On paper, it’s a cheesy idea. A wizard offers a kid magic powers as long as he says a word. Once that kid gets those powers, he becomes a superhero that’s basically Superman, but with electricity. It’s the ultimately wish fulfillment, and everything about it is weird, from the source material, to the history of the comic itself, to the costume which mostly featured a grown man in a muscle suit. There’s also an evil hyper-intelligent worm. To say I was skeptical when I heard they were making a Shazam! movie would be an understatement. I thought it would be a fun movie, maybe enjoyable, something to hold me over until bigger, Universe spanning movies happened.
I was wrong. This is one of the best superhero movies I’ve ever seen.
Shazam! is about a young orphan named Billy Batson (played by Angel Asher, because alliteration is important in superhero names and the actors that play them). Billy has been searching for his mother ever since he lost her in an amusement park when he was young, and is eventually sent to a group home to live with a family there. While protecting his friend/foster brother/superhero enthusiast Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) he’s summoned to meet the mystical wizard Shazam, (Djimon Hounsou, who must have a good agent to show up in all the Captain Marvel movies this year) who grants him his powers, and turns him into the superhero. (Zachary Levi in a muscle suit.)
Shazam! is, at its core, a fun movie, because it’s essentially about superheroes, and what makes a superhero “super” but from the perspective of the people who would be the most interested in them: Kids. This is most evident in the scenes where Freddy showing Billy his collection of DCEU artifacts, including a bullet that was supposedly fired at Superman at one point. The enthusiasm Grazer brings to this character is nothing short of awe inspiring, with a huge payoff later when the characters need to step up.
I mentioned earlier my skepticism when our first shots of the movie featured Shazam as a man in a muscle suit, but that’s one of the things that works with the movie and speaks to this enthusiasm: This is not a tortured soul who is a superhero out of some kind of obligation. He’s a kid, and this version of who he is what he thinks a Superhero is: super strong, and super muscled, and yeah, kind of ridiculous. Levi brings this goofiness to the role, carefully straddling a line between being a superhero, a kid, and yes, being goofy. I don’t know that another actor could have pulled it off so well, and the balance is amazing.
Speaking of balance (hey, spoilers for things that probably shouldn’t be spoilers) one of the things this movie really manages to balance is that goofiness and “wow, I’m a superhero” with a sense of family. It hits all the right beats – will Billy warm up to his family! Find out in two hours when he does – but manages to subvert them in interesting ways. My favorite part is when Billy does manage to accept being part of a family, but does so by doing what Shazam has always done in the comics, which is share his powers. Yes, this movie features ALL the Shazam family, and all of the foster kids get their own superpowers for an end fight scene that is nothing short of a template for what end fight scenes in movies should be. I don’t view that as a spoiler: I view that as a reason to see the movie.
Shazam has always had a complicated history: he was created as basically a Superman ripoff named “Captain Marvel” then was sold to DC, but couldn’t use the Captain Marvel name. He’s not the strongest character to build a movie around, but honestly… this all works. It’s an upbeat movie that ties into the idea that heroes need to be heroes for a reason, and that family is where you find it. I loved this movie, every piece of it. I know I love a lot of comic book movies, and they tend to skew higher here. But honestly… this one is a step above. It embraces the silliness without being cynical. It allows itself to be goofy without winking at the camera. It loves being a superhero movie, and that’s the best thing about it.
Hamlet T. Wondercat Says