‘Shazam!’ Theatrical Review
The first time I saw Shazam was one day back in 1989 at a video store. Once a week, my mother would take us to pick out any VHS tape (the coolest way to watch movies back then) until the upcoming week. I would go down each row looking at the covers until I found one that looked interesting. I had no idea what the movies were about, just that the covers looked cool. One day, I came across an all red box that had an animated superhero on it with one word on the cover, Shazam! It was the 1980’s animated show about the DC superhero, and once I got home and put it on, I could not stop watching it all week. After renting it countless times, I finally went to the comic book shop and bought comics about this magical superhero I just couldn’t get enough of. As a child, you don’t ever think about being an adult, but reading the story about Billy Baston made me actually envision growing up some day – not minding it, if I could be like Shazam. One could say Shazam was what got me into reading comics because it was the perfect hero for kids to relate to and, most of all, he was fun. One thing that all comic book movies should be is fun. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been nearly flawless in making sure the films they produce are fun but also that the audience can relate to the characters on screen.
The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has the characters to create the same experience Marvel has, but they have failed to do so with the first few titles they put out. There was nothing fun or relatable about Superman, and he was supposed to be DC’s bread and butter. One thing I loved about the old Christopher Reeve movies was how human he made Superman that it made people feel they could really be the son of Krypton themselves. Since the failed Justice League, DC seems to be coming around the corner with the releases Wonder Woman and Aquaman that have produced the type of experience one hopes to gain when going to see Comic-based films on the big screen.
Shazam! may be one of the lesser known titles from DC, but I’ve found that the best comic book films have been those the audience is not familiar with, such as Guardians of The Galaxy or Ant-Man. Shazam! is the most fun I have had at a movie since the first Guardians film, and I couldn’t stop laughing at just about every scene. Director David F. Sandberg takes a break from the horror genre to bring a movie that is a much-needed break from the type of superhero films we are used to. Sandberg brings a script that is both witty and full of heart. Although the movie itself is a goofy ride, it is able to balance itself between laughs and sincerity, as well as boasting a cast that gives brilliant performances from adults and children across the board. This makes Shazam! a fun time the director invites everyone to experience.
15-year-old Billy Baston (Asher Angel) has been searching for his mother since he was separated from her at a carnival. During this time, he has bounced around foster families and has now landed into a welcoming family with 5 other foster kids. This includes Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), who is as kindhearted as the superheroes he is obsessed with. Not having many friends, he looks to Billy who wants nothing to do with him, but defends him after bullies gang up on him. From here, Billy ends up on the subway where he is suddenly transported to a cave and encounters a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who believes Billy has been chosen to be given special human abilities whenever he says “Shazam!” When he does this, he becomes a grown up version of himself who is rightly named Shazam (Zachary Levi). This power is something others seek, and Billy soon realizes he is in danger when Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) wants the power he had failed to gain years earlier. Sivana instead gains his power from dark forces with a hunger to destroy the rest of the world. As Shazam, Billy has the body and power to fight Sivana, but even with an adult body he must fight to overcome typical teenager problems as well.
Different elements have to come together to create this feel-good superhero movie, but most important are the actors who are committed to what Sandberg put in front of them. It all started with Zachary Levi, who plays Shazam with the perfect amount of joy needed to make you believe for every second that he is a 15-year-old kid in a man’s body. Levi isn’t the first person who comes to mind when you think about superheroes, but his previous role on the show Chuck makes him perfect for the part. Shazam does good deeds with his powers, but at the same time acts like any teenage boy would if they gained superpowers. Jack Dylan Grazer steals the show as Freddy, whose obsession for superheroes makes him the best complement to Levi’s Shazam. Their chemistry and banter create some of the best moments in the movie, such as testing out what powers Shazam has, as well as a scene where they talk to a realtor about finding a secret lair that had me laughing harder than anything so far this year. Mark Strong uses experience of playing villains to be a formidable foe to Shazam. Sivana isn’t the best villain, but Strong makes him entertaining and you can see in certain scenes how much fun he is having.
All the actors look like they are having the time of their lives and it makes for a good time for the audience. Sandberg has made a picture that feels like the movie Big but with superpowers, and he even has a callback or two to the Tom Hanks film. Shazam is full of goofiness, but also carries a great deal of heart that makes for the kind of superhero movie you want. It’s well-paced and doesn’t draw out scenes. Most of it is the type of fun you want in a superhero film where you cheer for the hero and boo at his nemesis. Shazam is the recipe for pure entertainment that the DCEU should follow in anything else they plan to put out in the future.
We all have a superhero inside of us — it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In 14-year-old Billy Batson’s case, all he needs to do is shout out one word to transform into the adult superhero Shazam.