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Shazam!

by on April 3, 2019
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Shazam! features a long-standing superhero as old as the likes of the dark knight and the man of steel, having been created back in 1939. There was even a point where his comics outsold those of Superman, and yet, strangely enough, despite a few serial films, Shazam never succeeded in having its own feature-length film and has only made most of his appearances in animation. But the way I see it, better late than never. Shazam! is a bright and heroic coming-of-age adventure packed with plenty of humor, heart, and charm to spare.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a kid on the run from his responsibilities, rejecting every foster home he’s sent to. After being introduced to yet another foster family, he befriends Freddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), a disabled member of the foster home who revels in his love for all things Superman, Batman, and the like. But Billy soon finds his way into heroism when he comes face-to-face with an all-powerful Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who grants him god-like abilities to protect the Earth from an ancient evil. In order to succeed, however, Billy must move past his arrogant nature and become someone who understands what it means to be a hero.

It is refreshing to see a superhero film like Shazam!, something that is completely void of any of the needless darkness and pessimism we’ve seen enough of in recent DC films. Director David. F. Sandberg, who ironically is frequently affiliated with the horror genre, imbues a strong sense of positivity and optimism not seen since the days of Christopher Reeves. He doesn’t put emphasis on this film being in a shared universe, despite a few winks and nods that confirm it to be. He keeps the story small, simple, and focused. We follow a little boy trying to find his place in the world and understanding the weight and responsibilities that come with being a superhero, and that progression and evolution is depicted authentically and earnestly.

That earnestness is in part thanks to actors Asher Angel and Zachary Levi for embodying the same role so seamlessly. Billy Batson is a boy who’s lost his way and has nowhere to go, but nonetheless has a good heart in the end, and Angel successfully brings that vulnerability and honesty to life in a very endearing manner. Zachary Levi never feels like a different character and is perfectly cast as Billy’s eccentric grown-up self. He genuinely brings the vulnerability and genuineness of his 14-year-old-self whilst also adding plenty of humor, charm, and heart to go around, giving some of the funniest and most heartwarming moments in the film as well as some pretty exciting action sequences.

But much of what makes Billy a great character is his budding relationship with his foster family, especially with Freddie, who is played hysterically and beautifully by Jack Dylan Grazer. Their chemistry shines from beginning to end and their epic quest to figuring out Billy’s powers is a great highlight in superhero satire, poking fun at as many tired tropes as they can think of. They get caught up in their own misadventures and mishaps and their budding relationship makes it all genuine and fun.

But we see some of that chemistry take flight between Billy and the rest of the foster family as well, particularly his foster siblings. While none of them go anywhere in terms of development, they’re all acted commendably and their chemistry is believable and enjoyable to watch, especially with how they interact with and care about Billy.

Sadly, however, Mark Strong gets the short end of the stick as the villainous Dr. Sivana. He meant to be treated as a misunderstood, sympathetic villain given how we are first introduced to him, but it sadly never goes anywhere meaningful. His plot is your typical “I’m evil, here’s why, and now I want to take over” mentality, and while Mark Strong is rarely weak in his acting, he simply doesn’t have the material needed to make him interesting. The same can also go for Djimon Hounsou as the grand Wizard himself who bestows Billy with his powers, as he is given probably no more than 10 minutes of screen-time, none of which gives him enough room to truly have fun with the role. It’s disappointing, but not necessarily hindering.

Overall, Shazam! is a thunderous rollercoaster that makes Zachary Levi’s heroic entrance one to remember. It accomplishes in staying true to DC Comics lovers out there, even including a few surprises along the way, while also bringing new fans into the fold. The past few years have seen highs and lows for DC’s filmography, and many were hoping they can finally redeem themselves in the eyes of their fans. Luckily, Shazam! soars to the heavens and never looks down, instead looking ahead towards a future filled with hope for DC.

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