Main cast: Asher Angel (William Batson), Zachery Levi (Adult Billy Batson/Shazam), Mark Strong (Dr Thaddeus Sivana), Jack Dylan Grazer (Frederick Freeman), Faithe Herman (Daria Dudley), Ian Chen (Eugene Choi), Jovan Armand (Pedro Peña), Grave Fulton (Mary Bromfield), Evan Marsh (Burke Breyer), Carson MacCormac (Brett Bryer), Marta Milans (Rosa Vasquez), Cooper Andrews (Victor Vasquez), John Glover (Mr Sivana), and Djimon Hounsou (Wizard Shazam)
Director: David F Sandberg
From a mystical place called the Rock of Eternity, six wizards once defended the world with magic while making sure that the demonic entities known as the Seven Deadly Sins remain trapped within seven statues. Now, only one wizard remain, Shazam, and being so ancient, his powers are waning and the Deadly Sins can’t wait to be free. Our Wizard Shazam summons people to the Rock of Eternity to find a champion to pass his powers on to, and so far nobody has been worthy, mostly because the test involves being tempted by the voices of the Seven Deadly Sins and it’s hard to say no to them.
One of these failed candidates is Thaddeus Silva. A child when he was summoned there, he was already a boy belittled as useless and weak by his father and brother. Having an old man call him unworthy, and being subsequently blamed for an accident that caused his father to be stuck in a wheelchair all caused his mind to snap, and now, as an adult, he makes it his lifelong mission to find a way back to the Rock of Eternity to confront that old Wizard Shazam again. He sets up a research facility supposedly to investigate “mass hysteria”, and eventually he pieces together all the information he needs through interviews with other failed candidates to activate a doorway to that place. He helps the Seven Deadly Sins break free and use his body as host in order to wreck havoc in the world.
Meanwhile, fourteen-year old Billy Batson is on a mission too. As a boy, he was at a fair with his mother when he lost her while trying to retrieve a small toy that fell on the ground, and… he never saw his mother again. Since then, he has been running away from various foster homes to track down women that could be his mother. His latest effort sees him being placed by social services into the home of Victor and Rosa Vasquez. Orphans themselves, the couple take in various children who couldn’t fit in with other homes or families, and this is how Billy finds himself in a family composed of a motley crew of kids: his roommate Freddy who needs a crutch to walk and who is obsessed about superheroes, the video game-obsessed kid Eugene, the teenage girl Mary whose entire personality consists of her having a hard time choosing between going away to college and continue to stay close to her beloved family, the pudgy and silent Pedro, and the youngest “sibling”, the emotionally needy but kind Daria.
Billy doesn’t see them as his family, however, and believes that families are for weak people who can’t take care of themselves. As a streetwise kid, he just needs to watch out for himself and look for his mother. I know, the last bit suggests that he does crave to be part of a family again, but hey, he’s only fourteen and edgy.
It is after he reluctantly distracts the school bullies from trashing Freddy that he finds himself at the Rock of Eternity. Weakened by his fight with Silva, the Wizard Shazam tries to convince Billy to grasp his shaft and call out his name – to which Billy correctly goes, eeuw, gross. Fortunately, we’re taking about a magic staff, not… you know, and Billy humors that old man, only to realize that after calling “Shazam!” he is now transformed into a grown-up man in padded spandex red suit. In a panic, he turns to Freddy, who is the superhero expert, and the two of them have to figure out what the new Shazam is capable of, since the Wizard Shazam got Thanos-ed after passing his powers on to Billy. Meanwhile, the powered-up Silva is warned by the Seven Deadly Sins that there is a new Shazam in town, and our villain sets out to destroy him.
