The last time I spoke about recent movies, you may remeber me gushing over Marvel's latest movie, Captain Marvel, and the revolutionary tasks it took to introduce to us its first – and previously overlooked in comics lore – lead superheroine in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Well, I'll be talking about yet another superhero flick before Avengers: Endgame.
Except this time, the superhero comes from the DC chain, and has reportedly been hailed as a saving grace for the ever-struggling DCEU, the DC Extended Universe. He is none other than the original Captain Marvel himself – by name, anyway; it's a long story – AKA Shazam!.
The movie is about a 14-year-old orphan named Billy Batson, who spent almost his entire life searching for his biological family in Philadelphia; he even kept a notebook to keep track of all the Batsons he could’ve found in the area. After a while, he was found by foster parents who took him in and accepted him as one of their own alongside the rest of their foster family, including a physically disabled kid named Freddy, whom Billy befriended. After defending Freddy from a couple of bullies, Billy became magically transported into a mythical realm, dominated by a wizard named Shazam. He told Billy that he had hoped to find someone who was pure of heart, courageous, and worthy enough to harness the powers he created for another man who turned against him and his friends in the past. These powers would've granted the user, and I quote:
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.
Once Billy accepted, he turned into an adult superhero with all the powers promised unto him, all by simply shouting the wizard's name. Bewildered at first, Billy started to dig his newfound body and powers, and, with the help of Freddy, attempted to try out superheroic thing imaginable and even, as to be expected, every adult thing imaginable.
Back in the mid-70s, another boy, named Thaddeus Sivana, entered the realm by coincidince, just like Billy, except he was dismissed by Wizard Shazam as unworthy when he gave in to temptation and attempted to grab an orb that held the spirits of the Seven Deadly Sins, a group of demonic creatures. Because of his bad family upbringing, he obsessed over finding the Realm so he can harness the promised powers for himself. When he was successful in finding it, he confronted WShazam only to find out from him about Billy Batson having the powers that he desired. So, in a fit of rage, he murdered WShazam, took hold his sceptre, and grabbed the orb to release the demonic spirits. Then, he sought after Billy Batson, or rather, Adult Shazam, resulting in one battle between each other after another to see who will ultimately prevail.
There's a certain distinctness the characters have in Shazam! that I admire. In fact, for starters, I found the foster kids to be of a surprisingly colorful variety.
Freddy, a physically disabled kid who was loyal, trustworthy, and, in spite of his condition, can hold out on his own, especially when facing off bullies.
Darla was the energetic younger sister who pulled off wisecracks and was somewhat a smart aleck.
Eugene was a high-tech kid who enjoyed video games and was even a cyber-hacker when it came to helping out in finding certain things. I'm telling you, this kid was to Shazam! what Data was to The Goonies.
Pedro was a shy kid who didn't say much, but showed his loyalty when the situation called for it.
And finally, Mary, the eldest of the foster kids. She had aspirations and even started to apply for a university near Philadelphia (I forget which one). But, along the way, she started to have second thoughts when she realized it would mean leaving behind the closest thing to a family she's ever had.
Billy Batson was an interesting character, mostly due to his background and skills. He spent the last ten years looking for his biological family, but being an orphan, he also developed a streetsmart aesthetic, as shown when he outsmarted cops and fought against bullies in Freddy's defense. But by the time he got his superpowers, one of which was to turn into an adult, he also established a certain cockiness that he had to be mindful of when he had to deal with what's best for others, especially if it required his newfound powers to do the job. And as to how or if he found his biological parents, that's for you to find out and for me to keep to myself.
That's Asher Angel from Andi Mack playing Billy, and for a cinematic acting debut, he was terrific here. He nailed down the sly qualities of his character, mostly when he was in the streets or fighting off against someone else, but he also managed to emphasize Billy's vulnerable and insecure sides when he had to deal with his family problems, much like how any boy his age would have felt under such circumstances.
And you better watch out, Brie Larson. Someone is about to join your ranks in outselling Captain Marvel, different as his may be. Because the movie's crowning acting achievement, without question, is Zachary Levi as Billy's adult alter-ego, AShazam. Levi was just having a blast in his over-the-top manchild expressions, and they tied in perfectly to the ecstasies Billy felt over suddenly becoming an adult. In some ways, his expressions also emphasized the cockiness Billy expressed when he was having too much fun with his superpowers and all the adult activities (I'll get to that soon). And yet, whenever he was fighting someone else or saving someone else, his mannerisms suggested that this was a real-deal superhero we're looking at, someone who was excitable, noble, and always up to the task...even if he was really just a kid in disguise.
