I still haven’t seen Aquaman, and I’m no more likely to watch the first Henry Cavill Superman film than I am to sit through a rewatch of Batman vs Superman (hey, I just realised, if I am ever captured by a supervillain who wants to torture me for the information I have, I have soooo given away what he needs to do to make me spill like a baby), but I’m confident that I have now seen the best DC movie to date.
Outside, it’s still Good Friday afternoon, and it’s sunny, but instead I chose to go indoors at The Light. I was in Screen 3, which is the nearest to the door I’ve been yet, and I was in row C, which is the nearest to the front I’ve sat yet (and which did not do much to improve this series of headaches I’ve been getting for days.
And once again the trailers were ALL superhero movies, one of them for Avengers: Endgame, which caused me to close my eyes to avoid seeing and at least blur hearing any of it.
Last time out, I went to see Captain Marvel. This time I was here for Caprain Marvel, that is, the original Big Red Cheese, the guy created at Fawcett Comics by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck, the guy that National Comics sued for ripping off Superman (he didn’t, you only have to read the comics to see that, but he did outsell Superman, so…) He’s also the guy who couldn’t appear in any comics under his name after DC picked him up because it the interim, Marvel had registered a trademark on Captain Marvel. Now, DC either can’t or won’t call him by his real name inside his comics, so now he’s Shazam (which means that he can’t call himself by his own name). It was a niggle, just a niggle, but a niggle nonetheless.
But it was really my only niggle. The movie took the Captain Marvel story, twisted it a little to branch Dr Sivana into the Shazam legend instead of him just being an evil scientist, but otherwise played that side of things straight. Since Sivana, a wonderfully composed, steel-faced performance by Mark Strong, takes the Seven Sins into him, after being passed over as a potential Captain/Shazam back in 1974, there’s some real darkness: you can just feel Zack Snyder turning up his very slow motion camera.
And that’s what makes the film work. It is serious, it is real, but it doesn’t feel like it. And I’m not talking Marvel-style banter. Sivana is 100% serious throughout. The comedy comes directly from (ah, hell) Shazam himself. Billy Batson (Asher Angel, who’s is a fourteen year old boy. True, he’s a very adult fourteen year old boy in some respects, having become separated from his mother at age 4, with her never coming looking for him, making Billy a determinedly independent kid, a serial rejecter of foster homes, a serial rejecter of any families or relationships, hellbent on finding his mother himself. But he’s a fourteen year old boy.
He gets placed with the impressively loving and concerned Victor and Rosa Vasquez and their existing group of foster kids, Darla, Eugene, Pedro and, most importantly, the crippled Freddy Freeman and the oldest of all, Mary Broomfield (Grace Fulton). This all comes directly from the rebooted Shazam Family but I am constitutionally incapable of seeing the latter two as anything by Captain Marvel Junior, and Mary Marvel, aka Billy’slong-lost twin sister.
Billy won’t get involved. Indeed, he’s running away again whenhe is zapped to the Rock of Eternity by the near-dead Wizard Shazam, and has the powerof being Captain Marvel (dammit, Shazam) vested in him.
And he turns into Zachary Levi, having a ball of fun as this big, beefy guy in a red and gold suit, but still basically beeing Billy Batson, misanthropic and self-centred fourteen year old.
Angel and Levi can’t help being funny, whichever one of them is there at the time, which is what makes this film so good. You believe every second of it as being what a fourteen year old would think and do, from good to bad, and how helpless the Shazam version is when Sivana finds him and starts beating the crap out of him. Shazam can only escape by shouting ‘Shazam’ and turning into Billy.
Who’s all set to run away again once the other kids discover his secret, like Freddy and Darla have, because Eugene’s found him his real mother, who abandoned him because she was just a young single mother and random strangers could take better care of him than she could. But that’s the catalyst for the heart-warming moment (I didn’t say the film was perfect, did I?) when Billy decides who are his real family.
This cues us up for the long, actually slightly overlong fight scene that rounds the film out, which gets particularly daffy when Shazam gets everyone to grab the Wizard’s staff (which has a very large knob on the end) and shout his name. ‘Billy!’ they all cry, naturally, but second time round they all transform into Shazams, in different coloured costumes (in a neat tip to the once and former Mary Marvel, Mary gets red alongside Billy).
And there’s not a moment of slow-motion to be seen, just good honest CGI whirling around until the day is saved.
There was the expected mid-credits scene to set up the sequel, which I’m alredy looking forward to, and that had me laughing tthe hardest at he fact they’re going to be so nuts as to use Captain Marvel’s other archenemy: no, not Black Adam, I’m not counting him, but Mr Mind. Yes, the four inch tall, taking intergalactic worm. I love that they have the nerve to pull Mr Mind off in the 2020s.
I was leaving when someone told me there was a post-credits scene, so I stayed. It was basically a diss on Aquaman and hardly essential, but it summed up the irreverence that made this film such fun to watch. A plague on your Man of Steels, a murrain on your Dawn of Justices! This is what we’ve been waiting for all along.