There’s always been this idea, this child-like wonder of what it would be like to be a superhero. What it would be like to fly, to shoot lasers out of your eyes, to be bullet-proof, to have super strength and a strong heart. We’re in an age of comic book movies where we see that anyone can wear the mask or save the day, and we’ve all felt that whimsical feeling superheroes bring out. However, I can’t think of a film that captures the feelings of being a hero and have them burst throughout the entirety of a film better than Shazam! has.
Leaving the theatre, I had a genuine sense of joy and happiness that I haven’t felt in a while from a comic book movie and that’s because Shazam! embodies why comic book movies are so special. Shazam himself is truly a unique character, rather than having the stoic presence of Superman or the dark, glooming intimidation of Batman, he is colourful, fun, and most of all, a child – and the film captures all of the this while creating a funny, self-aware, one of a kind superhero story.
The story follows Billy Batson (Asher Angel), an orphaned child who is constantly running away from foster homes in search of his mother. However, upon receiving magical powers from a mysterious wizard (Djimon Hounsou), Billy can now transform into a super-powered hero (Zachary Levi) just by saying the word Shazam. With the help of his foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Billy must understand his powers before a new evil foe (Mark Strong) becomes too powerful to stop.
One of my worries for Shazam was that there would to be too big a difference between Angel and Levi’s performances. This is actually the case – but in the best way possible. The film captures the idea of alter-egos perfectly with Angel’s Billy being more isolated and pessimistic, and Levi’s Shazam showcasing Billy’s gleeful and open side. Even with this strong contrast, they still find a way to blend together and create a complex, intriguing Billy Batson. Angel does an effective job of showcasing Billy’s troubled attitude and a desire to see his family again, with this come some great themes about family and growing up as well as some fun scenes with Glazer.
Levi steals the show with a performance that’s light-hearted, humorous, and full of child-like wonder. He fully commits to each scene he’s in and it pays off in the form of some truly heroic moments – as well as some comedy that’s hard not to crack a smile at. Levi is undoubtedly the heart of this film and this performance breathes life into a DCEU that so desperately needs it.
There’s also some credit due to director David F. Sandberg and writers Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke for working the DCEU’s darker tone into the child friendly story. Contrasting the light-hearted Levi, there’s some dark humour from Freddy’s personality fuelling their antics throughout the film. All of this mixes perfectly to create a film full of memorable moments and wide-range of laughs.
There are also some solid horror elements mixed in with Strong’s character Dr. Sivana, showing the character’s intimidating persona that clearly came from the mind of Sandberg. I could have used more of Sivana, but Strong’s performance is solid enough to create a villain that’s nicely contrasts Shazam and is fleshed out enough to understand him and his motivations.
The best thing about Shazam!, to me, has to be how it chooses to connect itself to the other DC characters and how that is played up throughout the film. Seeing iconic heroes come together is always special, but what I appreciate more is when a film defines the impact of their presence through other means. Seeing action figures of Wonder Woman, kids with backpacks featuring the Batman logo, or even Freddy showing his collection of shirts and memorabilia of the heroes in their world gave them a presence without having to be there in-person.
Shazam! also has a great sense of self-awareness that makes it like a Scream of superhero movies. Watching Shazam figure out his name throughout the film and go through training montages was both funny and intriguing. There’re even some shots and lines that poke fun at superhero films and it sets Shazam’s story into a great direction for the hero’s future. It’s also worth noting that staying through the credits is absolutely required as there’s some fun animations and post-credit scenes that had me running to Google to find out more.
Shazam! blew me away with ounces of fun and reinvigorated my love for comic book movies – which I really didn’t expect it to. I’m already anxiously awaiting a second viewing and the bright future of Shazam as well as what else the DCEU has to offer with a bit of positivity behind it.