David S. Sandberg’s Shazam! tells the story of Billy Batson, a troubled foster kid who can transform into an adult superhero at the drop of a hat. With comedic and heartwarming performances by Zachary Levi, It standout Jack Dylan Grazer, and the rest of the cast, Shazam! is the most lighthearted and charismatic DC flick to date.
Shazam! kicks off with a showing of how the film’s antagonist, Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) was summoned by the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) as a young boy. After being deemed unworthy and unfit to be the wizard’s champion against the Seven Deadly Sins, Sivana dedicates his life to finding the ancient wizard again. Eventually, an adult Sivana reaches the magical temple and steals the Eye of Sin, establishing himself as the film’s main threat. Mark Strong is good at being a bad guy, and this holds true in Shazam!. He has this villainous energy that translates on screen, and he succeeded in playing Sivana.
In the present day, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) fails to fall into audiences’ good graces right away. His on-screen introduction involves an elaborate ruse that locks two Philadelphia cops in a corner store and a 14-year-old Billy in the front seat of their squad car. While he isn’t perfectly pure of heart, we later learn that Billy’s shenanigans are just a means for him to find his birth mother.
Eventually, Billy finds his way to a new group home, and becomes a brother to five other foster kids: Mary, Pedro, Eugene, Darla, and Freddy. Despite both being outcasts in their own right, Billy and Freddy become buds. Soon after, Billy is propelled by magic to the Rock of Eternity, where he is chosen as champion after being deemed the wizard’s last hope.
After getting Josh Baskin-ed, adult Billy (Zachary Levi) and Freddy live out every kid’s superhero fantasy with understandable excitement and curiosity. Through trial and error, the duo discovers Billy’s array of heightened abilities including super-speed, super-strength, bullet-immunity, and the power of flight. As Freddy put it, Billy is stacked. Many viewers — especially kids — will have a blast watching Zachary Levi fumble his way to superhero stardom as a kid in an adult body. Levi did an exceptional job portraying an inexperienced superhero that was forced to face an antagonist that knew what they were doing. Side note: Thaddeus Sivana’s Seven Deadly Sin sidekicks are pretty terrifying when compared to the lighthearted nature of the film and by the far the best CGI work showcased in the movie.
On a lighter note, Freddy assuming the role of manager and attempting to give Billy a “respectable” superhero name is by far the best running gag Shazam! has. Suggested superhero names such as “Captain Sparklefingers,” “Thundercrack,” “Mr. Philadephia,” “Power Boy,” and “Zap-tain America,” were some of my favorites. The best part: Billy still didn’t have a superhero name, or a catchphrase, when the movie ended. LOL.
While Shazam! is a superhero story at the surface, it contains deeper portrayals of family values, disability, bullying, and positivity. From the inclusive “all hands on deck” dinner routine at the group home to the big surprise in the film’s final act, Shazam! is a youth-oriented movie about growing up, doing the right thing, and looking after the ones you love.
My biggest gripe with Shazam! was that a majority of its comedic high points were shown in the trailer. When they happened on screen, they didn’t generate the same laughter because they had already gone somewhat stale. Other jokes just didn’t land for me or the viewers I shared a theater with. And finally, the supporting cast left much to be desired. I felt as though many of them failed to make the most of their screen time and stand out among the main cast.
Shazam! has its faults, but those faults are not nearly enough for me to completely dismiss the movie as another one of DC’s big screen shortcomings. I’m willing to look past the clunky storytelling and less-than-fulfilling action sequences and take Shazam! for what it is: a really great superhero movie for kids. When you look at it that way, it’s one of DC’s more magical films, especially for a younger demographic that will surely dream of being their own version of kid-superhero Billy Batson.
And when the credits roll, make sure to stick around for a mid-credits scene that lends credibility to a sequel.