It has been a rocky start for the DCEU. After critics panned Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad & Justice League (All films I enjoyed, though Suicide Squad not nearly as much as the others), DC needed to try something different to reinvigorate the general public’s love for their superheroes. To say that DC has gone the Marvel route is an understatement. DC and Warner Bros have started taking characters that were relatively unknown (kind of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man of the DC universe) and made awesome movies for them. They made Aquaman cool, a character who was known as a joke until the New 52 line of DC comics launched back in 2011 and I’m happy to say Shazam! continues that winning streak. No matter what your stance is on the current state of DC and their films, I guarantee you’ll love Billy and his journey to becoming a superhero.
Shazam! tells the story of Billy Batson (Asher Angel). Orphaned at a young age, Billy has ran from foster home to foster home with the hopes of finding his real mother. When things don”t go his way he’s placed in a new home with foster parents Victor & Rosa Vasquez (Cooper Andrews & Marta Milans), a couple that truly wants the best for him. The home isn’t just for Billy though, there’s Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) who knows everything there is to know about superheroes and superpowers, Ian (Eugene Choi), Mary (Grace Fulton), Pedro (Jovan Armand), and the absolutely heart melting Darla (Faithe Herman). After sticking up for his new “brother” at school, Billy is transported to the realm of wizards where Shazam (Dijimon Hounsou) has spent his life searching for the right person to take over for him. Because he believes Billy is pure of heart, the wizard bestows him with magical powers and Billy takes on a new adult body (Zachary Levi) and the mantle of Shazam, whether he wanted to or not.
Zachary Levi is fantastic as the title hero. You really can’t tell the difference between Shazam Billy and Teenage Billy. Zachary convinces you that he really is a boy stuck in a mans body, and it’s amazing. The chemistry he has on screen with Jack is palpable. The scenes where Billy and Freddy are trying to figure out what superpowers Billy has are hilarious and some of the best in the movie. There’s a scene at a convenience store involving armed gunman that had me laughing out loud. All the other cast members do a great job and the entire foster family adds plenty of heart to the film. Even the villain Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who has his own reasons for wanting to defeat Shazam, is truly menacing when he gains the powers of The Seven Deadly Sins.
Which leads me to my next point. There are some pretty intense scenes throughout, usually involving the The Seven Deadly Sins, who differ in varying grotesque ways. Be wary if you are taking the young ones. It took my wife and I off guard when people started dying (it’s not graphic, but you definitely know what’s going on) because our six and nine year old’s were with us. Judging by the trailers it really didn’t seem like it was going to be THAT intense of a film, but the kids seemed to handle everything fine. Director David F. Sandberg is previously known for his horror films Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation so he does flex those muscles here. It all looks great though so if you’re a big kid like me, you’ll love it.
The film moves at a pretty brisk pace for an origin story. There really isn’t a dull moment. It’s like filmmakers are finally realizing you don’t need a full hour to set up an origin story (like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man). It isn’t long after the movie has started before Billy is thrown into the thick of things and needs to quickly grow up in order to become the hero the world needs him to be. Shazam! reminded me of Guardians of the Galaxy in the sense that it just throws the audience head first into a magical world where doors can lead to alternate universes where alligator people exist (it’s as crazy as it sounds). The story works though, and it’s full of action, heart, and humor that really makes you care for the characters, and opens up the DCEU to a whole new world of possibilities.
DC is on a roll with their films. While I’ll admit I’ve enjoyed all of them (yes, seriously, all of them) I do like the direction they’re heading with this sort of “soft reboot” they started with Aquaman. It isn’t just all doom and gloom these days. It’s nice to see that they’re going all in and there is room in the DCEU now for a wise-cracking teenager like Shazam. DC has a new superhero hit on their hands and Shazam! is a film that joins the ranks as one of my favorite superhero movies of all time and one of the best films you’ll see this year. I guarantee you’ll have a big grin on your face right through until the credits start rolling. – NVJ
Shazam! is now playing in theaters