With not one, but two movies coming out that center around a character that is, or at least was, at one time known as Captain Marvel (DC changed the name of their superhero to Shazam! in the 1970s to avoid confusion with their rival company), does this mean we’re one step closer to the DCEU and MCU crossover we’ve been waiting for?
No, it really doesn’t.
From Lights Out (which is great!) and Annabelle: Creation (which isn’t great!) director David F. Sandberg — a man who’s clearly following in his mentor James Wan’s footsteps, as Wan also started in horror and then went on to direct Aquaman — Shazam! is the latest DC movie that some people are already calling the best comic book movie of the year and, in some cases, the decade.
We’re going to slow down bold statements like those right this very second because I’ll tell you right now that while Shazam! is good, it has nothing on Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) isn’t really the kind of guy you’d call a “family person.”
Actually, scratch that, he might actually be a family person in some sense, he just doesn’t like being told who and who isn’t his family.
When Billy was just a young kid, he was separated from his mother (Caroline Palmer). When the authorities were unable to track down what happened to her, Billy was then sent to live in a foster home — a notion that he almost immediately rejected as he quickly ran away and tried to find his missing mother for himself.
He had no such luck and then spent the next ten years or so bouncing around to different homes, only to be met with the same result every time.
So, when a couple of former foster home children named Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor Vasquez (Cooper Andrews) adopt Billy and introduce him to his new siblings — Mary (Grace Fulton), Pedro (Jovan Armand), Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Eugene (Ian Chen) and Darla (Faithe Herman) — he doesn’t intend to stick around very long.
He doesn’t intend to stick around for very long until he’s turned into a superhero, that is.
Billy is mindlessly riding the subway one day when, out of nowhere, the lights start blinking and the windows ice up. Once it stops, it doesn’t take a detective to realize that he’s no longer in New York City but has somehow been transported to some kind of mystical-looking world.
Upon exploring the area, Billy finds an old wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who’s wearing a ridiculous-looking outfit. This man, who has been searching for someone like Billy for a long, long time, is on the verge of dying and needs his new friends’ help.
More specifically, he needs to give Billy the powers of super strength, speed and flight so that he can defeat a new evil that’s emerged in the form of a man named Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).
Now turned into a grown man that’s played by Zachary Levi, Billy has to make sense of what all this means and, more importantly, figure out how he — who deep down is still just a kid — can make any kind of difference in the world.
Yes, that means we’re going to get another message of “with great power comes great responsibility” thrown at us once again but, really, Shazam! is a whole lot more like Chronicle than it is Spider-Man.
Chronicle with a good amount of Big thrown in there too, which is a fact that even Sandberg realizes and he openly references the Penny Marshall classic during Shazam!
The one thing you’ll hear from just about everyone when it comes to Shazam! is that this movie wears its heart on its sleeve, which is absolutely true. Sandberg makes no attempt to hide the film’s themes of family and responsibility, which at times can be just a little bit heavy-handed.
Other times, though, those themes work really quite well. The whole idea of Billy being placed in a family of misfits he doesn’t have anything in common with might have a formulaic outer layer, but the further that Shazam! dives into it, the more layered and respectable it comes. By the time the credits roll, Sandberg has created a really endearing and kind of beautiful love letter to foster families, adoption and the environments that people like Billy — meaning real, actual people — grew up in.
The other thing you’ll hear from just about everyone when it comes to Shazam! is that Zachary Levi is a hoot in it, which is, once again, absolutely true.
Levi is clearly having the time of his life here, as he looks thrilled just to have landed the role. His charisma is so contagious that even when the movie slows down or the script isn’t quite up to par, he’s able to trick you into having such a good time that you won’t even notice those problems.
He’s surrounded by a pretty impressive cast, too. Again, I’m going to point to the foster family element here, because what impressed me the most was some of the younger talent. Dylan Grazer, who made a name for himself in It, is given more to do than any of the other young actors, and rightfully so because Dylan Grazer is a delight and manages to get better and better every time he appears on screen.
That being said, all of the actors playing are given their own moment in the spotlight — and if you’ve read the new 52 comic-book (which I actually have! I’m 2/2 this week on reading the source material beforehand between this and Pet Sematary), you probably know what I mean by that. While not everyone is given the same amount of screen time, the point is that they all at least have *something* to do by the time the credits roll.
As for Levi’s adult co-stars, they mostly just left me wanting more.
Hounso is apparently hellbent on appearing in every comic-book movie ever made between this, Captain Marvel, Aquaman and Guardians of the Galaxy. The sad thing is that none of those movies have really found good use of his talent. His role here is minimal, which is fine I guess because that’s how the character should be written, but none of his scenes really standout or pop in any kind of way.
Mark Strong, meanwhile, is pretty much the same Mark Strong we’re expecting him to be. They do a couple of things early on with his character that suggests he might be a more interesting villain, but he’s completely reduced to mustache-twirling antics by the halfway point.
The one cool thing about the villains, though, comes from Sandberg. As I had hoped he would, Sandberg brings some of his love for horror with him into Shazam! and creates some really creepy looking ghouls for Billy to fight. This movie might be selling itself as a care-free ruckus, but I’m fairly confident that those monsters would have scared me as a kid.
The last thing about Shazam! that everyone will tell you is that it’s a light and fun movie. That’s also true, and if that’s all you want from the film, you’ll likely come away satisfied.
I, myself, was looking for just a little bit more. Maybe it’s because of all the hype that was built around in Shazam! in the early screenings or maybe it’s just because I’ve seen a hundred light and fun comic-book movies at this point (Thor: Ragnarok, Venom, etc.) and was hoping to see something that’s just slightly different. Granted, there are some things this movie does new, but at the end of the day, it still consents to all the clichés of the genre that are so overdone at this point.
All things considered, Shazam! likely isn’t going to be the best superhero movie of the year and it’s not DC’s best to date, either (that still goes to Wonder Woman). Yet, this is still an extremely watchable and enjoyable flick that’s going to introduce a lot of new fans to the character of Billy Batson in a pretty incredible way, which definitely shouldn’t be ignored, either.
Watch the trailer for Shazam! here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought about the film!
'Shazam!' - Will the real Captain Marvel please stand up? [REVIEW]7