“Shazam!” is a stark turnaround from most DC movies released to date: and news flash, that’s incredible.
The film, directed by David F. Sandberg, follows Billy Batson, played by Asher Angel, a 15-year old foster kid who discovers a magical power that turns him into a superhero. Batson, after multiple run-away attempts and run-ins with the law, is placed in a final foster home with parents Victor and Rosa Vazquez, former foster kids themselves. Also being raised by the Vazquez’s are Freddie Freeman, played by Jack Dylan Grazer of “It,” a superhero fanatic with a physical disability who walks with the aid of a crutch, Eugene Choi, an Asian-American technology whiz kid, Darla Dudley, an overly positive black grade schooler, Pedro Peña, a shy Hispanic high schooler, and Mary Bromfield, a mathematically-minded college track student. Batson shares a room with Freeman who quickly attempts to bond with the dejected Batson. After some bullies attack Freeman, Batson defends him and after running away, stumbles into the lair of the wizard Shazam. Batson gains the power to turn into an adult superhero, portrayed by Zachary Levi, with powers of super strength, super speed, flight, and lightning control when he speaks the wizard’s name. Batson quickly comes into conflict with Thaddeus Sivana, a previous recipient of the wizard’s power who failed the final test to receive said power, and he must stop Sivana before he gains too much power.
Firstly, it must be mentioned that in comparison to the other movies in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), “Shazam!” is incredibly fun. 2018’s “Aquaman” was a step in this direction but “Shazam!” takes it all the way. Batson’s pure childlike joy when in his newly found superhero form is contagious. It creates a sense of wonder within the audience. Even in scenes that show Batson as overly negative towards any positive feedback the fun and comedy is exemplified in Batson and Freeman’s dialogue.
As a comic reader, I would be remiss in ignoring this film’s dedication to the modern origin story of Shazam. The film is a near exact adaptation of the hero’s origin including a few surprises that in-the-know comic readers will pick up on. This is an issue across all modern superhero films that “Shazam!” does not suffer from. Many movies that are adaptations of comic books or graphic novels are often good movies but horrible adaptations. Many directors come from a school of thought that dictates that adaptations must be changed from the source material by directors. Otherwise, there is no point to adapting the source material. This approach to filmmaking often causes comic book movies to suffer, both in quality and in financial return.
“Shazam!” is an origin story but it doesn’t treat itself like one necessarily. It shows the progression of Batson after receiving his powers, but it doesn’t feel like a prelude to a movie yet to come. Without a few mentions of bigger name heroes like Batman and Superman, this film could reasonably stand on its own. The direction the DCEU is taking with “Shazam!” and other films like “Aquaman” and “Wonder Woman” is the correct approach to comic book movies. “Shazam!” receives an A+ rating.