With Marvel’s highly-anticipated Avengers: Endgame still a few weeks out, DC Comics’ Shazam! swoops in like a tasty appetizer – just enough to satisfy, without spoiling your appetite for the main course. Shazam! is not as LOL funny and lighthearted as the trailer might suggest, but it’s still far lighter and easier to process than most DC Comic movies of recent memory (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.), and it’s certainly much shorter and simpler than the forthcoming Avengers finale. Bottom line: Shazam! is a solid coming-of-age superhero flick that’s suitable for family viewing, assuming the kids are at least approaching teendom. The film is PG-13 and does have the occasional blast of violence (though relatively bloodless), sadness (family dysfunction and abandonment issues) and scary moments (don’t get lost at the fairgrounds or walk through strange doors!). But overall, it’s about personal strength (finding the superhero within), making the right choices, and learning what defines a family.
Like many superhero origin stories, Shazam! opens rather bleak, with two young boys facing different types of challenges that will impact their lives for years to come. One is Thad Sivana, who grows up to become a powerful, egotistical super-villain (Mark Strong); the other is Billy Batson, a streetwise foster kid who encounters an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) and gains powers that turn him into an adult superhero whenever he shouts “Shazam!” It’s a bit like Spider-Man meets Smallville meets 13 Going on 30 meets Big, depending on your personal frame of reference.
The movie kicks into high gear about 35-minutes in, as Billy starts exploring his new abilities and the responsibilities that come with them. Heady stuff for a teenager. He gets some comical and practical guidance from his foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, IT), an avid fan of superhero lore. Together they test the limits of the suit, complete with the obligatory montage, set to the Queen earworm, “Don’t Stop Me Now.” (Good luck getting that one out of your head. May require a re-watch of Bohemian Rhapsody).
The instantaneous transitions between teen Billy (Asher Angel) and muscular young adult Billy/Shazam (Zachary Levi) are seamless enough to help sell the premise, which vaguely resembles the one I remember from the 1970s TV show “The Shazam/Isis Hour”. I don’t know how closely this version adheres to the comic book narrative, but ultimately it doesn’t really matter. Every generation fantasizes about what it would be like to have a superpower. So every generation deserves its own cinematic interpretation of the Shazam! story, as long as it’s done well. This particular Shazam! isn’t what I’d call great or groundbreaking, and it’s about 20-minutes too long. But it’s easy to watch and the message is ultimately a positive one.
I saw it in IMAX 2D, but any big screen will do. And take note, there is a post-credit scene. So depending on how the movie does at the box office, there’s a strong chance we haven’t seen the last of Billy Batson and crew.
Altogether now: “Shazam!”
For quick discussion and debate about Shazam!, tune in to this edition of the Cinema Clash Take 5!