Oh, and in case you think Shazam is a dumb name, it’s actually an acronym of sorts, as the guy who gets the powers of Shazam will gain:
The wisdom of Solomon
The strength of Hercules
The stamina of Atlas
The power of Zeus
The courage of Achilles
The speed of Mercury
Mind you, the whole setting doesn’t seem very Greek, but this is a superhero movie. It already makes more sense than most typical Marvel superhero movies, and poor Shazam was originally called Captain Marvel until Marvel’s lawyers stepped in and snatched the name to promote their own Miss Marvel into a Captain. So in a way, yes, Shazam is the original Captain Marvel, and it’s true, sometimes you can’t beat the original. This movie is miles better than the recent Captain Marvel.
Shazam! is easily the most successful lighthearted superhero romp to date in the DCEU, and it’s a good thing here because the humor is integrated in such a cohesive, organic way that it coexists well with some of the darker, more adult elements as well as the more emotional aspects of the story. There is no one-liner spewed after emotional or nerve-wrecking moments to make sure that this movie never threatens to cause the audience to feel any ounce of emotion. The cast is racially diverse, but there is nothing in this movie that goes out of its way to shove at my face how woke the script is by having such a diverse cast, and there is no overt left-wing political virtue signaling or Trump-bashing stuff to make me roll up my eyes. Even more refreshing is how this one remains a superhero movie while downplaying its adherence to the origins superhero movie formula. All in all, the very fundamental structure of this movie is different enough from those of the sea of incessant superhero movies flooding the market at the moment to make it stand out as something fresh and fun.
Zachary Levi is easily the MVP here – actually, I can argue that he and Jack Dylan Grazer not only have good chemistry together, they are playing the only characters in the movie that have any semblance of personality. In Mr Levi’s case, he has the thankless role of sharing the same role with Asher Angel, who plays the “kid” version of Billy, but he completely overshadows the younger actor with his exuberance and glee when playing a fourteen-year old boy in a superhero’s body. What could be hammy and cringe-inducing with another actor becomes a laugh-out loud funny tour de force with Mr Levi. The rest of the younger cast, meanwhile, are thankfully not annoying – mostly because most of their roles are barely there. The biggest roles are held by Mr Asher and Mr Grazer, and both manage to make their characters sympathetic when I’m supposed to feel that way, and funny when I’m supposed to be amused by them. Faithe Herman’s character could have easily been a Full House-style diabetic nightmare, but the script and the actress instead allow Daria to come off as cute instead.
Oh, and Agent Merlin is pretty fun to watch as a villain. In fact, all that quiet sinister thing he has going for him is kind of sexy. Ahem, not that I’ve ever said that out loud, of course.
I also like how the script allows Shazam to behave like a teenage boy suddenly granted amazing powers: instead of saving the world, he seeks to impress people, charge them money for selfies, buy beer without needing a fake ID, and sneak a peek at the neighborhood strip club. Predictably, he gets a rude schooling about responsibility and family when Silva threatens his new family, but until then, he’s just a brat. That’s how I know the movie is awesome: the brat and his fellow brats here don’t make me want to throw myself off a cliff to end the pain. Instead, I actually adore them.
Not that this movie is a completely kids-friendly thing, though. Aside from the occasional four-lettered words and displays of middle fingers, the movie has some pretty dark themes too. Silva may be a villain, but he is the product of an emotionally abusive family environment. There are scenes of violence that, while not gory, are not family-friendly either – a notable scene is one in which the Seven Deadly Sins straight up murder a boardroom full of people in a brutal way, with the lack of blood and guts spraying all over the place being the only reason why this movie doesn’t have an R rating. However, these scenes are all framed in a natural “Yeah, this is what bad guys do!” way without contrived edgy gimmicks like slow-motion frames and other nonsense.
Really, the best thing about Shazam! is its honesty in just wanting the audience to have a good time, without trying too hard to score woke points or following a formula. It’s fun, it has enough emotional moments to balance the action-driven stuff, and all in all, it is pure, solid entertainment from start to finish. Okay, the CGI could be better, but I can live with what I get, as most of everything else about the original Captain Marvel rocks so much.