Almost a different entity entirely from the rest of the films of the DC Extended Universe but it also shows itself to be for the best in the case of Shazam!. It’s the sort of film that one can look at in their late teens, or maybe even early adult years to allow oneself to think about how much they would have wanted a film of this sort to have come out when they were younger because it stands for just about everything that made these points in life so wonderful for ourselves. Yet besides being a nice little crack at comedy from the DC Extended Universe, it’s also a film that never feels afraid to enter darker territory in order to develop a sense of growth in its eager leads. Though that’s only the least of what made Shazam’s journey every bit as endearing as it was in here. It’s a pure delight because it’s never afraid to just embrace the kid inside, especially in its own lead character, but also because of how surprisingly sweet it is as a tale about families coming together, and better yet, what defines a loving family.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a troubled orphan who has run away from numerous foster homes from across the country. Soon after relocating yet again, he befriends his newest group of foster siblings which also results in him getting into a fight with the school bully to retaliate an attack upon his disabled foster brother, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). After he escapes another attack, he soon ends up meeting the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who offers to pass on his own powers through the calling of his name. At first, Billy shrugs off the notion from the sound of his name, but gives in and is soon transformed into the adult Shazam (Zachary Levi), a superhero who exhibits incredible strength, the ability to charge electricity from his fingers, and the ability to fly. Being a film all about a kid who is trying to come to realize the potential of what he has, Shazam! gives a genre that almost seems familiar a much needed lighthearted spin, and soon enough it also makes the journey so rewarding.
Looking at this film from the eyes of one’s own younger self, Zachary Levi’s embodying of Shazam captures what watching a superhero film from a young age would feel like. From the childlike antics of simply wanting to show off your own powers for people to see while maintaining your secret identity, Levi’s performance echoes that of Tom Hanks from Big, from simply looking like an adult on the outside but embracing the inner child everywhere he goes. Yet this also happens to be what makes the young Billy Batson’s journey so worthwhile, because before his fateful encounter with the wizard Shazam he had only ever tried to find his birth mother after having been abandoned, thinking he would be able to go out on his own. If there’s really anything else that Billy comes to learn while he slowly learns how to properly use his newfound powers, it’s not only how to become a good person all the way through but also what it really means to be a part of a family. Beyond being an absolute blast from start to finish, Shazam! only ever perfectly blends all of this to tell a sweet coming of age story.
Despite the fact it can’t quite shake off many tropes that would formulate your average superhero origin story checklist, Shazam! doesn’t feel like it relies so heavily on exposition in order to create a compelling story but rather it stays simple, even with blending Billy’s own journey with the formation of the villain’s arc (who is brought to life by a great performance by Mark Strong), it still remains simple and flows perfectly from beginning to end. Even though Sivana’s backstory is what starts off the film, it never overdoes it in order to keep everything flowing so perfectly as it retains its own focus on Billy trying to find a place in a world where he traditionally doesn’t even have a family. David F. Sandberg knows already he’s making a lighthearted comedy all about someone who’s still a kid on the inside, but there’s a lot more to be admired about how he mixes all of this to create a rewarding journey that isn’t free from tragedy much like the journey that has made growing up exactly what it is.
If more of these films were to be made soon, then you can already count me in. Shazam! is exactly what I feel like a great superhero comedy can be like, no snark would be needed nor the edginess in order to ring off as being more mature than other films of the sort – you just need everything to feel so natural, and David F. Sandberg manages to bring out the best in that even from moments between Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer. But it’s astonishing to me that this is only his third feature, and given his own roots in low budget horror, it also feels rather refreshing to see a superhero movie that doesn’t really need to tell its story on such a large scale, it’s just thoroughly relatable for viewers of all sorts. A perfect Shazam! it might not be, but it’s so joyful to watch you simply can’t really help it – I feel like this would have been an easy favourite of mine if I were younger but watching it as an adult, it still feels so joyous from beginning to end.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Warner Bros.
Directed by David F. Sandberg
Screenplay by Henry Gayden, from characters from DC Comics
Produced by Peter Safran
Starring Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou
Release Date: April 5, 2019
Running Time: 132 minutes