently, with Into the Spider-Verse and now Shazam!, where studios that aren’t Marvel are finally starting to figure out how to make superhero movies that aren’t crap. This is what we’ve been telling them we want, guys. Reward good behavior, and go see this one.
(*) Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry is not remotely the Arthur Curry from the comic books, but frankly Aquaman himself has always been treated as such a flat character that it barely even registers. I’ve been reading comics since I was nine and I couldn’t tell you how Aquaman might react to a situation differently from any random human selected from the side of the road other than a vague commitment to environmentalism. I can’t tell you how a movie that “gets” Aquaman might look different from one that doesn’t. I can for damn sure do that for most of the rest of DC’s heroes, and they’ve fallen down repeatedly on this front.