We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s (Asher Angel) case, by shouting out one word—SHAZAM!—this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult Super Hero Shazam (Zachary Levi), courtesy of an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou). Still a kid at heart—inside a ripped, godlike body—Shazam revels in this adult version of himself by doing what any teen would do with superpowers: have fun with them! Can he fly? Does he have X-ray vision? Can he shoot lightning out of his hands? Can he skip his social studies test? Shazam sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of a child. But he’ll need to master these powers quickly in order to fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).
What We Thought:
Shazam! is my favorite DC Comics movies since Batman Begins. Now that seems like super high praise, but it’s not. Don’t get me wrong I really enjoyed the movie, I just haven’t enjoyed the previous DC movies all that much. Sure Aquaman and Wonder Woman made bank, but they aren’t good (no matter what critics say about Wonder Woman). Justice League wasn’t very good. I didn’t hate Suicide Squad like others, but I’ve also never wanted to watch it for a second time. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman aren’t watchable. Fanboys LOVE The Dark Knight, but I still think Batman Begins is the better Batman movie.
As for this movie, it has some flaws which I’ll get to, but it does one thing perfectly right, it let’s the movie be what it should be. Billy Batson is 14 and the movie remembers that. What would a 14-year-old do if he became a superhero in a full-sized adult body? He’d buy beer. He’d visit a strip club. He’d have fun. That’s what this movie does right, it’s fun. It reminded me of Spiderman: Homecoming in that it let age appropriate actors act like age appropriate characters. Peter Parker had a sidekick in Homecoming that helped him be who he is. Billy Batson has a fellow foster kid help him figure out who he is and what he can do. It all feels like kids being kids which is great because I grew up on movies like The Goonies where kids were kids.
That fun and lightheartedness is what separates this film from previous DCEU movies. Those movies are dark and Snyder-ish and I don’t like it. Sure Batman should be dark, but Superman should never be gritty. DC characters are usually colorful and fun especially if you watched Super Friends as a youngster. Shazam is light, fun, colorful and much more. Most of the jokes and humor work. The characters all work and Asher Angel as Billy Batson is great. Mark Strong is always great especially as a villain. I was a big fan of the TV show Chuck and liked Zachary Levi on that, but over the past few years he’s seemed to rub me the wrong way for some reason. For the most part he did win me over as Shazam. In a way it’s his Chuck role again with lots of pop culture references and being a fish-out-of-water type character. Chuck was a regular guy given powers. Here he’s a 14-year-old in an adult body with powers.
Even though the movie is fun (and you don’t need to know anything about the character or previous movies to enjoy it) it has a few issues. The third act, like most DC movies, goes on much too long. The final battle looks like every previous DC movie with two characters fighting each other in long takes with flying and over the top CGI. It’s a given at this point that every DC movie must end this way. I don’t like it, but at least this one was entertaining overall. This film isn’t dark & dirty like previous movies, but it does have a staple of DC movies, unnecessary super slow-mo action scenes. You see it in every Zack Snyder film and even Wonder Woman (not directed by Snyder) had it. There are a few in this movie and it takes me out of the scene. It wants you to really pay attention to the slow motion sequence, but it actually loses my attention because I can’t stand it.
Shazam! is a big step forward for the DCEU. It proves you don’t have to be dark to be enjoyable. It’s a lot of fun and something I’d watch again which is saying a lot for this comic universe. With the DCEU in shambles over a change in Batman and Superman yet again, I have no idea where it goes next. But I am happy this movie came out at least because I had a good time with it. Hopefully we get a few more standalone films that break the DCEU tone and remember to be fun.