Movie Review: ‘Shazam!’ Starring Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer
I have a confession to make.
I’m a little burned out on superhero movies.
Now, hear me out. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them. They’re still pretty entertaining, and more often than not, I’ll still go to a theater to see them before they come out on Blu Ray. But I no longer really feel the sense of urgency to go out and see them the night of release. I didn’t see Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse until it was released in digital form, and I still haven’t seen Ant-Man and the Wasp all the way through.
I can’t be alone, right?
Well, I guess I am alone. I’m used to it, though. On a serious note, though, I think it’s just the onslaught of movie releases year after year that’s just deafened me to the noise. Since 2008, we’ve had 21 Marvel Cinematic Universe releases, three Spiderman movies, a Venom movie, two Dark Knight movies, a Green Lantern movie, a Fantastic Four movie, six X-Men movies, two Deadpool movies, and heretofore six DC Extended Universe releases. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s tough to keep up. It could also be that I was never a big comic book/superhero fan growing up. Hey, stop throwing things at me.
When I saw the first trailer for Shazam, though, I got thoroughly intrigued. FIrst, because I’d never even heard of this guy. But beyond that, it looked like a fresh approach to the genre: a superhero movie through the eyes of a kid. Sure, we’ve had a few Spiderman movies, but he’s at least a teenager closer to the age of an adult. What would a superhero film be like if we saw it as a middle school student would?
As it turns out, it’s pretty damn fun. As kids, we wanted nothing more than to be grown up, to have the privileges of an adult without the responsibilities. Did we want superpowers? Hell yeah, we did. So does Billy Batson (Asher Angel), an orphan who’s learned to be self-reliant as he repeatedly runs away from the foster homes in which he’s been placed. As he tries to track down his birth mom, he’s placed in yet another home with several foster “siblings,” whom he barely tolerates initially.
When he sticks up to a couple of bullies for Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), one of his foster siblings who has to use a crutch, he’s forced to escape on the subway, where he’s magically transported to the lair of an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou). As it turns out, the wizard needs to find a worthy champion pure of heart to combat Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), who failed Shazam’s test as a child but embraced the seven deadly sins, causing him to become powerful in his own right. Once he passes the test, Billy transforms into an adult version of himself (Zachary Levi), possessing several different superpowers.
Much of the film is centered around Billy and Freddy testing out Billy’s newfound powers because, well, that’s what any curious person would do. From buying beer to showing off for money (while occasionally doing some good), Billy and Freddy seek to gain fortune and popularity by showing off. As an adult, it seems silly; as a kid, I can’t promise that I would have done the same thing.
As the film juggles the light-hearted comedic moments with the heavier themes of family and self-value, credit should be given to director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Henry Gayden for managing to interweave these storylines rather well. The film starts on a surprisingly dark note, with Dr. Sivana’s failures and his subsequent attempts to redeem himself before shifting tones into the more humorous spirit we saw in the trailers.
Major credit, too, to Angel and Levi who do a fantastic job in portraying Billy’s struggles. For me, Shazam just feels different than most superhero movies because Billy’s still growing UP, not just INTO his newfound powers. Between going into a gentleman’s club and the aforementioned beer scene, he’s also learning to balance his independence with the family life he desperately craves. The inevitable friction between Billy and Freddy, who yearns to just be seen and noticed and inevitably grows jealous of Billy’s power, feels organic and more naturally developed than relationships in other superhero movies. And his ultimate meeting of his mom was a whirlwind of genuine emotion I didn’t expect.
If there’s any real letdown, I wasn’t crazy about the ending. It’s not entirely unpredictable, but it feels shoehorned in so they could neatly wrap everything up. I actually disliked it a lot more until one of my good friends added some clarity to the background of Shazam; I’m thankful he did, or my final grade would have been a bit harsher.
Bottom line, DCEU has come a long way. They’re still miles behind the MCU in terms of critical and financial success, but I can’t help but think that Shazam is another big step in the right direction. It’s funny, emotional, and the bottom line is, it’s just fun.
Shazam gets a B