Some heroes are zapped and modified – SHAZAM – that may have been a reach, but this was a Christmas movie that I didn’t know we needed. Originally named Captain Marvel, Shazam has had a long history in Americana culture, he was the first live-action superhero movie, but 1941 was a long time ago and his popularity has dwindled in the nearly 80 years since. Shazam stars Zachary Levine, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer and Mark Strong, and the David F. Sandberg directed film is based on the DC hero of the same name. The film is the seventh installment of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and follows Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a foster teen who is granted the power to reach his fullest potential known as Shazam (Zachary Levi). Spoilers after the trailer.
Magic Is Down To A Science
Going into this film, I did not know much about Shazam outside of him being the original Captain Marvel, but as far as his character and history, like its Marvel counterpart, this film serves as a proper cinematic introduction to him. The various trailers for this movie did a great job at selling its humor and creating an interesting world, which is something that the DCEU has been struggling with in most of their films, so far.
I can without any hesitation say that Shazam is by far the best film in the DCEU so far. What makes this movie fun to watch is the chemistry between Shazam and Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Freddy Freeman and Billy Batson (Asher Angel). Both of these pairings are important to the plot of the film and if they do not work well then the film won’t work well. Opposites attract, Freddy Freeman is a nerd and a smart-ass and his personality compliments Billy Batson’s serious and headstrong attitude throughout the film.
Batson is summoned to the Rock of Eternity, where the ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) bestows his power on the young Billy Batson, and that’s when the film’s comedic aspect elevates. Billy Batson transforms into the best possible version of himself, a champion named Shazam (Zachary Levi) – an acronym of the Gods that his powers come from: the Wisdom of Solomon, Strength of Hercules, Stamina of Atlas, Powers of Zeus, Courage of Achilles, and the Speed of Mercury – and Billy has to turn to his nerdy friend Freddy on what to do with these new powers. This makes Freddy his de facto sidekick and hijinks ensue.
Since Billy appears as an adult when he summons the powers of Shazam, he and Freddy take advantage of this and buy beer, go to the strip club, and excuse themselves from school, y’know typical juvenile things. Another fun thing about this movie is that it’s aware of superhero film tropes and adds its own stroke of lightning to them. When the pair go to a store that is being robbed they make light of the situation and use it as a way to test Shazam’s power. There’s a mugging scene that is used to add to the laughs and the light-hearted nature of the film. By saying “Shazam” Batson transforms and there is an abundance of jokes about what Batson should call himself. Zachary Levine does a phenomenal job at capturing the mindset and attitude of a teenager and he comes off as an extension of Asher Angel’s Billy Batson.
A superhero film is only as good as its villain, and the big bad guy in Shazam is Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), a successful physicist who was summoned by the ancient wizard to be the next Shazam, but was not chosen, so he spent the rest of his life searching for the Rock of Eternity to confront the wizard. Shazam introduces us to Dr. Sivana when he was a kid and he’s being extremely annoying to his brother and father while they’re on a snowy road to somewhere and that’s when the ancient wizard summons him. The wizard gives him a test to see if his heart is pure and Dr. Sivana fails because he cannot resist the powers of dark magic and he gets transported back to the backseat of his father’s car. He continues to be annoying and causes a car wreck that leaves his father paralyzed.
All of this happens to give the audience backstory to why Dr. Sivana ends up killing his father and brother approximately 30 years in the future after gaining power from the Eyes of Sins, an evil version of Shazam’s powers. It’s an underwhelming backstory for this character because Dr. Sivana was a scrawny, frail looking kid, turned into a successful adult, his family had everything, he was the one that caused most of his problems that he had, yet his big gripe is that the wizard told him he wasn’t special, and you should never tell a kid that he’s not special. This bares repeating, Dr. Sivana caused the car wreck that left his father paralyzed, the same father he later killed in the film.
Outside of his complete lack of accountability, Dr. Silvana’s dark and serious nature is a solid choice of antithesis for Shazam’s kid-like personality. There’s a fun mall chase scene between the two that provides some good site gags and laughs. The writers use his confrontations with Shazam to call out a few other tropes in superhero films. For a PG-13 film there is a death in this movie caused by Silvana that is really dark for the tone of the film, no complaints about that. As always, Mark Strong makes the most out of any role he is given and I don’t think a lesser actor would be able to pull off this character. Strong has a deadpan way of delivering his lines that is intimidating yet funny, which is why his role fits cohesively.
A Family Affair
A major theme in this film is the idea of what is a family? Billy Batson lives with five other foster kids, Thaddeus Sivana has an estranged relationship with his family, and the Ancient Wizard is the last living protector of the Rock of Eternity since his siblings have died. Billy’s siblings and foster parents are all character tropes for the most part. Unlike most tropes in film, Shazam makes it work for the most part, with only one sibling getting left out of the film. This is the kindest foster family that’s ever hit the silver screen, they all support each other, the parents are always putting the kids interest first and it makes wonder why Billy keeps running away from them. There is a heartbreaking scene when Billy reunites with his mom and things don’t go as planned.
The one foster kid that doesn’t get much screen time might as well be a background character. If there wasn’t a fun twist at the end of the movie then I think he would’ve been. His character just spends most of the movie lifting weights and there is a moment where he implies that he’s gay. The actors and actresses that portrayed the kids did a marvelous job and I hope they return in a sequel. This family came across like one big loving family, ala the Brady Bunch, and when that big twist happens that’s when Shazam solidifies itself as a Christmas movie.
By no means is it a perfect film but Shazam gets more things correct than it gets wrong. It’s ironic that the comic that was sued by DC Comics for copying Superman (
holy ending scene Batman) has created a far more enjoyable theatrical experience than the Man of Steel has in three decades. This one is definitely worth viewing in theaters. Shazam is a fun film and a huge transition from most of the DCEU. Just like the lightning bolt on the hero’s chest, this film shines bright. It was an electric jumpstart to a cinematic universe that was on life support. The cast and crew were obviously passionate about this movie and as a viewer you can always tell when the people behind the scenes care about what they are creating, and it just goes to show how adding zeal attains magnificentness – SHAZAM!
[All Mames Wey]
Shazam was released in theaters April 5, 2019.