It feels like there is a superhero movie in theaters at all times these days. That’s something that I would have absolutely loved as a child, and I definitely love now. It’s exciting to see big budget blockbusters based on characters and stories we grew up reading about and seeing in Saturday morning cartoons and to see them done well. However, there are now so many superhero movies hitting the big screen each year that it takes a lot for one film to stand out from all the rest. Shazam!, the latest movie to be based on a DC Comics character, flew into theaters over a month ago. Does Shazam! stand out from other superhero flicks and soar high or does it crash down to Earth to be forgotten among the superpowered masses?
The acting in this movie is phenomenal. Zachary Levi is the perfect choice to play the titular character of Shazam. Given the fact that he’s a kid in the body of an adult, this could be a tough performance to pull off, and he accomplished it. He feels realistically childish the whole time. Child actors don’t always give the best performances, but all the teens and children in the movie did a great job. Jack Dylan Grazer gave an especially great performance as Freddy Freeman. He conveyed the perfect balance of sarcasm and emotion. Asher Angel and Zachary Levi had the additional challenge of acting exactly like each other to portray the same character, and they were terrific. Despite them having obviously different appearances, they both felt like they were 14-year old Billy. The same goes for the rest of the characters who were played by both children and adults.
Each character was fleshed out and relatable. Billy wanted to find his place in the world and only wanted to look out for himself until he found people who loved him. Freddy always felt left out, wanted others to see him for his potential rather than just what they saw on the outside, and wanted to feel like the heroes he looked up to. Victor and Rosa are former foster children who grew up to run a group home for other foster children since they know what it’s like. Even the primary antagonist, Dr. Sivana, just wanted acceptance from his father and brother who bullied him throughout his life. Most of us have been through similar things or have felt the same way as much of these characters to some extent. The more real the characters of a movie feel, the more real the movie itself feels, and these characters are very realistic.
This movie is absolutely hilarious. The comedic timing is masterful. Much of the humor comes from the fact that Shazam is a kid in an adult’s body (like when he buys beer and immediately spits it out or goes to a strip club and realizes he needs a lot more money), Freddy’s sarcastic nature, and some well-placed slapstick. As funny as the movie is, the humor never distracts from the more emotional or dramatic moments.
Shazam! contains a deep and interesting theme that real family is about love and not just about blood. Billy finds his long lost mother to discover that she didn’t even want him. However, he has a foster family that wants nothing more than to love him and accept him as one of their own. We see how toxic family can have a huge negative impact on us through Dr. Sivana’s experiences with his father and brother. In both Billy’s and Dr. Sivana’s lives, they experience toxicity from blood relatives. However, Dr. Sivana didn’t have anyone to show him love like Billy did from his foster family. This sends Billy on a positive path and Dr. Sivana down a more hateful one. It’s important to see what family really means and the impact toxicity can have on someone versus affection.
Most superhero movies have become these huge epics about saving the world or galaxy from decimation. They’re all over the top, which is fun and I enjoy seeing it happen. However, it’s nice to see a more grounded story every once in a while. Shazam! is just that. Yes, Shazam fights an evil doer and some rather awesome personifications of the seven deadly sins, but it’s more of a story about Billy learning about his place in the world: with his foster family. The villain is motivated by his hate for his father and brother, not by how he wants to destroy the world. I love seeing superheroes in bigger adventures, but it’s refreshing to see a more grounded story like this.
Most superhero movies also go out of their way to either build up the next movie in their cinematic universe or cram a bunch of characters in to show that it connects to other movies. Shazam! may take place in the DCEU, but it completely works as a standalone film. The only reference to any other movie is the idea that other superheroes are real. It just simply takes place in a world where everyone is aware that superheroes already exist. We see Aquaman t-shirts, Superman backpacks, Batman action figures, and more. Shazam! found a way to take place in a movie universe while also being a good standalone.
The action scenes are absolutely intense. Shazam’s powers are all cleverly showcased in each action scene. The location of each fight plays a big part in what happens, like Dr. Sivana chasing Shazam through a shopping mall leading to toys being thrown around in a toy store. Shazam and Dr. Sivana are both extremely powerful, but the amount of destruction caused when they face off is more realistic than other superhero flicks. Sure, some windows are shattered, carnival stands collapse, and some statues crumble, but the city of Philadelphia is very much intact at the end. The Seven Deadly Sins and their creepy demonic designs and abilities also add a lot of fun to the action, especially toward the end.
Mary, the oldest foster child, is struggling with her mixed feelings about leaving her family because she was accepted into the college of her dreams. That’s a super relatable and understandable issue, however, we never see her talk to her family about it or if it leads to any second guessing. There’s not much pay off or solution for it.
The early scenes in the movie jump around a little bit in order to tell multiple stories. This problem ends early, and it pays off soon once those multiple stories come together. It’s just a little daunting going into the beginning of the movie and having to follow the few different stories.
There are a few things in the movie that I wish we were able to see more of. As I stated before, the Seven Deadly Sins make an appearance, and they are awesome. However, there are some sins that we don’t see quite as much as the others. We’re told which sins some of them are, but it’s hard to tell which one is which for others. We could have used another scene, or at least an extended version of an existing scene, featuring them and what they can do. The same goes for some of the foster children. There are a couple who we get to spend the perfect amount of time with, but there are one or two who could have used some more time for the viewer to get to know them better. We see what happened in Dr. Sivana’s childhood to motivate him later in life, and we see him as an adult still talking about those events. We don’t get to see if there was more of his family bullying and harassing him in the other decades of his life. Obviously there couldn’t be too much more added to the movie where it’s already over two hours long, but it would have been nice to see a little more of some things.
During Shazam and Dr. Sivana’s fight at the shopping mall, we them pause for a brief moment as they step across a giant piano on the floor. This is in reference to the movie Big starring Tom Hanks. This is especially funny since both movies are about a kid in the body of an adult.
During the credits, there is a delightful hand-drawn animation that is made to appear like it is on white-lined notebook paper like a kid doodled it in class. It features fun illustrations of various DC superheroes like Wonder Woman, the Flash, and Superman hanging out with Billy and his siblings. It was a pretty entertaining little sequence.
There is a brief scene where some of the kids play Mortal Kombat. There are two interesting references here. One is that Billy is playing as Raiden, a character who uses lightning powers like Shazam does. The other is that DC comics and Mortal Kombat have crossed over in a video game titled Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. There’s another amusing fighting game reference toward the end of the movie when Eugene shouts “Hadouken.” This is in reference to Street Fighter. I think it’s interesting that they didn’t use this opportunity to make another nod to Mortal Kombat.
There is a mid-credits scene and an end-credits scene. The mid-credits scene revisits Dr. Sivana after the events of the movie and introduces another major Shazam villain that could possibly lead into an exciting sequel. I can even see the two villains teaming up. The end-credits scene is just another joke that could have been used in the earlier scene when they are testing out which powers Billy has. Here, he’s trying to communicate with a fish like Aquaman. When Billy says it would be useless, Freddy defends the ability by saying he could command all ocean life. It’s mostly just a humorous defense of one of DC’s popular characters.
Shazam is both fun and emotional. It’s also one of the few recent superhero movies that is great on its own without shoving a bunch of cinematic universe buildup and references into it. Sure, there are things I wish we could have seen more of, but that would just make an over two-hour movie even longer. It jumps around a little at first, but the payoff is worth it. Ultimately, Shazam definitely stands out in the crowded superhero genre and is a must see for people of all ages.