Shazam! flies into theaters on April 5th.
[Ed. Note: Being that TV and City is on a bit of a hiatus, this article has not been edited.]
Full disclosure: I’m a devout DC apologist.
If pressed, I can explain away every short-coming that DC has endured over its cinematic run while simultaneously painting an optimistic outlook for its box office future that could even rival Marvel.
Without venturing down that road of explanation, it can be stated that DC films have experienced a much-needed uptick in popularity and solid storytelling. With the immense success of Wonder Woman and most recently Aquaman, DC now has looked towards maintaining that goodwill at the box office and continuing its streak of solid films showcasing its stable of superheroes NOT named Batman or Superman.
The average movie-goer more than likely doesn’t have a deep existing knowledge of Shazam. Outside of his existing comic book run, many might see the character as a fringe player within a world of much larger characters that deserve franchises and yet, Warner Bros. doubled-down on its bet that fans of comic book films and DC alike would continue to show up to the theater no matter what name is on the marquee. Shazam! is clear and definitive change in tone for the DC Universe which favors more humor than brooding protagonist and easily proves to be the film’s greatest strength.
Shazam! is an origin story that follows Billy Batson, a teenage foster child who is desperately trying to find his place in the world, as he is infused with magical powers from a mysterious wizard set to guard the world against the Seven Deadly Sins who are bent on its destruction. His newfound powers that rival even Superman enable him to change into a perfect man-like version of himself. This responsibility proves too great as he is forced to seek guidance from one of his foster brothers, Freddy, whose vast knowledge of superheroes serves as his moral compass along the way. Billy’s journey is juxtaposed by the film’s villain, Dr. Thaddeus Silvana, who is empowered by the Seven Deadly Sins and seeks to destroy Earth’s champion before he realizes the full extent of his powers.
What I loved most about Shazam! was that at no point during its runtime did it ever attempt to take itself too seriously. It presented a familiar good vs. evil conflict that is synonymous with comic book films that is perfectly supported by its cast but more importantly, it never compromises its light-hearted tone even when dealing with more emotionally weighted elements. As mentioned before, its humor is the film’s largest strength and continually surprises you throughout with its delivery of lines or certain situations that completely catch the audience by surprise. This kept me engaged and invested in the movie despite the predictable storyline. The script is light and well-structured which empowers Zachary Levi, who is perfectly cast as Shazam, and Jack Dylan Glazer with a profound amount of freedom and chemistry with one another that only further serves the film’s humor. While much of the film deals with family and the sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself, it also does a wonderful job of attempting to show just how difficult it is to stop dreaming of becoming a true hero and actually putting those qualities into practice. In its efforts to answer those questions, Shazam! feels fun and authentic of exactly how a teenager that has powers thrust upon him would handle that responsibility.
Shazam! not only will hopefully continue DC’s recent string of successes at the theater but will also prove that not every entry needs to be a dark and brooding affair in order to tell a story. This film delivers a fun and emotionally satisfying story that also does an excellent job of introducing a new player in the DC cinematic universe that will take a more prominent role as the future of its franchise is expanded with the arrival of The Rock’s, Black Adam. While still not Marvel, DC has shown its efforts in “resetting” the DCEU to just becoming just an understood shared-universe has paid off. Wonder Woman showed first that a female can easily carry a successful franchise. Aquaman followed by displaying that even one of the easiest comic book punching bags can be cool (and marketable). Shazam! furthers those efforts by showing that a DC movie can contain both humor and heart. Believe me, I am all for a broody DC movie, but the humor and enjoyment of Shazam! left me desperately wanting to see how DC proceeds next.
I give Shazam! a B+.