‘Shazam!’ is fun, both as a superhero movie and a family comedy


The DC comics cinematic universe, admittedly, started off poorly. Warner Brothers, in their attempt to create the magic of a group superhero film, like 2012’s “The Avengers,” introduced all their characters far too quickly. Additionally, the overly dark tone found in “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League” did not sit well with fans, and neither did the lackluster ensemble of “Suicide Squad.” However, it appears that DC might have finally figured something out, as films like “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman” were quite successful, with DC deciding to put their films in the hands of interesting directors with creative freedom. And that trend graciously continues with the charming fun of “Shazam!”

“Shazam!” follows troubled foster child Billy Batson (Asher Angel) as he is once again placed in a new home after running away from his previous one. While still adjusting to his new life, Billy has a strange encounter with a ancient wizard named Shazam, who informs him that he has been chosen to have his power passed onto him. As Billy utters the wizards name, he is transformed into a super-powered fully grown adult (Zachary Levi). However, as Billy learns to deal with his new powers while also trying to fit in with his new family, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) arrives, and makes his intention very clear: killing Billy Batson and taking his power for himself.

“Shazam!” is a fine superhero movie, but an even better family comedy. At the heart of “Shazam!” is a story about a lonely foster kid struggling to fit in with his surroundings. It’s heartfelt and charming, while still maintaining a childlike fun throughout the movie, which is essential to any story starring this superhero. Shazam is a child in an adults body, and director David Sandberg was able to nail that. While you might be looking at a fully grown adult, there is not a moment that goes by where you forget that you are watching a 14 year old trying to figure how to be a superhero. It’s an adorable story that, at its core, has a great message about working together and embracing those around you instead of pushing people away. While many other superhero movies are about the lone hero’s journey to make himself stronger, “Shazam!” does the exact opposite, and is all the better for it.

On the topic of that childlike atmosphere, the joint performance of Asher Angel and Zachary Levi is delightful. Angel handles the brunt of the emotional center of the film, and does so pretty gracefully. On the other hand, Levi is an absolute bundle of energy that you can’t help but smile at. Mark Strong provides for a fairly intimidating villain, and while I do not have time to name them all here, the ensemble of other foster children are hilarious and lovable, with a special shoutout for Jack Dylan Grazer of “It.” fame, as “Freddy Freeman,” who provides a lot of the comic relief.

In terms of negatives, “Shazam!” could be paced a little better. The movement from plot point to plot point is fine, but there are times where it feels like an emotional beat needs to resonate for just a little longer before moving on, making it sometimes feel like a character has had a change of heart relatively quickly. It doesn’t kill the film by any means, but it does feel a little awkward at times.

Is “Shazam!” the best superhero film? Not by any means. Is it a good time? Most definitely. “Shazam!” is a welcome departure from the gritty realism and high stakes from some of the previous DC films, and will have you leaving the theater with a smile. If you’re looking for a simple good time, “Shazam!” is a fun one for the whole family.