‘Shazam!’ electrifies in ultra-high definition (4K Ultra HD review)
WASHINGTON. Shazam! Behold, a rare blockbuster in DC Entertainment’s attempts to bring its comic book heroes to the big screen has now made the transition to the ultra-high definition disk format. Now, home theater viewers can enjoy the (once) secret origins of Shazam! the movie. (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, rated PG-13. 116 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $44.95).
Apparently, the successful formula today is to create a superhero movie that’s actually fun and not mind-numbingly angst-ridden. That’s certainly the case with this surprise 2019 hit. In Shazam!, director David F. Sandberg delivers a cinematic miracle: a joyously infectious family-fueled film.
A Byzantine tale of dueling copyrights
The film’s storyline offers a reboot of the original Captain Marvel story. But it’s re-tooled to resolve an ancient dispute between Marvel Comics (the character’s original owner) and DC. The latter somehow managed to take the Captain Marvel character over, but finally ceded rights to the name of the character back to Marvel some decades ago. Meanwhile, Marvel re-tooled the character as a very different – and controversial – female Captain Marvel for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
So, recast in the DC Universe as “Shazam,” we find an updated version of the original story. In it, we once again find an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) looking for a younger successor. The new successor’s mission: to wield the magical powers of Shazam to wage a never-ending war against the Seven Deadly Sins. The wizard’s quest leads to empowering a delinquent teenage orphan named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) with unnamed, unknown superpowers he has no idea how to control.
Just say that magic word, Shazam!
By simply saying Shazam!, Billy instantly grows adult size (incarnated by Zachary Levi). Even better, he finds himself clad in a non-removable red and gold costume with a yellow glowing lightning bolt on his chest (the comic’s original costume design). Thus transformed, the unrecognizable Billy possesses the powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury: S.H.A.Z.A.M. Get it?
Subsequently, Billy’s childlike joy with his big, manly alter-ego fuels much of the action and considerable confusion as well. The latter is further compounded when Billy’s foster family of five siblings — including Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer/Adam Brody), Mary Bromfield, aka Mary Marvel (Grace Fulton/Michelle Borth) and Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman/Meagan Good) — also catch the Shazam fever and wield their own transformative powers during the film’s wild climax.
The original Billy Batson Shazam’s life gets complicated when he discovers he must eventually battle a Lex Luthor-style antagonist named Doctor Sivana (Mark Strong). Sivana was once rejected by the wizard for the role Billy now fulfills and embraces the Seven Deadly Sins to unleash them upon a presumably unsuspecting world.
Zachary Levi turns in a bang-up performance as a very confused “Shazam!”
Mr. Levi plays Shazam just like one would imagine if some randomly chosen 14-year-old boy were suddenly turned into a super-powered adult at will. His “aw shucks, this is too cool” attitude, comic timing and chemistry with his young sidekick, Mr. Grazer, transform his character into a bright, welcoming addition to DC’s cinematic superhero universe.
Equally adept at carrying the film is Mr. Strong. He turns in a very convincing super villain performance, having cut his chops as “Kick-Ass” baddie Frank D’Amico back in 2010. His version of Doctor Sivana is not a weird-looking, bespectacled, short bald man in a white lab coat as seen in the 1940s Captain Marvel comics.
Instead, he’s reimagined as a powerful human imbued with the powers of the gods.
In addition, modern comic book fans will appreciate the origins of the movie’s story that takes multiple elements from 2011, “New 52” sequential art reboot of the character’s comic book mythology that was crafted by writer Geoff Johns and artists Andy Kubert and Gary Frank.
4K in action
Despite a generous upscale to the UHD format (from the undetermined master source material) and high dynamic range magic, the movie is not much more visually arresting than its high definition (HD) counterpart.
Still, the uptick in crispness combined with the expanded array of luminosity really shows off some of the best-looking lightning effects seen in home theaters.
Shazam’s jolting powers run the gamut from Tesla coil tentacles to massive strikes over Philadelphia to tiny bursts of electricity shot at cellphones. In contrast, Doctor Sivana’s black-tinged bolts are equally intense on-screen, especially as he battles our hero in midflight.
Also worthy of note are the subtle lighting variations needed to highlight Shazam’s glowing chest logo. And how the light reflects off the consume’s surface and his face.
With regard to extra details, viewers will admire the creatures that represent the Seven Deadly Sins. They look like the filmmakers plucked them from Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy films. Their grotesque, lifelike close-ups battling our heroes at a carnival are impressive. Equally so, their ethereal forms and their fiery recreation at the Rock of Eternity.
Best extras on the disk
They’re all contained in the included Blu-ray disk version of the movie. As they go through them, viewers will discover a genuine rarity these days in any home theater-released comic book film a 4-minute motion comic. This slightly animated effort features photorealistic artwork from DC Comics artist Jason Badower. The segment explores the new Shazam taking his heroic foster siblings on an unauthorized field trip to a museum already under attack by heavily armed bad guys.
In addition, this short subject features the voices of Mr. Levi and Andi Osho (a social worker in the movie). And, alas, a boring story penned by screenwriter Henry Gayden,
Next, a 27-minute overview of the production. It was a 2-year odyssey for Mr. Sandberg. The overview focuses on special effects, stunt wirework, storyboarding, shooting the film in Philadelphia and Toronto. Also on tap: improvising on the set, costuming (using comic book source material) and computer-animating those seven deadly creatures.
Additionally, the overview includes interviews with the director, Mr. Gayden, Mr. Levi, cinematographer Maxim Alexandre, stunt coordinator Kyle Gardiner and costume designer Leah Butler. We even get to see Mr. Levi auditing for the main role in the film by using Skype.
But wait! There’s more!
Viewers also get a whopping 37 minutes of deleted or alternate scenes. Plus, an optional introduction to each by the director. Specifically, six alternates include a different beginning. In it, Sivana is a spoiled brat in a very rich family and takes an elevator to the Rock of Eternity. They also include a less amusing ending to the film and 10 deleted scenes including a wizard prologue.
Above all, the best remaining featurette offers a way-too-short 6-minute dive into the origins of Shazam. Aka, the first Captain Marvel in the comics. This segment touches on the 1940s to the present time. Here we spend 6 minutes with the actors who portrayed the Marvel family of heroes and their younger alter egos. It’s all tucked into this light and fluffy segment.
All in all, a nifty package.
• This story originally appeared in The Washington Times.