“Shazam!” is directed by David F. Sandberg, stars Zachary Levi, Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer and is a comedic take on the superhero genre based on the original Shazam! stories by DC Comics. Keeping the plot as vague as possible, the film follows Billy Batson (Angel), who is running from foster home to foster home trying to find his family. He finally is placed in a home with a group of other foster children, including Freddy Freeman (Grazer), a superhero fanatic that Billy doesn’t seem to fully understand. Billy then encounters a wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), and is given the powers of the wizard to battle an unknown enemy. Billy is transformed into an adult (Levi) with incredible abilities like lightning, strength and speed. For me, DC films have been on a cold streak as of late. I enjoyed “Wonder Woman” from 2017, but “Justice League” and “Aquaman” were both incredibly disappointing. However, “Shazam!” might be my favorite of the whole lot.
The key component to what makes this film work are the performances by the three main leads of the film: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer. Zachary Levi as the adult version of Billy Batson, or Shazam, is the perfect choice for this role. While he may have the physique of an adult, Billy still has the mind of a child and oftentimes doesn’t use his powers in the way that Freddy advises him or the way a superhero should. These moments are often the funniest parts of the film because of Zachary Levi’s effortless charm and charisma. Asher Angel is a great Billy Batson. He is searching for this certain person and has been carrying the weight of their absence his entire life. Billy is just searching for a purpose and Angel portrays this fear of not belonging perfectly.
Jack Dylan Grazer steals the show as Freddy Freeman. Freddy is a superhero enthusiast, owning several collector’s items of famous events from the previous DC films. When Billy initially gets his powers, Freddy is beyond excited that he is finally up close and friends with an actual superhero. However, Grazer slips so easily into another side of Freddy when he sees that Billy isn’t using his powers the correct way. Freddy has a physical impairment that affects his ability to walk, which leads him to question why it was Billy who got the powers. It’s an emotional and powerful turn from a child actor and might be one of the strongest performances I have ever seen from a child.
The film, overall, is such a blast to watch. I can’t remember having such a fun time at a superhero movie since the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” film. One moment, you’ll be laughing hysterically, only to be swept into an emotional moment about the film’s core themes minutes later. Some of the jokes don’t land and may require prior knowledge of the DC films, but a lot of it is comedy gold. The family that Billy and Freddy live with have their own unique quirks and personalities that make them a huge part of the comedy. But, they also play a huge role in conveying the main theme of family throughout “Shazam!.” The film is truly about finding your place and the importance of family, and there are a few scenes in the climax of the film that are incredibly thematically satisfying for what the film is built to.
If I were to identify a major flaw with “Shazam!,” it would have to be the film’s first act. There are a lot of mystical elements that have little development and are eventually gotten rid of anyways that I feel could have been cut from the film entirely. The introduction of the villain, Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), takes up about 10 minutes of the film’s opening and feels like a poor start, especially because Sivana isn’t a great villain. I would have rather started the film with Billy’s introduction, rather than an extended sequence that could have easily been provided through subtext later in the film. “Shazam!” doesn’t entirely gain its footing until about the half hour mark, but once it does, it’s a satisfying joy ride until the very end. I highly recommend this film to anyone who loves superhero movies or just well told stories. It feels like a throwback to the original “Superman” films from the 1970s that were overall just a lot of fun and not concerned with building a cinematic universe.