Looking at ‘Shazam!’, which sits as the seventh entry in the DC connected universe of films, we see just how far the course has been corrected - no longer are DC making films about sad people fighting in rain, but vibrant and heartfelt pieces that make the heroism of their characters shine bright. ‘Shazam!’ is another brilliant exemplification of DC firing on all cylinders. With brilliant characters, earned humour and heroics, an astounding cast, and an emphasis on enjoyment, ‘Shazam’ is a delightful superhero romp with a sweet message at its centre.
The film centres on Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a fourteen-year-old who runs from foster home to foster home. After a failed attempt to decipher his roots, he is setup to live with the Vazquez family and their other five foster kids. But even before Billy can settle into his new family, he is transported to the realm of an ancient wizard named Shazam, who is desperate to imbue his powers to someone pure of heart. He enlists his powers in Billy, who by uttering the name Shazam, turns into a godlike superhero in the vein of Superman. He and his foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer, ‘It’) try to unravel all of Billy’s newfound powers while fighting the villainous Doctor Sivana (Mark Strong, ‘Kingsman’ series).
It's difficult not to speak of ‘Shazam!’ without associating it with the films that have preceded it. It understands what is needed tonally from this character in ways that have plagued previous films. One of the film’s innate highlights is just how much fun there is to be had throughout its duration. The film is filled with heart, humour and heroism in ways that DC films have been criticised for lacking in the past. ‘Shazam!’ is intended for a younger audience, but despite this, it is endlessly enjoyable and caters to many age brackets. The story is refreshing, the tone is lighter, and even has a degree of Amblin-esque vibes about it. The world and style to which ‘Shazam!’ is produced works magnificently.
Moreover, a lot of this stems from the casting and the terrific work that the cast and the filmmakers put into the various characterisations of these beloved heroes. Actor Zachary Levi (‘Tangled’) did not have an easy task ahead of him. Playing a fourteen-year-old in the body of an adult superhero would be challenging to make the character believable, and ensure it's not grating. However, his surpasses all challenges and is absolutely electrifying in this role. In the same degree that Gadot is Wonder Woman and Momoa is Aquaman, Zachary Levi is Shazam. Equally, hilarious and vulnerable. Cocky yet kind, he remarkably runs the field with great humour and emotion. Similar praise has to be given to Jack Dylan Grazer as Billy’s foster brother Freddy. He gives the film some of its best laughs and creates a character so likeable and wellformed, the pair work great off each other. You’re with them throughout their journey, as they effortlessly remind you of how good a time you are having.
But above it all, for as much as ‘Shazam!’ offers this wish fulfilment and spectacle, its heart lies in its message about family. The film goes to great measure to explore what the idea of what family means; where you find it, what it means to you, and the idea that it extends beyond what we biologically consider to be family. It's an endearing sentiment, and offers a great message that anybody can be a superhero and you can find your family in any place you’re open to calling a home. The heart in ‘Shazam!’ is its greatest strength, sending a powerful message that can resonate with one and all, sealing a charming result.
Not to say the film isn’t without its faults, but it must be stated that it is such an enjoyable time, these issues never quite deteriorate the film in the way it could in a lesser project. Despite having the captivating Mark Strong, Doctor Sivana isn’t the most complex villain, and tends to just tick off the bad guy formula without much memorability. The special effects are a bit hit-and-miss, while structurally the film isn’t always as tight as it could be. But to reiterate, these really are minor gripes within a film that works so well.
‘Shazam!’ signals another strong entry in the growing DC universe of films. For a series that was once so dire, the films that have centred on individual heroes have been knocking it out of the park. ‘Shazam!’ adopts an alternate tone and offers different ideas to the genre, and the result is refreshing throughout. Throw in a brilliant ensemble of performers and a sense of creativity so divergent from other superhero cinematic offerings, and it is one wonderfully charming time. Say his name and see ‘Shazam!’