Arts and Culture Copy Editor
There was always something special about this “Shazam” project. Following the financial success of 2013’s “Man Of Steel,” Warner Brothers went full-steam-ahead on their own cinematic universe in response to the Marvel’s MCU. Announced in 2014 alongside several projects that were either cancelled or retooled following the critical/financial disappointments DC endured in subsequent years, “Shazam” never lost steam amidst many executive and creative shake-ups from WB from 2016 to 2018. Now, the exiting and delightful film joins 2018’s “Aquaman” on DC’s comeback tour.
“Shazam” follows 14-year-old Billy Batson named Billy Batson, played by Asher Angel, a foster kid who meets the wizard Shazam, and transforms into a powerful superhero, played (Zachery Levi). With the help of his best friend and adopted brother Freddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), he must learn what it means to be a superhero.
DC is marketing “Shazam” more like a family film than a traditional superhero flick, which is a mostly accurate representation of the finished product. Billy’s story arc is a familiar coming-of-age story with a fun super-hero twist. While this creative choice makes the story mostly predictable, it gives the actors and screenwriter a unique opportunity to reach emotional heights rarely seen in superhero films, as the characters tackle issues like, coping with tragedy, the importance of family and personal responsibility.
Far from being heavy-handed, though, The film’s coming-of-age aspect lends itself to plenty of great comedic moments. Angel and Dylan Grazer share several humorous exchanges, as do Dylan Grazer and Levi as the older, nigh-invulnerable superhero.
The film offers plenty of fun super-heroics and entertaining set-pieces. Baring a gruesome scene in the middle of the film that pushes the boundaries of PG 13, the action is exciting and emotionally impactful. There’s a great surprise in the final act that adds a unique and twist to the final battle with Shazam’s archnemesis Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong).
Levi excels as a kid suddenly given the powers of Superman. His youthful enthusiasm is as he revels in his good fortune is a joy to watch. The family-friendly tone gives Levi license to act as infectiously jubilant as possible, while still handling the few dramatic moments Billy gets which aren’t reserved for Angel’s version of the character.
However, the film’s overall tone more resembles family films from the late 80’s and early 90’s, in which the kids acted more like real middle-schoolers than the pseudo-adults seen in more recent family films like the “Paddington” movies and, “A Wrinkle in Time.”
As such, some parents to take the kids may hesitate considering the loose-lips of the kids in the film, the allusions to drinking and strip clubs, and a few scenes that give even films like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and ‘Gremlins” a run-for-their money in nightmare fuel. However, keep in mind most middle-schoolers nowadays are more accustomed to seeing sex, violence, and scary imagery in entertainment than perhaps ever before.
“Shazam” takes place in the already-established DC film universe but doesn’t overly concern itself with referencing other characters or setting up future storylines. The film is thus readily accessible to audiences with only a casual understanding of comic book lore.
The film’s biggest weakness—besides the aforementioned predictability—is Strong’s menacing but mostly generic turn as Dr. Silvana. Sivana’s formulaic plan and understated demeaner overshadow his excellent backstory and thematically significant motivations.
Overall, “Shazam” is a great time at the theater, and an easy recommendation for just about anyone. Before you rush to the theater for “Avengers: Endgame,” be sure to check out this enthralling and thoroughly thrilling superhero flick.