Based on the DC Comics about the character created in 1939 that was originally called Captain Marvel, it makes the perfect reason why they didn’t go with that title, as Marvel’s movie is still on the top five list after five weeks, a list that Shazam! currently is at the top of charts with nearly fifty-seven million dollars. Staring both Zachary Levi and Asher Angel as the title character, the former as the hero, and the later when he’s the host of the powers Billy Batson. Gifted great magical abilities on par with any of the titans of DC Comics and yet still a young boy, Shazam is both vastly powerful and innocent in a way that no DC film heroes I’ve seen before are, and in that way, this movie surpasses all of the entries into the DC cinematic universe.
Where most of the DC Comics films thus far can be lumped together as “dark and gritty”, Shazam! has a levity and light to it, even though it does talk about some serious things, like finding one’s family to be more than just the people who gave birth to you. Billy Batson is an orphan, moving from foster family to group homes, always running away in a search for his birth mother, not exactly uncommon actions, but through the course of the film, once he settles in the Philadelphia group home with five other kids, he finds a home.
That said, when not dealing with the kids of the movie, this film feels strange. It wants to do adult things, but all of it is through the filter of this being a movie for kids, and thus, only makes sense using kid logic. Of course, the villain is looking for power because his father always told him how terrible he was as a child and the Wizard told him that he wasn’t worthy. Why wouldn’t he spend the intervening thirty some odd years obsessing over it? It makes complete sense, for a child telling the story, that a young mother would decide, after losing track of her son, that he’d be better off in the system. None that that works, if this was a movie for and about adults, but as it is, in my opinion anyway, for kids or teens, sure, why not?
I think the best part of the film is how it exists in a setting in which both the characters of the other DC Comics films exist and their exploits happened, but also where there are comic books and perhaps even movies. Billy’s eventual best friend and foster brother Freddy Freeman is a super fan of comic books and heroes, and a third of the film is spent with them trying to figure out the powers of Shazam, as the Wizard didn’t include an instruction manual with his magic. The comedy montage of the pair of them filming their power tests for their YouTube channel is just pure fun and provides lasting levity that makes some of the darker bits easier to swallow.
I didn’t go into seeing the movie with the most favorable of views. I wasn’t certain that the trailers were selling me something I would have gone to see of my own volition if I wasn’t going to review it, but in all honesty, it changed my mind. I had fun, I laughed, even with the weakness of the narrative. I realized that I was not the target demographic for this film, and the earnestness of it made me okay with that.
If you aren’t too nonplussed by young teen boys swearing and are looking for a comic book movie that was made with children of that age in mind, Shazam! might be the movie to take them to this weekend.
Shazam! is open wide in theatres now.
David Castro is a Puerto Rican writer from New York City. He has worked on the upcoming Undead supplement for Chill Third Edition and is working on launching a Patreon. You can find him on Twitter (@theinkedknight), on Tumblr (thedevilsyouknew), on Facebook (facebook.com/inkstainedstudios), and at davidrcastro.com.