By HARRY FISHER
“Shazam” is the latest entry in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). In some ways, there’s a lot riding on this film’s success. Most of the films in the DCEU lineup have met with mixed or negative reception from critics and audiences, with “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman” being the only two that really had any positive reception. Additionally, the recent controversies over actors Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck stepping down from their roles as Superman and Batman respectively has put the future of the DCEU and its continuity in question.
Even though DC had a solid hit with “Aquaman” in December, “Shazam” really needed to impress audiences if DC wanted to get its film universe back on track. Fortunately, “Shazam” has turned out to be a pretty well-made film, with all the action, comedy and heart that it needed to keep the DCEU alive.
The movie stars Asher Angel as Billy Batson, a teenage runaway living in Philadelphia. He’s spent the last several years searching for his mother, who he was separated from as a child. However, he gets adopted by a foster family, who try to be kind and welcoming to him, but his nature as a loner causes him to remain indifferent to them. But he does begin to forge a friendship with his new foster brother, Freddy Freeman, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, who has an extensive knowledge on super heroes like Superman and Batman.
After an encounter with an ancient wizard named Shazam, Billy inherits his powers and becomes the new Shazam, gaining the ability to transform into an older version of himself with various super powers, by simply saying the word “Shazam.” The older Billy is played by Zachary Levi. After Billy shares his secret with Freddy, the two of them begin to experiment with his powers to see what he can do.
At first, Billy uses his powers irresponsibly, to impress people and gain money. But when Billy and his family are threatened by Thaddeus Sivana, a man possessed by the Seven Deadly Sins who have granted him similar powers to Shazam, Billy must learn to use his powers to act as a true hero in order to stop Sivana.
What makes the film so fun is that the main character is a kid who gets super powers, so we get to see all the ridiculous things he does with those powers. We get whole montages of Billy and Freddy messing around with Billy’s powers, trying to figure out exactly what powers he has and using Billy’s ability to transform into an adult to do things like buy beer. The movie has a goofy, adolescent side to it, which makes it unique, as it answers the question of what immature kids would do if they got superpowers.
Another great thing about the film is that it doesn’t always succumb to generic superhero tropes. In most movies like this, the protagonist would probably be presented as a nice kid who’s bullied by his uncaring foster family. But in this movie, Billy is the one who is indifferent to his foster family while they try to be loving and accepting toward him.
It’s refreshing to see something like this in a superhero film. The main character isn’t presented as being a perfect, selfless individual with no flaws or weaknesses, the recipe for a boring character. Rather, the hero of this story has to learn a lesson in humility and responsibility, and prove that he is truly worthy of the powers he’s been granted.
The movie isn’t perfect, though. A lot of the fight scenes tend to be slow and drag on longer than they need to. And even though Mark Strong does a good job playing Thaddeus Sivana, the Seven Deadly Sins feel like wasted villains, as they barely have any character development other than being evil demons. This is especially disappointing since they all have unique character designs, and they could have been much cooler and more threatening monsters if they had actually been given more personality.
Also, there are a lot of things in the movie that don’t make sense or don’t go anywhere. For example, one of Billy’s super powers is supposed to be “the wisdom of Solomon,” implying that he will gain super intelligence by turning into Shazam, but he doesn’t appear to be any more intelligent when he transforms. This is a pretty minor plot hole, but the movie has several other gaps in logic like this one, and it’s hard not to notice them.
Still, the movie is funny and has plenty of great action, the cast is great, and it has a lot of heart, making it a good family movie. Of course, there are some pretty intense scenes with Sivana and his demon horde killing people that feel like something out of a horror movie, so be aware of that if you happen to bring any kids with you to see this film.
Overall, “Shazam” is definitely a step in the right direction for the DCEU. Although it’s not a perfect movie, it’s a great introduction for the character of Shazam into the world of film and a pretty fun superhero movie to boot. So far, the film is getting pretty positive reception from both critics and audiences, so hopefully it will be the start of a brighter future for the DCEU.