Say My Name - Shazam! (REVIEW)
written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
The first DCEU movie of the year has movie goers taking Shazam, one of the most endearing heroes among the DC pantheon, for a spin in the greater DCEU. Starring Zachary Levi in the titular role with Asher Angel playing the younger Billy Batson, the cast also includes Jack Dylan Grazer, Grace Fulton, Faithe Herman, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, and features Mark Strong as the villainous Thaddeus Sivana and Djimon Hounsou as the Wizard Shazam. Set in the DCEU, evident with several references to Superman and Batman, it barely even scratches the surface of the greater DCEU and instead focuses on a more personal story. Billy Batson (Angel) is a 14-year-old orphan searching for the mother he lost when he was a kid, eventually he is taken into yet another group home by the loving Victor and Rosa Vasquez where he meets Freddy (Grazer), Mary (Fulton), Darla (Herman), Eugene (Chen), and Pedro (Armand). When Billy shows the potential for greatness, the Wizard Shazam offers Billy his power and by simply saying “Shazam” he is transformed into a champion (Levi) that rivals even Superman.
This sets forth a series of events where a literal 14-year-old boy in the body of a grown man has to navigate being given these powers and what it means to be a hero; turning to Freddy, the resident meta-human fanatic, for help. As Shazam, young Billy becomes a viral internet sensation and this ends up planting the young hero directly in Sivana’s (Strong) crosshairs. As a child himself, the Wizard Shazam offered Thaddeus Sivana the powers of Shazam; but when the young boy was rejected for not having a heart pure enough to be a hero, he grows to resent the old wizard and eventually with the help of the Seven Deadly Sins he attains a power to rival Billy’s… a power he intends to use to take Billy’s power.
Much in the same vein as Aquaman, Shazam’s first solo cinematic outing benefits from holding very few strings to the core DCEU. I still stand behind my statement in the Aquaman review where I say that Zack Snyder was a misguided visionary and his recent comments about Batman speak volumes of how little the man cares about comics and instead opts for a “wake up sheeple” douche-bro approach. An approach that could have ruined this movie if Snyder was even remotely attached to it.
Shazam! was an absolute delight, a movie full of heart, humor, and that ever important superhero action we need. Battles above the Philadelphia skyline scream less Man of Steel “I’m-gonna-destroy-this-city” and feel more like the classic Richard Donner Superman flicks. This picture is packed full of what Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice, and Justice League severely lacked… heart and soul. While I did (eventually) somewhat enjoy Dawn of Justice (the extended cut) and found positives with Justice League, all previous DCEU films before Aquaman (save for Wonder Woman) were so devoid of any joy they felt like vapid hollow shells wrapped in machismo and Snyder-dude-bro rhetoric. Snyder can direct the crap out of comic films like 300 and Watchmen, those were definitely in his wheelhouse… but granting him the DCEU was bullshit on Warner Bros part… a sentiment that is more clearly evident when watching a superhero flick as fun and exuberant as Shazam! is.
The theme of family, and finding a place to belong are echoed loudly here. From the example of a found family with the Vasquez home to Billy’s search for his birth mother. Lessons of how important family is, regardless of where they come from, is the life lesson young Billy has to navigate. Even in case of the villain, Thaddeus Sivana was a young boy who grew up with a cold and abusive father and older brother, to him family was a four letter word and compounded with the feeling of rejection he harbored from the Wizard, it’s no wonder the Seven Deadly Sins were able to manipulate him so easily.
There’s a certain purity to the youthful liveliness present here in Shazam! that few superhero films can capture, many people will be comparing this to Big (but with capes) and rightly so. Zachary Levi does such an amazing job convincingly playing a 14 year old kid, much in the same vein as Tom Hanks did in Big. I had so much fun watching Shazam! and can’t help but praise it. Pitch perfect casting, spot on pacing, and filled to the brim with fun. This is a movie you see and smile from ear to ear while watching. Shazam! gives us hope, a quality the DCEU has sorely lacked since it started with Man of Steel. Finally I’m 100% optimistic for the DCEU’s future; just keep Zack Snyder very far away from anything DC Comics from now on.
What superhero flicks should be… FUN!