Shazam! (vs Captain Marvel): Film Review

Saturday night I saw Shazam! and it.was.awesome.  3 for 3 with the stand alones for DC.  Well done.  While Marvel was handing out free tickets to try and get butts in seats and positive reviews, DC was SELLING early tickets to get butts in seats to get in early reviews.

I used to watch Shazam when I was a little kid. (I’m a Gen Xer) and it was super fun, but I didn’t go into the movie expecting to see something similar.  I’ve never read the comics, even though my kids do.  Still, as far as comic book movies go, this one hits all the good spots with even more alacrity than Aquaman (which was super fun too).

Go see Shazam!  It takes advantage of all the ways a fifteen year old with superpowers would use, abuse, and explore super powers in ways Marvel couldn’t manage with Homecoming.  It was fun, funny, exciting and has many moments of tenderness, redemption and reality splashed in.  I got to see it in the Fandango early offering, and it just goes to show that sometimes you can tell a movie’s quality by the types of promotions it sells to the public.

The trailer for Shazam! was fun, action filled, but didn’t give away most of the action elements.  That was in stark contrast to Captain Marvel’s trailer which showed me NOTHING BUT ACTION, and absolutely no fun.  It’s unfortunate for Marvel that DC has figured out a way to showcase such an effective comic book movie by showing it early directly after Captain Marvel, because it will only invite comparisons, especially since both characters are named “Captain Marvel” in the comics. And even though I’m a lifelong Marvel fan, I’m going to oblige DC on this because Marvel has GOT to step back up.

Shazam.PNGNow I’m going to give a short lesson to Marvel about how superhero movies work, because they’ve forgotten.  Don’t read further if you don’t want to be spoiled for elements of the movie Shazam! or any of the Marvel movies.

Just in case anyone from Marvel reads this blog post, here is how you do a movie, and all the elements that Shazam! did so well and you used to be able to do yourselves:

  1. Set up your villain.  In the DC movie, the villain was established early, and you understood his motivation, felt a bit of compassion for him at it, or at least understanding, and it was clear what his goals were (and why).  He didn’t need to make a super villain speech, but he did, and it was turned on it’s head in new and entertaining ways.  DC has had problems doing this in the past, especially with the recent incarnation of Lex Luthor, who would have been better treated by the writers of the Shazam! script. But Marvel has, for some reason, had us guess who the villains are in their incarnation of Captain Marvel, and didn’t establish any real or believable motivations.  Even though Skrulls are supposed to now be “the good guys” even their motivations are ridiculous — they want a light speed engine, even though they got to Earth from another galaxy (or at least another solar system) in a few hours in a space ship… whaaaaa? And the scientist is working on a light speed engine with Earth tech WHY?  Never explained.

    Altered Dolls of your favorite characters up at
  2. Set up your hero.  In this movie, the heroes backstory was explored.  Just like the villain, you understand his motivation, felt compassion and understanding.  His goals were clear, but his actions were not “heroic” so he had a chance to become heroic.  This is what Spiderman explored in the comics, in the earlier film versions and why many people had a problem with Homecoming.  Marvel’s Captain Marvel had no chance to become heroic.  Her back story was jumpy and unclear.  We knew she fell a lot, but they never showed her learning why she fell down and using that to improve.  Which brings me to:
  3. Allow the hero to fail, fall back on important foundations, and build again from that.  In Thor’s first movie, he was not only allowed to fail, but stripped of his powers entirely.  He had to become heroic to be worthy of it again.  I won’t spoil Shazam! by telling you how the hero reaches the same sorts of redemption, but I will spoil you to Captain Marvel never actually failing.  Everything she tries to do, she seems to get through it magically and miraculously.  You saw her fall in her training for the Air Force, but you know she succeeded because she’s flying planes, even without remembering who she was in the Air Force.  No showing how she became worthy of flying a real plane, just put her in the pilots seat.
  4. Give the hero a solid side-kick/inspiration/mentor or team.  Shazam! has that part down solid.  One of the failures of DC’s recent past, was the lack of inspiration and motivation for their greatest characters, Batman and Superman.  Marvel had great side kicks in all the stand alones (except Spiderman), including the all women sidekicks of Black Panther–who made such an effective team that they saved Wakanda by resurrecting their hero. Captain Marvel’s sidekick for her first movie is Nick Fury.  The problem with this is that we’ve already established Fury is kick ass.  He has to be retroactively made into a complete idiot who marches aliens into top secret facilities and then tells his superiors and becomes a cat person. He doesn’t know how to fly a plane, and can’t even drive a car very well–though he does seem to have superhuman strength to survive a car crash that kills his passenger.  The only sidekick element Fury now has is the need to be rescued.
  5. Wrap it up by showing how the hero has learned how to be heroic by making better choices and being selfless.  Shazam! shows this in spades.  Captain Marvel has a hole in this area.  I have said with a good edit, they might be able to fix that, but I don’t think Marvel was interested in this outing after they filmed it.  They just abandoned it.

I am betting that Marvel will do better with other stand-alones and still can’t understand why they forgot how to make movies with just their first FEMINIST movie.  WTF Marvel?  I can’t believe they sold their brains to DC who has had to scratch themselves out of a serious slump (Justice League… ugh) and have so far done excellent.  Maybe the formula for success is like a magic spell and has to be reread/learned after you use it, like in D&D.  If so, please open your book back up, Marvel, and study that spell.  Don’t let me down with the Black Widow movie.

PS, please bring in Dazzler–or at least Jubilee.  That would be so fun.