Movie Review Monday: Shazam!
The DC Extended Universe struck a lighter tone over the weekend with the release of its latest feature film, Shazam!. The film was written by Henry Gayden and directed by Lights Out’s David F. Sandberg. The film follows a foster kid named Billy Batson, who gains the ability to transform into an adult superhero from an ancient wizard. The film stars Asher Angel as Billy Batson with Zachary Levi portraying the superhero version of him. Some of the fantastic cast members involved are Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman, Mark Strong as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, Faithe Herman as Darla, Grace Fulton as Mary, Ian Chen as Eugene, Jovan Armand as Pedro, and Djimon Hounsou as the ancient wizard, Shazam.
The film begins in 1974 with a young Thaddeus Sivana traveling with his father and brother. Thaddeus plays with a magic 8 ball in the backseat, and after being picked on by his family, he finds himself transported to the Rock of Eternity, a magical temple in a different dimension. He encounters the ancient wizard, Shazam, who explains that he is searching for a champion that is pure of heart. Thaddeus is instead tempted by the Seven Deadly Sins in statue form, which leads Shazam to call him not worthy. Thaddeus is banished from the temple, and Shazam decides to wait for the right champion no matter how long it takes. The story fast forwards to current day, where Billy Batson is introduced as he is relocated to a group home after another failed search for his birth mother. While Billy settles in, Sivana finds a way to return to the Rock of Eternity and releases the power of the Sins. This prompts the wizard to pass his powers on to a new champion, which is when Billy Batson’s life is changed forever.
Zack Snyder’s superhero films for DC might have started with a darker tone, but Shazam! undoes that with a heaping dose of fun and joy. Full of heart and humor, this Big-inspired movie never underestimates just how much fun a 14-year-old boy would have in a superpowered adult form. The sequences of Billy discovering and experimenting with his powers with the help of his foster brother, Freddy, are incredibly fun and set the tone moving forward. Of course, these moments are only as great as the people who deliver them. Zachary Levi is a joy to watch in this ridiculous red costume, and I’m honestly not sure there is a better person in the industry who could portray a 14-year-old in an adult’s body. Levi nails every funny moment and expression with Grazer being the perfect scene partner. In fact, Grazer often steals the show as the young superhero aficionado, Freddy, as does Faithe Herman as the adorable little sister, Darla. In fact, the entire foster family shines as the topic of family becomes central to the entire storyline. It’s not just about the family we are born into but about the people who root themselves into our hearts and lives, providing for a beautiful theme to take home.
While this film is not lacking in laughs, some dark imagery and concepts do accompany this tale. The manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins are dark and unsettling with Sandberg’s horror background showing a little in their more prominent sequences. They are more frightening than the character of Sivana, who does have a better introduction than most supervillains. I genuinely enjoyed the fact that the film starts with his childhood and sets up what will be a lifelong obsession for this character. Sivana verges on tropey in the current day timeline, but for a movie about a 14-year-old transforming into an adult superhero, I think that can be understood and forgiven. The dark moments are far outweighed by the rest of the film, and honestly, these darker characters are needed for our champion to triumph.
Overall, I think that Shazam! exceeded expectations and undeniably delivered on the promise of fun and hilarity put forth in their marketing campaign. This is Billy’s story as he discovers himself and these newfound powers, but it is also about all of the people who move in and out of his world. The film also touches on some deeper themes with the Seven Deadly Sins and this question of what makes for a pure heart, but it never weighs the film down too much. I consider this film to be a success for DC, and with some surprises toward the end, I truly believe it is begging for a sequel. It would be a shame to waste such an amazing cast and the ridiculously entertaining journey that Sandberg has started us on. I would say that Shazam! is definitely worth a watch in theaters and is sure to have you leaving the theater laughing.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.