Brings pure joy to the pure of heart (and the rest of us)
With just one word, teenager Billy Batson can transform into a mighty superhero, and apparently that same word can transform the fate of the troubled DC Extended Universe.
Yes, “Shazam!” is that good.
The central concept of “Shazam” is the question: “What would a teenager do with superpowers in modern day?” Apparently, the answer is try to buy beer, become YouTube famous and make some money as a street performer.
The movie is your typical run-of-the-mill superhero origin story, until it’s not. Sure, Billy (Asher Angel) is a troubled orphaned teenager, but he earns his powers for being a good person, not because of some freak accident or tragic backstory.
After sticking up for his new differently abled foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Billy gets the opportunity of a lifetime, one that most teenagers would, like, literally die to have.
The powerful wizard Shazam offers the young protagonist his powers (the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Athena and the speed of Mercury) with two conditions: he must be “pure of heart” and protect the world from the Seven Deadly Sins. Billy politely declines, saying that he is far from a good person.
To understand his initial reluctance, you have to understand Billy Batson the teenager first. Billy is a bit anti-social and has something of a rebellious streak. He also thinks he’s too cool for his foster family. He is more concerned with finding his birth mother after losing her at a carnival than getting to know them. But deep down, Billy is a caring person, if not a little heartbroken. The wizard can see this, and eventually convinces Billy to agree.
The heart and charm of “Shazam” are what elevates the movie from being just another CGI superhero slug fest. Instead of being a wall-to-wall, action roller coaster, “Shazam” decides to craft a pretty compelling family drama. And it works. You feel for Billy. You feel for Freddy. Heck, you even feel for the bad guy, Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong).
And with that said, Zachary Levi as Shazam is truly a delight. His ability to bring both heart and levity to a character that is the definition of wish fulfillment makes the film. Without his youthful glee that he brings to the big screen, the entire concept would fall flat. Shazam even flosses — a popular dance amongst teens, or so I’ve been told —and it feels completely organic and not forced, which is not often the case.
“Shazam” is not without its bumps and bruises though. The film is light on action for most of its runtime, something that some viewers may find annoying. It also falls into the trope of the bad guy having similar abilities as the hero, but this makes sense given the context of the film.
Ultimately, “Shazam!” is a fun time. It’s not the devastating gut-punch that some other superheroes films have been (looking at you “Avengers: Infinity War”), but that’s OK. It more than holds its own and is a welcome sign for the future of the DCEU.
Also, for those interested, there is one mid-credits scene and one after the credits finish.
“Shazam” dances into theaters April 5. Wizards, superheroes and flossing, what more could you want?