Shazam! is Quite Marvel-ous
Chris Kavan - wrote on 04/11/19
Before Captain Marvel there was... Captain Marvel - but DC had to let go of the rights and thus we get Shazam! instead. I guess it worked out for the best because you just can't help but smile when you say Shazam! (I dare you to try - and if you can... YOU MONSTER!) - and you can't help but smile while watching the latest DCEU film.
Shazam! comes on the heels of Aquaman, where DC decided to cut loose and have a little fun. While Aquaman was nearly over-the-top with its action and just its look, Shazam! is much more grounded - and it owes a lot to the Tom Hanks classic Big (which it pays homage to in a fun way). Our "hero" as it is, is not an alien from a distant planet, or a billionaire with a lot of toys or a warrior from a secretive race - no, he's actually just an ordinary kid granted extraordinary powers.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is not exactly an ordinary kid. Having been abandoned by his mother, he spends his time going from foster home to foster home, escaping from would-be-families and group homes alike, amassing a list of Batson names, hoping to track down his mother. He is given one more chance to set things right, finding himself in the care of Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews) who have a house full of family: Mary (Grace Fulton), the oldest, is getting ready for college. Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand) is the big, quiet one. Eugene Choi (Ian Chen) is a video-game addict (both console and mobile, of course). Youngest Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman) is a chatter hugger. And his new roommate Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) has a disability, but doesn't let it get him down, as he is a big superhero fan. This melting pot of a family seems pretty loving, but Billy is already plotting his next escape.
Meanwhile, on another plane of existence, Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) is the last of seven wizards, whose power is waning, threatening the release of the seven deadly sins unto the world. Making matters worse is Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), who was courted by the wizard as a child only to be rejected, and has grown obsessed with finding a way back - not for the wizard's power, but that of the sins. When he succeeds, Shazam, who has spent decades trying to find a worthy soul to inherit his power, has a final candidate - Billy. Thus, by uttering his name while holding his staff, he transforms into a real-live adult hero (Zachary Levi).
The great fun with Shazam! is watching how Billy adapts to this sudden power. Of course he must consult with his new brother, who seems to be pretty keen on superheroes. We get to watch as he discover the extent of his powers (lighting -yes, flying? not so much) as well as trying to settle on an awesome superhero name: Thundercrack? Captain Sparklefist? Mr. Philadelphia? Power Guy? Zaptain America? (a sly nod to the whole Captain Marvel naming rights) - half the fun it trying to catch them all! But after becoming an online sensation, Billy still doesn't have a clue what to do - thus he spends his time talking selfies for money, re-charging phones and going to strip clubs (well, just the one - but it's a great scene). Things change, however, when Dr. Sivana finds him and poses an actual challenge - and a danger to his new family.
The latter part of the film is Billy coming to terms with what family means. Though he has spent years trying to find his mother - the resolution of this life-long quest turns out much different than he could hope for, while his new family proves much more than he gives them credit for. Humor plays a big part in Shazam, but it's not everything. Beneath the fun is a lot of heart and the DCEU proves once again that light-hearted and emotional works much better than dark and brooding. In fact, after Wonder Woman and Aquaman, I would say the series is firmly headed down the right track. Finding the right balance between humor and heart is what has made many of the Marvel films so good and it seems DC has also found the way and now they just have to keep things going.
Shazam benefits from the performances, Levi is excellent as the boy trapped in a man's body while the young cast also manages to stand out, especially Grazer. Strong even makes a worthy villain - and he is good at playing bad - and the end-credit teaser promises we haven't seen the last of him. Even though they don't get as much screen time, all the children are given just enough quirks to make them stand out. Plus, the film has a great soundtrack that works in all sorts of ways. In the end, Shazam! works because it knows how to have fun while still providing a nice emotional core. If this is the direction the DCEU is going, I'm willing to stick with it.