By The Nerdling
Shazam! is the movie both comic book fans and DC needs right now. A fun, light-hearted romp centering around what a 14-year-old kid would probably do if given a swole, Zachary Levi body and superhero powers to go with it. Then comes the whole “with great power comes yadda, yadda, yadda” stuff. While there are a few hiccups, mostly centered around the villain, Shazam! allows itself to go for the child-like joy of having superpowers. And without getting too sappy, has a nice message about family and the consequence of choices.
Runaway foster kid, Billy Batson (Asher Angel), is searching for his mother. The two were separated from each other at a carnival when Billy was a young child. His need to find her has him rejecting foster families that want him. Placed in a new home filled with several kids, Billy rooms with Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), a superhero fanboy. Freddy’s knowledge comes in handy when Billy is given the powers of the old Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou).
Shazam! takes some time to get the fun. The first act bogs itself down in Dr. Thaddeus Sivana’s (Mark Strong) search for the Wizard. As a child, Sivana was tempted by the Seven Deadly Sins and thus rejected by the Wizard to take up his mantle. Sivana finds the Wizard as an adult and chooses to embody the sins to take his revenge. Sivana never comes off as scary or intimidating. Which is a feat considering Strong has played some terrifying characters before. His vendetta against his verbally (and possibly physically) abusive father and brother made him seem more like a petulant man-child than imposing villain.
Director David Sandberg taps into his horror background for the big bad in some of the movie’s darker moments. Sivana at one point directs the sins to consume various people. For a film which prides itself on not being too serious with the tone, it is an intense moment. Be ready to shield any little one’s eyes.
The sins themselves are represented by gargoyle looking monsters. They are no more than henchmen to the power-crazed scientist. The conflict is dull which makes for a less satisfying head-to-head between Sivana and Shazam (Levi).
Once Billy becomes Shazam and recruits Freddy to figure out his powers, the movie finds its stride. In a tongue in cheek homage to previous origin stories, the two boys experiment with every super trope. They document and enjoy experiments into laser beam eyes, flying, super strength, invisibility, and more. Much to Freddy’s chagrin, Billy mostly uses his powers to buy beer and make some cash so he can find his mom.
All of the foster kids in Billy’s new home are perfectly cast. Each child has a distinct personality and never become precociously annoying. Darla (Faithe Herman), the youngest of the foster kids, runs away with each scene she is in with her adorable earnestness and inability to respect personal spaces.
What really had me enjoying Shazam! is it is a superhero movie a younger set of kids can enjoy with their parents and older siblings. Yes, there are a couple of moments where parents are going to have to cover the kid’s eyes. But the movie is less intensive for younger audiences than the Marvel movies. As the MCU keeps building, the films themselves tend to move away from what could really be deemed appropriate for younger kids. Last year’s Infinity War had children upset at the demise of beloved heroes. Endgame will probably have a more uplifting ending, but will not be without its fair share of tears and death.
Shazam! stars a group of kids ranging from 7-18 dealing with the knowledge that one of them is a superhero. And doing it in a way which seems honest. They are going to have lots of silly questions, want to play with the powers, and show off.
The kids have grown up in a foster care system, but thanks to a good set of parents, are not cynical about life. The film’s family-friendly message tells kids they can choose to be a good person in the face of a bad life. It also tells parents and older siblings to be aware of how you treat those you are supposed to help raise.
Shazam! is a movie I would have loved as a kid. It is a modern-day Goonies or Flight of the Navigator. Goofy and just this side of overly meta, but it is also so much fun to watch.
The Nerdling was born in the majestic land known as Texas and currently resides there after several years of journeying through Middle Earth in a failed attempt to steal the one Ring from that annoying hobbit, serving the Galactic Empire for a time, and then a short stint as a crew member on the Serenity. Since moving back to her homeland, Nerdling flirted with a hero reputation. Saving children from the dangers of adoring domineering, sparkly vampires (champions with souls are the only vampires worth loving) and teaching normals the value of nerdom, all while rooting for her beloved Dallas Stars. Then came the Sokovia Accords and her short spell of saving others came to an end. With Darth Vader’s reputation rightfully returning to badass status, Nerdling is making her way back to the Empire. They do have cookies, you know. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.