Who knew that one of DC’s most entertaining and thought-provoking movies would be Shazam!, the first in the series to not really take itself all that seriously. With their current track record, I certainly didn’t predict this outcome, so I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy my time watching the movie.
Shazam! follows the story of 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel and Zachary Levi), an orphaned boy in and out of foster homes trying to locate his biological mother. After a run in with a powerful wizard, Billy obtains magical powers that turn him into Shazam, a full-grown adult superhero with numerous abilities. As he learns to have goofy fun with his newfound superhero powers, he too must come to understand the wise adage of “With great power comes great responsibility.”
The real tragedy of Shazam! is that this story is compressed into a single film, with many characters and story lines hurried along to make way for the real fun. Subsequently the first twenty minutes or so felt rushed and disjointed, too much “tell” and not nearly enough “show”. It’s just that we’ve seen dozens of superhero origin stories in the past decade, and frankly Shazam! doesn’t have anything that new or inspiring to hook us on plot alone.
But that’s not what we’re watching Shazam! for right? No, were in it for the fish out of water humor about a boy in a superhero’s body that we were all sold on in the advertisements. And to our benefit, the film pays off tremendously in its execution of the protagonist. As soon as Billy obtains his powers and becomes Shazam, the film picks up dramatically and has some fun with the hero. I always love the scenes where the hero is trying out their new powers for the first time, and Shazam! knows we love it too, because they devote a large amount of time to Billy experimenting. There’s even one moment where he demands an armed robber shoot him in the head repeatedly. It’s hilarious, it’s exciting, it’s a real crowd-pleasing moment. I found his general sense of wonder and joy as he discovers each new power to be quite contagious.
Shazam! has this hidden charm to it that I believe lies in its premise and actors, who play their respective roles quite well. The message is a simple tale of family values and personal belonging that I can’t say was always clever or well thought out; but it nonetheless gave me this warm feeling of sentimentality that just felt genuine and right for this picture. Seeing this foster family struggle together brought a real-world issue that was nicely offset by the shenanigans of Billy and his brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer).
Shazam! doesn’t hit all the marks it should for a superhero movie this late to the game, but it makes up for its lackluster details with fun scenes displaying the laugh out loud personalities of its characters. Where the movie really finds its home is in connecting us with these sincere, likable people and engaging us in the antics and inner struggles of a superhero that just wants to have fun.