If you watched the advertisements for the latest DC Cinematic Universe film Shazam! (and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not, it absolutely is), you’d think the film was Big but with superheroes. That description might get at some of the basics but in reality it misses out on so much of what makes this film not just work but also stand out as one of the best live action superhero releases of the modern era.
Shazam! follows Billy Batson, a foster kid who’s searching for his birth mother. He’s eventually recruited by the Wizard and given power to turn himself into the adult superhero Shazam but shouting SHAZAM!
What follows over 2 hours of having fun with, fun of, and love of superhero tropes and films.
Played by Asher Angel, Batson is a troublemaker with a heart. He’s on a mission to find his mother and by doing so running away from various foster families and facilities. Enter the Vasquez family headed up by Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor (the always amazing and loveable Cooper Andrews). They run a foster home and are the parents you both love and roll your eyes due to their corny jokes. Each kid exudes personality and cuteness. Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman and Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley standing out. Those two get the most screen time out of all of the children with Darla delivering moments where you just want to hug her and others where you want to adopt her yourself. Grazer’s Freddy though is fandom personified guiding Billy through his learning his powers.
From there, the film is jokes about superpowers and some of the sillier aspects of being a superhero. And it does it all with a smile and infectious enthusiasm. Much of that is due to Zachary Levi as Shazam. Levi along with Grazer combine to form a team where it’s hard to not enjoy their journey of discovery. It’s just over the top silly at times and that’s exactly what it should be. Action sequences are broken up with segments using social media to explore Shazam’s powers. Freddy acts as Yoda to Billy’s Luke. This all works due to the amazing comedic chops of Levi and Grazer who nail the delivery of every scene and when things get serious, play it all off as believable kids.
The film is about excitement and the discovery of the hero in us all and it wears that on its sleeve with a giant smile.
That enthusiasm and discovery is juxtaposed with Mark Strong‘s Dr. Thaddeus Sivana who years earlier was rejected from the power of Shazam and has been searching for it ever since. The villain is the weakest part of the film, though Strong’s performance is strong. The film falls into a fight we’ve seen so many times before and is a bit reminiscent of the original Superman films down to the special fx. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was done on purpose as an example of the film’s clear love of superhero films.
What stands out to me for Shazam! is not just how much fun I had watching the film, but how much the audience enjoyed it. I haven’t seen a crowd cheering and applauding since Black Panther and Wonder Woman. There was also sniffling during the more serious and touching moments. The film nails the emotional moments delivering an experience that’s hard to not have fun watching. If you found yourself smiling or laughing at the various television spots, the film takes that humor to the next level. It’s unafraid to take the silliness that extra step and nail the joke.
Shazam! is a film that exceeded my expectations delivering an entertaining film that I immediately wanted to see again. It’s the first live action superhero “family film” since the original Superman. Judging by the audience reactions, from kids to their parents, it was enjoyed by people of all ages and genders and catapulted itself to being one of the best superhero films of the modern era to be released.
Overall Rating: 9.0