When it was first revealed that the seminal Golden Age DC character Captain Marvel would be the subject of a big budget movie, I immediately thought how wonderful it must be to write such a character. Billy Batson, the protagonist who summons the power of Shazam!, the wizard who bestowed him the power, is a 14-year-old boy.
MINOR SPOILERS BELOW
The jokes would literally write themselves, and the final version of Shazam! proved my initial observation to be spot on.
Like the comic books of old, Billy Batson is a foster child. But in this reimagining, he is searching for the mother who abandoned him when he was an infant. Eventually, he comes under the care of a loving foster couple, played by Cooper Adams and Marla Milans.
The zeal with which actor Zachary Levi plays Shazam is very old fashioned and borderline cheesy. As is stated in the film regarding Shazam’s costume by a subway rider ‘It shouldn’t work, but it works!’
No gratuitously destructive fight scenes where entire cities are leveled, not unbelievably brilliant scientific minds coming up with strategy, no intergalactic threats that would be overwhelming for the most high powered superhero you can think of. Just lots of fun and lots of moral tales about finding family and defending those who cannot defend themselves.
First trailer for SHAZAM!
They say boys will be boys, and the pranks propelled much of the early half of the film like kerosene on a charcoal grill. To say that Levi was perfect in this role would be spot on. The grin, the physique, the mannerisms, and facial expressions brought the character alive in ways that I can’t imagine another actor be able to do after seeing this film.
As was quoted in Variety’s review of the film, Zachary Levi is playing the role of a superhero with an impostor complex, and it really shows on his face, too. It looks like he’s thinking “Can you believe this? I’m a SUPERHERO!” in almost every scene.
Actor Asher Angel is going to be a superstar in a matter of time if he keeps working at his craft. He wowed me with his take on Billy Batson. He’s not angry at the world for his disposition in life, but he is saddened by the realization that his mother may have lost him on purpose.
However, his street smarts are just a bit too smart for adult authority figures, who’re doing their best to protect Billy from himself. He’s been through six foster homes at the opening of the movie and is depicted as a chronic runaway risk. He is indeed rebellious, but it is only out of the longing for a secure, stable home with his real mother.
Directed by David F. Sandberg from a screenplay by Henry Gayden, Shazam! is filled with superheroic feats that any superhero origin story would have. But unlike most, other than Deadpool, Shazam! doesn’t take itself serious at all. And, unlike Deadpool, the overwhelming majority of the humor can be appreciated by an 11-year-old.
Jack Dylan Grazer plays Freddy, Batson’s disabled foster sibling who is brave in his own right but lacks the tools to back up his bravado. He teaches Billy all about superhero lore, which he is mostly disinterested in, almost as soon as Billy arrives in the home.
His other siblings are played by Jovan Armand, Eugene Choi, Michelle Morth, and Faithe Herman.
Actor Mark Strong plays Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, cold-hearted bad guy who was once a misunderstood child. Initially, he is also propositioned by the Wizard as a child, but he fails a test of morality and is deemed unfit.
Later in life, after spending time and millions in resources to track down the magical being who once spurned him, Sivana is drunk by his lust for power and won’t stop until he gets a hold of the very ungodly power that the Wizard was trying to keep safe.
Though villains have been substantially upgraded in this genre of film in the past ten years, the motivation for Sivana is perhaps the most simplistic and human of them all, sheer jealousy. He’s still jealous that he wasn’t chosen wield the power of Shazam in the first place, and takes it out on the real deal when the two meet.
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Compared to modern superheroes, even re-imagined version of old standards like Superman, Batman, Iron Man and the like, Shazam’s costume looks crazy old fashioned.
That’s likely because the aesthetics of the character remain largely unchanged. Aside from the glowing lightning bolt, which was just a yellow logo in the comic books, the entire costume looks like it was pulled straight from 1940.
Through the backstory, through the somewhat cliche origin story, and even though the savagery displayed by the primary villain, Shazam! implores the viewer “Laugh at me, damn it!” And that’s exactly what I did.
Unlike most DC Universe offerings, you HAVE to stay until after the credits roll for a really special surprise. There were also several very special and unsuspected surprised sprinkled throughout the latter third of the movie. No, we won’t spoil them.
All and all, Shazam! is a well-made and acted departure from the morbidity of recent Marvel and DC Cinematic offerings. Though some would mention it with the Deadpool franchise, I feel like Shazam! is in a class all of its own. A great standalone work that will not be topped anytime soon.