Shazam! is ... Electrifying

Shazam! (2019)

Rated PG-13: For Minimal Language and Sensitive Themes, and Violence

Running Time: 132 minutes (2 hours and 32 minutes)

Genre/s: Action, Comedy, Fantasy, Superhero

Released on April 5, 2019 (US Release Date; Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by New Line Cinema, DC Films, The Safran Company, Seven Bucks Production, Mad Ghost Productions, and Warner Bros. Pictures

"Shazam" Created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck

Director: David F. Sandberg

Writers: Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke

  • Asher Angel and Zachary Levi as William "Billy" Batson / Shazam
  • Mark Strong as Doctor Thaddeus Sivana
  • Jack Dylan Grazer as Frederick "Freddy" Freeman
  • Djimon Hounsou as Shazam

"Home is where you choose to be." Though it is hardly the most original theme discussed in all of cinema, and though it is not the deepest Aesop to thread through our minds, it is a timeless concept that can make a film more than memorable, if the execution is done right. Shazam! is a particularly good example of making perfect use of an enduring central theme not necessarily by making it more complicated than it should be, but by placing emphasis on heart.

In this film, young orphan Billy Batson, played by Asher Angel (Andi Mack) can become an adult, super-powered version of himself, played by Levi (Thor: The Dark World) after stumbling upon a weakened wizard named Shazam, played by Hounsou (Captain Marvel). Now equipped with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury, Billy must be ready to battle the demented Doctor Thaddeus Sivana, played by Strong (Kingsman: The Secret Service), who wishes to steal all of Billy's powers to exact his revenge.

It has been said that "home is where the heart is." Unfortunately for our main protagonist, played astoundingly by the brilliant fresh talent Asher Angel, Billy's heart is not in the right place. In fact, this film makes it deliberately clear that, despite his sympathetic background, Billy is indeed an obnoxious brat during the first few parts of the film, which is a nice nod to the audience that yes, even superheroes can have huge, glaring flaws. All he wants is to find his biological mother, who lost him while out at a local carnival long ago, and ever since, Billy has been extremely fixated in returning to his home. After several failed attempts, with even some ending-up with him being at the receiving end of law enforcement, he finally finds a physical home for him in the form of a foster group, but alas, he still feels as if this is not where he is supposed to be.

One thing that really made an impression for me is the amazing supporting cast. Billy's newfound home, for the audience at least, does feel like one. This is because of the memorable side-characters who might only have about a few minutes of screentime, but are nevertheless written with so much care and importance that you simply cannot help but be fond of these characters. In this group home, we have the disabled comicbook fan Freddie, played with such joy by Grazer (It Remake), alongside the super-enthusiastic and warm-hearted Darla Dudley, played by the lovable Faithe Herman (Bodied), the college freshman Mary Bromfield, played by Grace Fulton (Annabelle: Creation), the geeky Eugene Choi, played by the funny Ian Chen (Fresh Off the Boat), and the silent yet quirky Pedro Peña, played by newcomer Jovan Armand (The Middle). All five of these characters, plus their adoptive parents, do everything that they can to reach-out to Billy. Sadly for Billy, he does not warm-up to them immediately, which causes a few problems for everyone. They do end up becoming so integral to the story, that to my gentle surprise, all five of them even manage to share the powers of Shazam, effectively becoming the Marvel Family! Not only did this line-up very well with the theme, it just goes to show that the supporting cast, regardless of how small the role might be, will always be essential to a film.

Things only get worse for Billy after receiving his powers. Instead of setting-out to fulfill Shazam's wishes to prevent the forces of evil from taking over the world, he practically gives-up in searching for his home as he instead chooses to reside in the traditional childish fantasy of being a superhero. Eventually, he practically makes use of his powers for everyone else's entertainment, becomes a complete hypocrite towards Freddie when he declines to appear in school for popularity, and runs away at his first ever encounter with an actual supervillain. I have to say though. As we go deeper into Billy's more selfish impulses under the Shazam guise, thanks of course to the always reliable Zachary Levi to bring a specific level of childlike obnoxiousness and tragic coming-of-age with his heavily underrated acting sensibilities, we see that Billy is really not a superhero. He is just a kid in a grown-up's body, but once he realizes that his real mother does not want him around, which is a very subversive approach since I was expecting for the mother to accept him and have Billy stay with his new family out of sincerity and care, Billy is hit by reality hard.

Now, I have to be deliberately clear that I am not all that familiar with the mythology of Captain Marvel (yes, that was his superhero name prior to the controversial lawsuit with Marvel Comics). And when I watched a video by YouTuber Captain Midnight discussing the changes done to the character, I am left amazed. At this day and age, I am comfortable with adaptations making certain changes to the source material. This is due to the fact that they are "adaptations," and makers are given license to make creative changes as they see fit. By retroactively altering his origin to be just an act of total desperation on Shazam's part instead of him being a noble "chosen one" type of character, the movie adds a level of gravitas to the character which effectively modernizes him for the audience today. The flick even addresses the idea that a lot of candidates for the mantle of Shazam are unworthy because of their flawed moralities, which I have to commend as a decent deconstruction of the superhero archetype.

