If you’d said that a DC Comics live-action film would make it onto anyone’s Best Of list, I’d have been one of the first to act surprised. Granted, Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman remains an outstanding outing for the warrior princess of Themiscyra which continues to give goosebumps every time Diana enters No Man’s Land, but most of the other films possess great concepts executed with seemingly little awareness for the source material. The Man of Steel is just as likely to take lives as save them, Lex Luthor is a genius with all the worst attributes ascribed to Millennials, Lois Lane barely investigates, and only Harley Quinn seems to be worthy of surviving her suicide mission. But then Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry declared it was safe to go back into the water with James Wan’s December 2018 surprise hit Aquaman. It felt a little overstuffed, but who can get angry at a film featuring a Julie Andrews-voiced, Lovecraftian-inspired beast called Karathen that appears in one hell of an undersea battle. The tide certainly did turn and it keeps on moving in a positive direction with David F. Sandberg’s Shazam!, a joyous, wondrous, sometimes horrifying, and, dare I say, magical theatrical event. Lucky for all of us, Shazam! is now available on home video.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is the latest kid to take up shelter with foster parents Victor and Rose Vasquez (Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans) and after bouncing from home to home, he’s none too pleased to be there. Being on his own gives him the chance to continue his search for his birth mother from whom he was separated as a small child, whereas being in the homes means he has to go to school and pretend to be normal. Living with the Vasquezs and their five foster kids is not in Billy’s plan, but if this doesn’t work out, his social worker is concerned no other family will take him in. Trying to make things work is harder than you’d expect, especially when a couple of bullies harass Billy’s roommate Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Billy can’t help but get involved. Not only does it this incident put a target on Billy’s back from the bullies, but it gets the attention of the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who teleports Billy to his lair and bestows his powers upon Billy. Now, with the shout of the wizard’s name, Billy transforms into the magical superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi), which makes him stronger than a mortal man, grants the power of flight, the ability to throw lightning bolts, and more. Soon, though, Billy’s powers attract a new kind of bully, the scientist Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) who wants Billy’s powers for himself, even if it means unleashing the Seven Deadly Sins on the world to get them.
If you’d like a spoiler-free Shazam! experience, stop now and check out EoM’s theatrical review. Keep reading here to learn more about the home release.
Fans of Shazam! are going to delight in the home release because it caters to fans of all stripes. The back of the Blu-ray proclaims, “more than 90 minutes of supercharged special features,” and you really get your money’s worth. Dig on the family dynamic that only just gets started in the third act carnival fight? You’ll enjoy “Superhero Hooky,” a 4-minute original motion comic that builds off the ending of the film – more of an off-shoot really – and features Levi reprising Shazam in the story. Maybe you want to get a behind the scenes look at how they engineered some of the stunts. There’s a 10-minute feature, “Carnival Scene Study,” that’ll give up all the goods you want. For instance, if you enjoyed the stuntwork in Aquaman and got that same giddy joy in Shazam!, you have shared stunt coordinator Kyle Gardiner (Thor: Ragnarok) to thank. In fact, fight coordinator Chan Griffin (Thor: Ragnarok) also came over from Aquaman, which just echoes how strongly the energy of one carried over into the other. Keep in mind that as an audience, there was only about four-months separating the releases of each film, but that doesn’t mean Shazam! was in production when Aquaman released. There was no way for Warner Bros. to know how Aquaman would be received, but they clearly had a sense of the strength in one being a boon for the other. Another great thing from “Carnival Scene Study” is learning how the Ferris wheel sequence at the carnival was done. Thought that was CG? NOPE. They actually bought, built, and broke that wheel. The giddiness with which the process is discussed is about as infectious as Levi’s constant level of energy. Which brings us to “Super Fun Zac,” a 3-minute featurette where animated embellishments enhance the already charming man-child’s behavior as the cast and crew discuss working with Levi, the perfection personification of Shazam.
If you’re looking to go deeper, you’re covered there, too. Not only is there a full commentary track from Sandberg, there’re also 39-minutes of deleted and alternate scenes which can be watched with or without his commentary. The alternate scenes are particularly interesting because they show a different version of Sivana’s backstory including a new setting, more siblings, a mother, and completely different actors. The alt-intro takes place at Thaddeus’s home, a real Arrow/Smallville looking castle-type, with more interactions showing just how isolated Thaddeus is with his family. This enabled them to showcase some other elements and required a different confrontation sequence when Thaddeus utilizes the Seven Sins for his revenge. As interesting as the new alt-intro sequence is, the theatrical footage gives us John Glover (Smallville) as Mr. Sivana and the boardroom sequence which really pushes the boundries of that PG-13 “family friendly” rating. Much like the mysteries of the deep ocean of which Aquaman took advantage to create some incredibly memorable moments (the trench sequence, for one), Shazam! needed moments like the boardroom sequence to really give a sense of just how dangerous magic can be. Speaking of, “The Magical World of SHAZAM!” digs into how they executed stunts throughout the film in a lengthy 27-minute featurette. So if you enjoyed the “Carnival Scene Study,” “SHAZAM!” should be your next stop.
As with most major studio releases, there’s also a gag reel, a brief comic history of Shazam told from members of the cast and crew (just listening to Mark Strong talk about Thaddeus, you can hear his empathy and excitement which is amazing considering his run of comic appearance.), and a cute video of the Shazamily cast wherein the kids and their superhero counter-parts discuss how they feel about the project, their preparation, and how they connected with each other to bring their performances to life.
If I were tasked with ranking the DCEU, Wonder Woman would remain at the top, with Shazam! and Aquaman right behind. These are films which understand their subjects and convey them in exciting and creative ways. In the case of Shazam!, that translates to a touching, heartwarming holiday story which they released in the spring. As that’s a time for renewal and growth, it makes a great deal of sense as Shazam! Explores those topics in-depth. For instance, Billy may not reconnect with his birth mother, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t find a family or maintain his pure heart. Similarly, Thaddeus is not just the same being as the hero, but a twisted reflection, someone born into wealth and family, but who was raised without love and became warped by it. Though Shazam! does have its flaws – a slightly repetitive opening and tedious setting up of the characters – once the second act hits, everything just gels until it goes gonzo in a third act moment which continues to put a smile on my face. In summation, if you enjoyed Shazam! in theaters or you’re looking to get into it now, the special features have plenty to dig into and really up the value of the experience.
4K, Blu-Ray, and DVD Bonus Features
- Shazam Exclusive Motion Comic
- The Magical World of Shazam
- Super Fun Zac
- Carnival Scene Study
- Shazamily Values
- Who is Shazam?
- Deleted Scenes
- Gag Reel
Available on Digital HD July 2nd, 2019.
Available on 4K UHD Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack, and DVD July 16th, 2019.