After years of dark, joyless superhero movies, Shazam comes along and works its magic on the DC Cinematic Universe. For too long, DC self-consciously tried to be the anti-Marvel: no happiness or genuine emotion in the movies. This led to characters being as two-dimensional as the drawings of their comic book counterparts.
By the time they realized they were doing little more than boosting Prozac sales, all they were able to do was give us trailers like Aquaman which make it seem joyful, but in reality was lacking for an entertaining story.
Now, what Wonder Woman did for adult fans and teenage girls, Shazam does for teenage boys.
The movie is the origin story of Billy Batson’s transformation into Shazam! A foster kid who’s runaway from homes all his life in search of his mom, he isn’t big on connections.
Billy eventually ends up in the care of foster parents who were foster kids themselves, and five other kids ranging in age from six-ish to high school senior. His new BBF (Best Brother Forever) is Freddy, a mildly disabled kid who’s big into superheroes.
“What Makes A Family” is the thread that runs thought the movie. While it does tend to be painfully obvious, it stays just this side of being annoying.
While the film paints a pretty decent and possibly unrealistic portrait of incredibly well-adjusted foster life, I’m not mad at it. This film isn’t about that. Go see Instant Family for that. Wait, I take that back.. DO NOT go see Instant Family.
Just Say The Word
Shazam succeeds when it is being self-aware. In fact, it’s reveling in self-awareness from start to finish. Freddy’s obsession with super heroes leads to fun sequences as he helps Billy figure out the limits of his new powers. Spoiler Alert: There aren’t that many limits!
You feel like you’re going along on the journey, and you want the trip to continue. And writers and directors never forget that Billy is still an adolescent, even when he’s being portrayed by a very grown up Zachary Levi. Shazam becomes a viral celebrity overnight, and Billy quickly gets caught up in his own hype.
It will be relatable to anyone who’s found a moment of glory. An average baseball player who hits a homer in the bottom of the ninth. A 5’10” kid who somehow gets air and manages a dunk. Me starting Independence Day celebrations at noon and still being able to remember the fireworks show nine hours later.
But at the end of the day, this movie works because we like the characters. Even the villain, Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) has a compelling back story.
Is the Epic Climactic Battle a little to epic? Yes!
Could I have cut this down by about 15 minutes? Definitely!
Is there the predictable reunion and rejection with his mom, leading Billy to realize what’s really important? Sure.
But does any of that matter? Absolutely not.
Shazam! is a great popcorn flick worth seeing in theaters, but the 3D doesn’t add that much so save the $5 on the upgrade.
I’m looking forward to the sequel because I want to spend more time with these characters, and that’s always a good sign for a franchise’s future.
Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
A bottle of Bars beer. It’s what Freddie and Billy/Shazam have outside the convenience store. They spit it out in favor Red Bull and stomach-dissolving beef jerky, but that’s what you’d expect from 15-year-olds.
Be an adult. Drink terrible beer!