Saturday, April 6, 2019


In the current age of superhero movies, there are few that I look forward to without feeling some sort of obligation to keep up with the continuity it is attached to. Aside from the forthcoming Avengers: Endgame, Shazam! was one of them, as the trailers made it seem like a legitimately fun superhero movie, let alone a genuinely fun DC movie. Having read some amount of the New 52 run of Shazam (aka DC’s Captain Marvel), I was able to recognize some elements from those comics in the trailers and wondered if the movie would handle them any better. Upon seeing an early screening via Fandango, I can safely say that Shazam! does not disappoint, and is up there with Wonder Woman as one of the best DC movies I’ve ever seen.

After running out of several foster homes in search of his biological mother, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has been given one last chance to make a connection with a large foster family. While escaping on a subway after saving his foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) from a pair of bullies, Billy is transported to another world where he is chosen by the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) to carry on his magic. Upon speaking the wizard’s name, Billy is transformed into an adult (Zachary Levi) with magical powers (the Wisdom of Solomon, the Strength of Hercules, the Stamina of Atlas, the Power of Zeus, the Courage of Achilles, the Speed of Mercury); as he and Freddy try and figure them out, Freddy posts videos online and Billy’s adult form is branded a superhero. However, a dark magic-wielder named Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) seeks to take Shazam’s magic for himself.

The story is pretty easy to follow, with the sizeable cast of characters (mostly Billy’s foster family) getting enough development that they feel like they actually contribute something to the narrative. Billy and Freddy get the most development, and their respective character arcs have some payoff by the end. Having read some of the aforementioned New 52 comics, I liked that they toned down Billy Batson’s jerkish characterization from that run, such that you actually want to see him grow as a character. Zachary Levi was also a great casting choice for the adult Billy, as he does a believable portrayal of a child in an adult body. It is also interesting to note that Djimon Hounsou, who does a good job as the wizard Shazam, is also in the recently-released Captain Marvel.

Backing this all up is some really well-timed comedic moments, offering a fresh change of pace for the otherwise largely-dismal DC Extended Universe. The mix of comedy and drama puts it more in the same camp as some of the more enjoyable Marvel Cinematic Universe films, a trend I want to see implemented into some future DCEU films. There are also some small references to previous entries in the DCEU (such as collectibles owned by Freddy and a store filled with DC toys) such that they merely ground it in that universe, as well as a nice reference to Shazam/Captain Marvel’s origins in Fawcett Comics.

The movie also features family as a central theme, which is explored in different ways between Billy Batson and Dr. Sivana. Without giving anything away, each of them has a different outlook on their own families, while Billy must learn his own definition of it over the course of the movie. Despite exploring this theme heavily, the story thankfully doesn't beat you over the head with its message.

Shazam! is one of the best movies to come out of the DCEU, up there with Wonder Woman. The tone of the film is a breath of fresh air for the franchise and the story is backed by some excellent casting and visual effects. Despite references to the larger cinematic universe, it works surprisingly well as a stand-alone movie without any prior knowledge of the previous six movies. It’s also definitely worth it to stay behind for the mid- and post-credits sequences.

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