Since no one else seems to want to say it, I will – Shazam! was awesome. This film isn’t just your average run of the mill superhero film that we have been inundated with. That is exactly what made it great! It’s a really great movie about friends and family and being a teenager with a crappy life. The film does not dwell on any of that though, instead, it uses these ideas to explore being a teenager. I don’t really mean that loosely either – seriously!
If you’ve read the comics, my guess is you already have an opinion on Billy Batson and on Shazam. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never picked up a single Shazam comic. I guess that could be part of the reason I enjoyed this movie so much and I’m positive it plays a role in the way I viewed the film overall.
After spending years looking for a worthy predecessor for his wizardry powers, The Wizard Shazam (played by Djimon Hounsou), in what we assume is his final living moments, finds Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel), a street smart fourteen-year-old foster kid, standing in front of him. As The Wizard Shazam no longer has the ability to continue his search as he has become too weak and sustained damage from a previous potential recruit, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (played by Mark Strong), he gifts Billy with his powers and proceeds to seemingly disintegrate. (For those paying close enough attention, I have my suspicions that he was in the scene with Billy and Freddy arguing at the bus)
Clearly half of a movie happens before any of that even happens – but it’s just the build-up and we all knew Billy was getting the powers. While the beginning provides for some back story, it is definitely the slowest and least interesting part of the film. After that though, we see Billy really start to struggle – and not just with his powers, but with finding himself. This is where the film gets great. There is some amazing humor and really, it is an interesting look at what a teenage boy would do if he suddenly got superpowers. Unlike Peter Parker, Billy doesn’t show any immediate interest in donning his alter-ego and saving the world, and unlike Bruce Wayne, a really crappy past doesn’t make him decide to seek justice (or perhaps, revenge). Instead, Billy wants to be a jokester and enjoy his newfound abilities to just have some fun. And I think that’s pretty cool. This is where, for me, the movie became more about relationships and growing up than being a superhero. Billy has had a seriously messed up life and has been hardened by the system, his abandonment, and his lack of stability of friendships, homes, and family. His growth into actually becoming Shazam (played by Zachary Levi), is a lot about realizing that he doesn’t have to do it alone.
Which actually brings me to one of my main gripes with the film – without spoiling anything. We barely got to know Shazam on his own. We’ve barely scratched the surface of his powers and what he can do. I get the direction the film went. I understand some of the reasoning behind it – and if we are looking at the film solely as watching a teenage boy go through challenging things and learning to rely on others, it absolutely fits and is a phenomenal ending. However, if you want to look at the film as a great superhero film that has potential to LATER ON become a bigger, larger, more complete story (based on the comics, anyway), then it is a fail.
I did walk out of the theater excited and feeling really good about the film overall. I thought the casting was phenomenal. For so many relatively unknown faces there was a lot of really great chemistry that didn’t feel forced. Both both Mark Strong and Zachary Levi did a phenomenal job taking two parts of a character and merging it into one. The other characters really played off each other’s strengths in each scene and brought their game faces to this blockbuster. It didn’t get all mushy and have overcomplicated romantic relationships like basically every other superhero film (or television show), but still was a really great “buddy” film. I also left with a ton of questions though and so much more information I want there to be. For everything they tried to put in, it did end up losing some of the basic facts that perhaps we will see in a second film.