SHAZAM! (9 out of 10) Directed by David F. Sandberg; Written by Henry Gayden; Starring Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mark Strong and Zachary Levi; Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material; Running time 132 minutes; In wide release April 5.
Ever since the Nolan Batman trilogy, DC has had a spotty record with their movies. While none are outright bad, many are borderline mediocre with Wonder Woman and possibly Aquaman being the only standouts. The biggest problem with their Extended Universe is that they all try to aim for the gritty aspects of the stories being told as almost a foil to the more lighthearted Marvel Cinematic Universe. This isn’t always a bad thing as anything featuring Batman is bound to be dark and brooding, but it’s not what we need from a boy scout like Superman. Shazam! wisely decides to ignore this trend and delivers a movie that is lighthearted, joyous and a hopeful look to where they can go from here.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has had a tough go of it his whole life. Separated from his mother at a very young age, he has bounced around and run away from dozens of foster homes as he continues his futile search to find his lost mother. Taken to a new group home run by a married couple who were foster kids themselves, he tries his best to ignore this new family setting and especially his “brother” Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). But he is a good kid overall, so when Freddy is being beaten up at school by the local bullies, Billy steps in to defend him and while trying to get away from the attackers, finds himself in a strange cave guarded by a wizard named Shazam. Shazam was tasked with keeping the Seven Deadly Sins at bay, but with their being loosed by physicist Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), Shazam deems Billy pure of heart and bestows his magic upon the teenager who needs only say SHAZAM! to transform into a superhero (Zachary Levi) with near limitless powers. Sivana and the Sins need that power to completely take over the world, so Billy must work and train to become the hero he needs to be to not only save his new family, but the rest of us as well.
One of the biggest problems with the DCEU is that nearly every hero looks at their powers as a curse more than a blessing. While those who are gifted definitely carry a great responsibility to use them wisely, none seem to enjoy the benefits that have been bestowed upon them. Not so with Billy. In fact, aside from Peter Parker in the Spider-Man series, no superhero has ever really enjoyed their powers or reveled in the cool things they can do with them. But that doesn’t really makes sense; most people would take full advantage of the ability to fly or move fast. So what would an adolescent who suddenly looks like an adult and is unstoppable do first? In this case, buy beer, sneak into a gentleman’s club and sell photo opps like they’re going out of style. Of course he’s going to have fun with it, and it’s that sense of wonder that permeates every moment of Shazam! and can’t help but spread the infectious attitude to the audience as well. Is there danger and peril around every corner? Sure, but Billy handles it with the sense of false bravado and sarcastic wit that all teenagers have. Even when finding out that the Deadly Sins share his magic and can actually hurt him, he still perseveres and never lets that break his spirit.
Is this perfect? No. The idea of “your family is the one you make” message does become a little heavy handed throughout, but not enough so that it feels like it’s constantly bashing the audience over the head with it. And while still a great looking film, it’s obvious that it had a lower budget than previous DCEU entries via some occasionally shoddy CGI that isn’t quite distracting but easily noticeable. Throw in a plot hole or two, and you’ve got a few middling issues that could have been fixed but don’t detract from the film as a whole.
Mainstream audiences probably have no idea who Shazam is, but hopefully that won’t keep them from going out in droves to see this fantastic movie. It has a bigger heart than the whole of the DCEU combined and looks at the world with a wide-eyed wonder that people tend to lose as they mature into adults. Aside from some language and a few scary images, it’s something that everyone in the family can enjoy, and one parents can feel safe taking their kids to. Simply put, Shazam! is the best DC movie since The Dark Knight, and hopefully the studio has learned a lesson it can apply in the future.
9 out of 10