Speaking of changes and villains, Mark Strong is extremely incredible as the main antagonist, and I would even consider him as the best supervillain that the DCEU has to offer so far (which really isn't saying much, considering the previous movies). Though it makes drastic changes to the character, including having him completely ditch his more stereotypical mad scientist get-up in exchange for a more traditional business-suited villain, while still keeping his scarred eye intact, and though the film's prologue completely spoils Doctor Sivana's backstory, therefore eliminating all chances at suspense, Doctor Sivana is the perfect main antagonist for this film. It is even made better by the fact that he survives for a sequel in the near future.

Here, Sivana lives most of his life as an outcast, always believing in seeing in the supernatural world. As a child, he was one of the many candidates to inherit the powers of Shazam, but is rejected for his potentially corrupt nature. It is because of this that he became obsessed with seeking such power, and after receiving new powers from the Seven Deadly Sins, evil spirits trapped in Shazam's lair, the Rock of Eternity, he decides to murder all the people that have mistreated him, including his abusive father, played by John Glover (Smallville).

Do you notice the parallels to Billy? Similar to Billy, Doctor Sivana just wants to find his home, the Rock of Eternity, and also like Billy, he uses his powers for selfish reasons. The similarities end, however, with the fact that Billy does have a home, which he still has not seen yet for himself, while Doctor Sivana having always known hatred, even until the end credits. A perfect foil indeed.

Aside from the characters, we also have to commend the film and director David F. Sandberg for truly making the city of Philadelphia a "home." Most action-oriented superhero movies tend to feature their various settings, from the buildings to the people, as nothing more than just things that we just randomly pass by as we progress through a story. In this film's case, however, we do get a sense of community. We see how the city and its citizens feel about having a superhero living in their area of residence through Billy's interactions, including displaying his lightning-generating powers to a crowd of adoring fans. We feel the excitement that they feel when Billy saves a bus full of people from plummeting towards death. We feel the fear of the exact same people when Doctor Sivana terrorizes a carnival one night with his seven devilish assistants, and as they each cling desperately to hope while either hiding from the monsters, or just observing the chaos from afar. We also feel the sense of a larger world through the film's use of certain superhero merchandise. Through this application, we note that this film is indeed set in the DC Extended Universe without feeling forced, and it also shows how the people feel about superheroes in general.

Finally, we have the theatrics of the film. The concept of a home would not be felt if it were not for the other elements that subtly alluded to this theme, while also being added spices to an interesting visual main course.

The script's extensive use of humor is also commendable, as this film showcases one of the best uses of actually good jokes. For instance, the entire convenient store robbery scene, and that part when Billy could not hear Doctor Sivana's evil monologue due to the Philadelphia traffic is really funny, and it really emphasizes the heartwarming and fun nature that the film aims for.

The lesser use of CGI is also worth noting, as well as the costume designs. I really do love how colorful Billy's costume is, and how everything that is mystical, including the Rock of Eternity and the terrifying manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins are incredibly great, especially when they all manage to contrast superbly with the realistic Philadelphia setting. Sure, it may not be as extraordinarily excessive or as colorfully grandiose as it could have been, but who cares? The character work on the script, penned by Henry Gayden, with story guidance from Darren Lemke is all you need to have a good time. Heck, that final battle at the carnival, which also serves as a bookend, could have been a generic beat 'em up that destroys an entire city block. But no. All we have are visually simple yet striking moments, combined with incredibly funny lines.

My favorite thing about the movie is, aside from all of the above, the subtle used of some licensed songs. Most movies tend to just throw-in a random song just for the sake of it (Ahem, Suicide Squad, ahem). In this case, however, some songs are actually used for significant reasons. For instance, the introductory song "Do You Hear What I Hear?" plays during Doctor Sivana's first encounter with the wizard Shazam, and plays again when he returns to the real world, which reflects the fact that only he saw Shazam, not his family. And my personal favorite was the use of the instrumental for the song "Slow Hands" by Niall Horan, which is played during one of the family's regular pre-meal prayers, which involves all family members holding hands. Guess who was the only one who refuses to join-in? Clever and subtle. I like that.

It's hardly original in its storytelling, and it's unlikely for the film to gain major awards in the long run. But what Shazam! does succeed in is reminding audiences everywhere that we don't need dark and overly mature stories in our theaters. A little subversion from the source material also did help to reintroduce a slightly forgotten character to the modern world. Sometimes, we just need a simple, fun, and heartfelt experience. Thanks to a lovable cast, particularly from our two leads, to one captivating, though somewhat uninteresting supervillain who did have his entire backstory spoiled in the first scene in the film, to actually funny jokes, and to colorful blends of whimsy, perhaps it is safe to say that the DC Extended Universe's problems are finally behind them. Here's to hoping that this franchise would consistently make more films as amazing, as charming, as memorable as this one. I hereby grant this film a score of 20/25 (Awesome!).

Fun fact: did you know that John Glover, the actor who played Thaddeus Sivana's father played the father of Lex Luthor, played by Michael Rosenbaum (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) Lionel Luthor in the hit television series Smallville? Also, did you know he played the guy who gave Poison Ivy, played by Uma Thurman (Kill Bill) in the wildly reviled Batman and Robin film? The other thing you have to love about this film is its fun Easter eggs list.

And since we mentioned Easter, have a very happy Easter season everyone, from all of us here! Before you leave, help yourself to some songs featured in the film and its promotional materials. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!


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