Shazam! is a peppy, family-focused superhero film you’ll enjoy


The latest superhero movie may borrow heavily from Big, but ends up telling a sweet story about finding one’s family and themselves.

Shazam! is a story about family, and that might sound reductive in the superhero landscape where all the best characters are motivated by the ones they love. (Of course, that often comes after heinous slaughter of a loved one.) Director David F. Sandberg’s new entry into the DC Comics universe, though, takes an approach to family and superherodom that feels remarkably old-school, more in line with the Power Rangers than Superman, although this movie puts its characters in the same universe as the dark and broody A-list caped crusaders.

Formulaic at points but held together by its ragtag young cast and leading man, Zachary Levi, Shazam! is a heartwarming story that talks about finding the joy in being a hero, and in finding the family that understands you.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a foster kid constantly running from home to home in a quest to find his real mother. His most recent crash pad is a group home where he meets new friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazier), who’s obsessed with superheroes. When Billy ends up being called by a mysterious wizard (Djimon Hounsou) he’s given the ability to reach his “full potential,” becoming an adult-sized superhero able to use his abilities by saying the name “Shazam!” With his new, bigger body (played by Zachary Levi), Billy is finally given a chance to live the life he wants.

When Shazam’s first trailer dropped the comparisons to Big were immediate. In fact, there’s a direct callback to that Penny Marshall-directed feature. However, that’s where the comparisons end. Shazam! is a film all about finding one’s own power in their ability to open themselves up to others.

Billy Batson has a chip on his shoulder for good reason. After being separated from his mother as a child, he refuses to give in to his social worker’s belief that he shouldn’t give time to a woman who didn’t look for him. Asher Angel’s portrayal of Billy is one of misplaced confidence. He’s able to beat the daylights out of school bullies for picking on a disabled kid, but he’s completely unwilling to buy into the world of superheroes or even that Vasquez’s, the family who takes him in, might genuinely care for him.

Billy’s quest to avoid love is conflicted with the film’s “super villain” and his desire to take vengeance on those who didn’t love him. Mark Strong’s Thaddeus Sivana won’t go down in the annals of super villainy, but he makes a perfect foil for Billy’s anger and isolation. Strong himself is always perfectly suited to play a villain, and the actor derives an enjoyment from raining on Billy’s parade here.

When Billy finally finds a group to stop Doctor Sivana, it’s wonderful watching Strong just be the man whose worst evil act is being mean to small children (though there is a great boardroom scene that mimics a similar shot in Dogma, if you’re looking for ultra violence).

The film is at its strongest, and is more interested, in Billy’s life and the discovery of his superpowers. After an interaction with the wizard, Shazam (Hounsou, doing little that he hasn’t already done before), Billy is gifted with all the strength and agility of the Greek gods, and nearly half the movie is centered around the young boy’s enjoyment of those gifts.

Zachary Levi as adult Billy is pure delight, boldly enjoying the ability to buy beer, take his friends out of school, and get paid to take selfies. His camaraderie with Grazier’s Freddy Freeman is perfect in that you always buy that Levi is a 15-year-old in a 30-year-old man’s body. The film can become too wrapped up in the boys’ fun, enhancing how unmemorable Strong’s Sivana is and leading to a third act that feels like they finally needed to include all the requisite superhero stuff.

The aforementioned third act is interesting. Without going into spoilers, the film sets up future installments in a way that could pay off depending on how readily audiences’ embrace this story. It was great to see Adam Brody and D.J. Cotrona here, both who were originally cast in George Miller’s cancelled Justice League feature. The finale is also where the Power Rangers comparisons derive.

Next. Us will leave you thoroughly unsettled and questioning reality. dark

Shazam! isn’t rewriting the book on the superhero genre, nor does it care to. It’s a fun, sweet-tempered film about family and friendship that is squarely aimed at children and young adults, hearkening back to the PG-13 family films of the ’80s. Grab your best friends and have a blast.