*ing: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Djimon Hounsou
Directed by David F. Sandberg
Tagline: Just say the word.
The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has finally embraced the inherent joy at the heart of superhero capers with Shazam!, an entertaining fantasy adventure that never loses its spirit of fun even when it otherwise falters.
The story revolves around teenager Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a troubled foster child who is searching for his birth parents, hoping to reunite with his real mother (Caroline Palmer). When Billy is taken in by foster parents Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa Vazquez (Marta Milans) and placed in a group home with five other kids - superhero enthusiast Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer); gaming nerd Eugene (Ian Chen); shy kid Pedro (Jovan Armand); endearing youngest sister Darla (Faithe Herman); and eldest sister Mary (Grace Fulton) who is heading to college - he refuses to accept them as his family.
While fleeing an encounter with bullies, Billy is unexpectedly summoned by the ancient Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), a wizard who fights the forces of evil, keeping the Seven Deadly Sins in check. The wizard has been searching for someone to take his powers but has been unable to find anyone who is pure of heart. After a candidate that Shazam had previously rejected as his successor, Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), figures out how to return to the ancient temple, free the Sins, and become their vessel, the defeated Shazam decides to pass his powers on to a reluctant Billy, who transforms into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) upon saying the wizard’s name.
It is then up to Billy, with a little help from Freddy, to master his newfound abilities and defeat the villain before he takes over the world.
Like a superhero version of 1988’s Big, Shazam! is a light adventure that is pleasant and engaging. The movie seems content with delivering a fairly standard story of good versus evil, but luckily this underdog tales comes with a satisfying helping of humour, heart, and warmth. The terrific cast - especially Levi - is one of the film’s biggest strengths.
Shazam! is one of those films where you can easily point out the obvious flaws - it’s overlong, dwells too much on the various backstories, has pacing issues, its screenplay could have used some polish, and the character design of the Sins could have individually been more distinctive - but you really don’t want to because you’re too busy enjoying yourself.
A filmmaker more experienced than Swedish director David Sandberg could have refined the project and created a more seamless movie, but this superhero adventure still counts as a triumph, especially for DCEU, who seem to have finally discovered what it’s like to just have some fun.
*ing: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford, Karan Soni, Mamoudou Athie, Mary Holland, and Hamish Linklater.
Directed by Brie Larson
Tagline: Everyone needs a little magic. Even if they’re all grown up.
Even though it predates Captain Marvel by nearly two years, Unicorn Store was only just released by Netflix, almost a month after Carol Danvers’ adventure hit the big screen, seemingly in a bid to capitalize on the interest generated by the superhero blockbuster. It’s a strategy that almost pays off - the timing does succeed in getting the project attention, but the film itself struggles to maintain the viewers’ interest.
Kit (Brie Larson), a failed artist struggling with the concept of growing up, drops out of college and returns to her parents’ (Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford, both terrific in their roles) home. But just when she tries to embrace adulthood by taking up an office job at a temp agency, she receives a mysterious letter from The Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson), who offers her the chance to fulfil her childhood fantasy of owning a unicorn.
It’s an odd premise that struggles between staying rooted in reality and embracing its fantastical premise.
The primary responsibility for this misfire lies on Larson’s shoulders, as she both stars in and helms the movie, making her directorial debut with this offbeat project. As an actress, Larson is charming, but she doesn’t exactly exude childlike joy and wonder that the role requires. As a filmmaker, her style is too static to complement the whimsical story she is trying to tell.
The script isn’t stellar either, and the quotable lines it offers - like "the most grownup thing you can do is fail at things you really care about" - seem specially engineered for millennial memes.
Unicorn Store does get points for being unique, but this slow, twee fantasy doesn’t have enough interesting ideas to offset its many dull moments. And while some will enjoy this film more than others, this quirky tale definitely isn’t for everyone
Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection