Warner Bros.’ attempt to hop on the superhero train could only be described as a dumpster fire.
It took them several failed films, a half-dozen key personnel changes (Zack Snyder, Ben Afleck and Will Smith are all done with these movies, completely) and a couple of minor successes in “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman” to get to a point where the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) finally took a chance at something different.
“Shazam!” is that unique brand.
The pitch for the film is pretty simple: let’s see what it would be like if Tom Hanks’ “Big” and “Superman” were meshed together.
The result is an incredibly charming, fun film that sticks out as the only true comedy of the DCEU thus far.
The most refreshing aspect of “Shazam!” is that its comedy and central motifs are geared toward a family-friendly audience.
Sure, Iron Man throwing a witty quip at Captain America is clean, family fun, but the true comedy superhero films to come out of both Marvel and Fox were mostly marketed to please adults and older teenagers (“Deadpool,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Thor: Ragnarok”).
Here, we have a film that lives out every kid’s fantasy of being someone purer and greater than oneself, a beacon of positivity and light in a world that seems exponentially more frightening from the perspective of a child.
The lead of the film, Billy Batson, is a prime example of a kid whose path is taking him to a destination that is not pure and great.
The way he’s portrayed in the film, at least early on, is as a rotten, borderline- cruel ne’er-do-well who only thinks for his own wellbeing, almost too much so.
However, this decision to make Billy an incredibly awed character only anchors this corny, fantastical film into something rather real.
The amount of emotional depth added by Billy’s arc as a normal kid is one that is severely missing from other DCEU projects.
After a series of catastrophic and unlikely events, Billy finds himself receiving the ability to transform into essentially a god, attaining all of the main abilities and powers of the Greek pantheon (speed of Mercury, strength of Hercules, lightning of Zeus, etc.).
This leads to the main bulk of the movie where Billy, now the superpowered Shazam, learns how to use his powers both effectively and responsibly.
This seems quite straightforward at a glance, but it’s through this process of learning that we get most of the comedy and heart.
This is all built around the fact that Zachary Levi as Shazam is nothing short of perfect.
His ability to make Asher Angel’s Billy and his Shazam feel consistent and one as a character is impressive.
Even though in the film Billy grows a foot and a half and gains 100 pounds of muscle, the expressions, vocal delivery and comedic timing are all there across both actors.
The film’s theme of “family” and “knowing where home is” is done incredibly well here, tied up neatly by a controversial yet ultimately incredibly fun climax featuring a few surprises for both general audiences and comic book lovers.
Not without its flaws, “Shazam!” should be looked at as a perfect superhero film to sit down and indulge in with people of any age.
There is so much to be gleaned from this film for parents, young adults, teens and younger kids, packaged nicely with a load of clever laughs that feel both genuine and inclusive, offering every kid an opportunity to see themselves as the hero.
“Shazam!” succeeds in creating a story that is larger than life in an unimaginable world only by playing off the very obvious and human idea of making the characters feel so very real and personal to the audience.
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