WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Shazam!, in theaters now.
It may not have been as bad as Marvel Studios had it with some of its villains early on, but the DC Extended Universe has been inconsistent when it comes to crafting its own tyrants and monsters. The bar was set very high for DC fans years before this current cinematic continuity was put into play, with the likes of Danny DeVito's Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman and, of course, the Jokers we got from Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, sending chills down our spines.
We thought Warner Bros. found the formula, though, with Patrick Wilson's Ocean Master in Aquaman, but as Shazam! highlights, we may have just gotten ahead of ourselves. In fact, Mark Strong's Doctor Sivana is so bad, it actually feels like the DECU has taken a few steps backward.
Wilson's Ocean Master made up for a lot of wrongs in the past, such as the eccentric and out-of-character Lex Luthor in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, as well as that CGI abomination known as Doomsday. Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman also relied on the wonders of special effects to compensate for one-dimensional villains in the Enchantress, Incubus and Ares. Also, the less said about Justice League's failures with Steppenwolf, the better. Ocean Master, however, felt like the right blend of military aggression, heart and soul, which made him a scary but sympathetic villain.
Sadly, Sivana is a total regression and one of the DCEU's most wooden and boring villains to date, which is truly an injustice given Strong was a rare ray of light as Sinestro in 2011's Green Lantern. We had high hopes for Sivana here, especially as David F. Sandberg's film is based heavily on DC's New 52 vision for the character.
In those stories, especially the Justice League arc from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, we saw Sivana transform from a scientific explorer who wants to understand magic into a villain imbued with power and trying to strip Shazam of his abilities using the Seven Deadly Sins. The concept does translate to the movie, but while the influence is there, the execution is way off, because, in stark contrast to the comic, Sivana lacks any sort of intimidation factor.
On the big screen, Sivana's daddy issues creating someone who wants power feels like a rinse and repeat trope, not to mention it's super cliched. At no point does Strong come off desperate, conniving or cerebral, as he was in the source material. In fact, he feels like a joke for Zachary Levi's Big Red Cheese to rip on. Sure, we know comedy's the driving force in this movie, but Sivana is the polar opposite to Billy Batson -- the darkness to his light -- and it's sad that the best representation of this duality and drama comes when the director has Sivana calling Billy's home "a shithole."
It's cringeworthy at best, and there's no big moment to be found in the final act, where Sivana should have been elevated to a threat along the lines of Man of Steel's Zod. We're not asking for him to rip Philadelphia apart, but still, an archnemesis is supposed to feel high-stakes. Yet, for some reason, Sandberg keeps Sivana on a leash, and we never get that intellect who's 10 steps ahead of Billy in the books.
Even when he's possessed by the Seven Deadly Sins, both entities aren't properly fleshed out characters, and you feel like Shazam! wastes yet another opportunity. Fans never get any connection to these demons or their personalities in the vein of the nuanced symbiotic relationship between Eddie Brock and his symbiote in Venom.
Ultimately, all these creatures end up coming off as are cool looking beasts along the lines of Parademons. But it's more than just a look; villains need to have a feel to them. Sivana, with his leather jackets, blue magical eye and a supernatural legion, nonchalantly devolves into punchlines that are more substance than style, which we really hope the DCEU will remedy moving forward.
Directed by David F. Sandberg, Shazam! stars Asher Angel as Billy Batson, Zachary Levi as Shazam, Mark Strong as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, Djimon Hounsou as the ancient wizard Shazam, Grace Fulton as Mary Bromfield, Jack Dylan Grazer as Frederick “Freddy” Freeman, Ian Chen as Eugene Choi, Jovan Armand as Pedro Peña, Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley, Cooper Andrews as Victor Vásquez and Marta Milans as Rosa Vásquez.