STARRING: Asher Angel, Zachary Levi, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mark Strong, Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Faithe Herman, Meagan Good, Cooper Andrews, Marta Milans D.J Cotrona, Adam Brody, Michelle Borth and Ross Butler
We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s case, by shouting out one word – SHAZAM! – this streetwise fourteen-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult superhero Shazam.
Set in Philadelphia, we follow young foster kid Billy Baston being placed into a group home run by Victor and Rosa Vazquez, who have fid other foster kids: Mary, Pedro, Eugene, Darla and Freddy. When at school, Billy saves Freddy from two bullies and is chased into the subway where he escapes from them. This leads to Billy being summoned by a dying wizard who chooses him as champion to transfer and carry on his magic if he just holds onto the staff and says his name…Shazam!
Shazam! is the latest DC film from Warner Bros./New Line Cinema, directed by David F. Sandberg, that opens in 1974 New York where we focus on a young kid named Thaddeus Sivana being magically transported to the Rock of Eternity, a magical temple where he is met by an ancient wizard known as Shazam. Shazam explains that he’s looking for a new champion, who is pure of heart, to defend the world from the Seven Deadly Sins. As he’s tempted by the Sins promises of power, Sivana is deemed unworthy to be champion by Shazam and is banished back to Earth. In present day, Philadelphia, we meet foster kid Billy Baston, whose moved from group home to group home due to him always leaving as he searches for his mother. As he moves into a new group home run by Victor and Rosa Vazquez, he protects one of their foster kids, Freddy, from some bullies and is summoned by Shazam and deems him worthy to pass on his magic to him.
Shazam! is a film that knows exactly what it is, wants to be and fully excels in being light-hearted and poking fun at itself (the first instance that Billy Baston is Shazam! Levi is mocked for his look, even in one instance when the foster family have a discussion about the superhero at the dinner table). I’m more impressed that, for the most part, this film actually feels like a superhero film with a studio budget purposely aimed at kids, whilst mostly having a young cast as the focus. Billy Baston is a interesting character to have as the focus, as we see him trying to act like an adult though he’s a teen, as he shy’s away from developing friendships or relationships with his foster parents and foster siblings as he has one goal and one goal only and that’s to find his mother he was separated from at a young age. Once he become Shazam! however, after the initial panic of being a kid inside a grown mans body, we see him coming out of his shell, goofing off as he learns what powers he has, step-by-step alongside Freddy, and starts to exploit it for financial gain and admiration more so than actually being an instant hero. It’s a nice character growth arc for the character and it feels reminiscent of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man film back in 2002 in regards to tone. Asher Angel is great as Billy Baston, having to handle the more dramatic and emotional moments of the film and there’s one specific scene in the film that will cut deep for some people and I definitely felt the emotion from it as it caught me off-guard. Zachary Levi is perfectly cast as the adult form of Billy once he transforms to Shazam!, he portrays the childish enthusiasm well, especially as he goes through the process of elimination of working what powers he has/may not have and whenever he comes face to face with Sivana. Jack Dylan Grazer is great as Freddy Freeman, geeking out over Billy’s newfound powers and also Freddy trying to help him as he has more knowledge of superhero stuff. He works particularly better with Levi’s Shazam! more so than Angel’s Billy Baston, but Grazer bounces off both of them well. Out of the other foster kids, Faithe Herman is the highlight as Darla. Actually, having a foster family that loved each other and had great foster parents is a welcome change seeing on the big screen, as we’re too used to seeing at least the foster parents either being abusive or using foster kids to earn a quick buck.
Whilst the film is fun and able to have a few jabs at its own expense, there is a certain scenes that feels like they’re in a completely different film that caught me completely off guard. Not’s that a gripe on the film, it’s just that it’s different in tone to the overall family-comic book vibe that with one scene in particular that might just not be suitable for the young ones under…ten? Arguably. There’s a few issues with the special effects, primarily with the flying sequences which are more Matrix Reloaded looking rather than Man of Steel. Whilst being a solid foil to Levi’s Shazam and being a menacing presence as the villain, Mark Strong’s Dr. Thaddeus Sivana is a weak villain. Whilst giving us the motivations in the opening, a child told about what he cannot grow up to become and how he obsesses about that over his life to the point it literally consumes him (aka the Seven Deadly Sins), it still feels weak with the dialogue that Strong has to work with and as for the Seven Deadly Sins themselves they didn’t really do much. The worst aspect of the film however is involving the two kids that bully Freddy. They’re not typical teenage bullies, they’re literally taking out from a Stephen King novel and put in here as they’re introduced by hitting Freddy with their car, and literally beating up Freddy for being hit by their car. At one point I recall one saying ‘Dude, I just hit a baby’ or words to that affect after spitting from the top of the Ferris wheel. Just, that whole angle/arc that kept returning in the film just didn’t work for me.
Besides of a few issues with the special effects, the bullies and the Sivana arc, I had an a blast with Shazam! It’s fun, some nice Easter eggs to the DC lore and most importantly the family aspect works tremendously well in the film. Zachary Levi is perfect for the Big Red Cheese and the young cast (in particular Angel, Grazer and Herman) are great too. Consider this another film to add to the Christmas viewing collection tradition now due to being set around Christmas. Much obliged. 7/10