Review by C.J. Bunce
DC Entertainment and Warner Brothers began to take a shift in their superhero movie franchise with last year’s more adventurous Aquaman. With Shazam! the studios proved that a movie based on DC Comics characters could be every bit as good as the source material, and more satisfying than their past big budget efforts. True to the spirit of the characters and the story going back to the original Captain Marvel that was so successful in the 1940s, director David F. Sandberg found the sweet spot with Shazam! Just as seen on the big screen, now on home video Shazam! balances good fun with the requirements of demanding modern audiences. With the heart of the 1978 Superman and the Tom Hanks hit movie Big, the movie is the best of what DC has to offer in live action entertainment (check out my review of the film earlier at borg here). Worthy of the film itself, the new home release offers a trove of special features.
The film’s first strength is screenwriter Henry Gayden′s lighthearted story. It’s all about heart and family bonds, but it also has its action, and even for its comparatively modest $100 million budget, the movie relied extensively on practical effects for its key action sequences. All of the scenes with Shazam, his extended family, and the villain Dr. Sivana featured a mix of actors and stunt professionals, with far less reliance on the CGI in so many recent DC and Marvel films. So many of these scenes are showcased in the features that it’s apparent the 1,000 effects filmed for the third act in the final 12 weeks of shooting required something like the strength of Shazam to accomplish. As director Sandberg remarks in the bonus features, the production had very little slippage in their timetable. And the success can be seen in the final edit.
Some of the best content on the home release examines how the lead actors filmed their aerial scenes. Comic fans and fans of stars Zachary Levi and Mark Strong will appreciate their knowledge of the history of the characters they played. Levi initially submitted screen tests to play a grown-up version of Billy Batson’s foster brother Freddie, and it was apparent immediately to Sandberg he needed to take the lead role. Strong, who already played a great Sinestro in the less well-received Green Lantern movie, continued to add to the wealth of powerful live-action supervillains, bringing gravitas to the production, reflected in the final cut of the film. His acting prowess while being transported as if soaring across the sky with cables in front of a green screen (instead of rendering him entirely in CGI) reflects a versatile, impressive thespian who can do his craft in whatever environment is thrown at him. But fans of the film will find more than 37 minutes of deleted scenes really make the home version a must-watch.
So what all is in the home release?
- The Magical World of Shazam, a 27-minute feature on the production and filming locations and interesting interviews.
- Who is Shazam? Geoff Johns and others discuss the history of the character, development of his costume, and a good exposition by Levi on why Shazam stands apart from Superman and other characters.
- Carnival Scene Study, a more than 10-minute feature looking at the development and filming of the finale.
- Shazamly Values is a feature telling why Shazam! stands apart from other superhero stories, focusing on a superhero family from its origins, and interviewing the kids and counterparts and how they worked together behind the scenes to bring their characters to life.
- Super Fun Zac, a feature showcasing the film’s star and why his fans, and the film’s cast and crewm enjoy working with him.
- Superhero Hooky, a faithful motion comic featuring the voice of Levi as Shazam.
- A 3-minute gag reel, including Levi hamming it up, even doing the classic Gomer Pyle line.
- Lots and lots of Levi dancing.
- More than 37 minutes of deleted scenes, (compare to Avengers: Endgame′s lackluster less than 5 minutes of deleted scenes) a few showing finished, alternate takes that reveal avenues Sandberg might have taken. These include:
- An alternate beginning with young Sivana.
- An alternate wizard introduction.
- Additional Dr. Sivana and Crosby interviews with psychic patients.
- An alternate scene with Billy on the subway.
- An alternate take of Billy being introduced to his new family.
- Billy sneaking out and a new encounter with sister Mary.
- Additional footage with Darla talking to Billy at school.
- Instead of a board room encounter, Dr. Sivana kills everyone at a company Christmas party (family played by different actors).
- Shazam gets roped into a tea party with Darla.
- The first version of the Rocky steps scene in Philadelphia with Shazam playing with lightning in his hands, shot in Canada.
- Several new try-on montage entries featuring Freddie coming up with superpowers for Billy to experiment with.
- Freddy gets hung on his locker by the bullies at school.
- Five additional minutes of fight sequences at the carnival, including Levi referring to himself with the classic Shazam descriptor “cheesy.”
- Marvel family throne scene at the lair.
- Freddy flies by an airplane and is seen by a young boy, in homage to the 1978 Superman and 1950s Adventures of Superman.
- An alternate ending.
Most of the deleted scenes were wisely skipped by Sandberg for his theatrical cut, except the throne seating, which would have made a better, or additional, post-credits scene, hinting at a Black Adam sequel, and Freddie flying by the airplane would have been a nice, classic touch. But they all add some extra insight into the characters. As dark as the film was for its final cut, the deleted scenes reveal that it could have been much darker.
Shazam! is probably DC/Warner’s best superhero movie to date. The home version has plenty of great features and surprises that will make it worth adding to your collection. Get it now on Blu-ray, DVD, 4K, or digital at Amazon. Note: The studios continue to ignore U.S. demand for a 3D home version, offering it only to the international market.