You remember in my Captain Marvel review how I thought its villains, while unique in some aspects, felt weak?
Well, not the villain of this movie. Dr. Thaddeus Sivana may be the same kind of villain we saw in other properties or superhero stories before, but he was very well-rounded, both as a character and as a villain. When you see his counterproductive family upbringing, both before and after he ventured into the realm, as well as see him rejected by WShazam and told that we wasn't worthy, you'd find yourself almost feeling sorry for him. Yet, once he started doing his devious actions as a grown-up, his mannerisms over them made them juicier and more irresistible to watch. In fact, this made him a great foil for Billy, since they both shared a history of rough family lives, even though they were vastly different from one another. Because of that, the chemisty they shared, and, by extension, the action scenes in which they fought, ended up feeling much richer when you are in the know about their personal backstories.
Speaking of which, the action scenes themselves were really exciting. Because AShazam had all kinds of superpowers to choose from, ranging from flight, to speed, to strength, they added adrenaline rushes in the scenes where he either dodged something, rescued someone in a time of need, or fought someone full-on. The adrenaline rush only got pumped up in the climax when AShazam fought against Sivana and the Seven Deadly Sins, and like I said, both their backgrounds made their confrontations all the more engaging. And, I won't even think about giving away how else AShazam fought Sivana, but I can say that it was clever, it tied into the movie's mythical aspects very well, and it resulted in some beyond cool fight-scenes that added to the excitement felt over these scenarios.
Now, before I saw this movie, I noticed many critics who gave this movie a glowing recommendation describe it generally by two words: fun and funny. Which was strange, considering that this was part of the DCEU, and many of the films made prior to it were mature and/or dark (but, from what I read about them, not in a good way).
After seeing this movie, It's safe to say I'm on the same boat.
Part of what made this movie fun was the childlike essence this movie exploited, helped by the fact that the main heroes were children rather than adults. That actually adds to the movie's own uniqueness when comparing it to many other superhero flicks. And, fortunately, the action sequences, threats, and dilemmas at hand were backed by adult sensibilities and aspects, making them both interesting and complimentary to the movie's childlike aspects.
And yes, Shazam! was about as funny as social media had let on. In my opinion, the movie's sense of humor stemmed from Billy's exploitations of his superpowers and adult form, and almost all of them with Freddy beside him. For instance, in AShazam and Freddy's contemplations on what superpowers AShazam could've been capable of, Freddy had him try out every superpower they could've thought of, with half of them ending in hilarious pratfalls. Freddy even asked AShazam if he could’ve leapt tall buildings in a single bound, like Superman, but in doing so, he crashed into a window only ten stories below the top of the building.
The humor was rich in their exploitations in adult activities, too. At one point, AShazam, who was in a gas station shop, asked for 'their finest beer,' and after he and Freddy coincindentally dealt with some robbers who came in, they walked out victoriously with bottles of beer in their hands. But after they both gave it a sip, what did they do? They instantly spat it out, with AShazam commenting, "This tastes like vomit!" And the next thing I knew, they walked out again, this time with boatloads of soda and junk food. Typical, yet undeniably humorous.
As much as I liked Captain Marvel for introducing us to a terrific superheroine, Shazam! felt a little more cohesive by comparison. It had everything: an interesting story, a multi-dimensional main lead, a well-rounded cast of characters, a satisfying villain, plenty of hefty action sequences to keep its viewers engaged, a sense of fun, a sense of humor – this is pretty much what a superhero flick should be. And just like Captain Marvel, I walked out of the theater hoping that Shazam! would have a sequel in the near future. And guess what? That is also guaranteed to happen, starting with the screenwriter intending to return. It'll be interesting to see what more stories will be cooked up for the Big Red Cheese himself.
Shazam! Childlike wonders with adult ideals and grand, fantastic spectacles. What more could you ask for?
Even though we didn't know much about the story of Shazam! before I saw it, my family and I agreed that this felt very similar to Big with Tom Hanks, to which I pointed out the only difference was that Billy can change back into a kid at will. Zachari Levi also felt the same way, describing Shazam! as "Big, but with superpowers". And just when I thought the similarities would end there, during one of AShazam's fights with Sivana, which was in a shopping mall, AShazam ended up in a toy store and, when standing back up, stood on top of a walking piano. Nice wink to the movie you have there, Shazam!.
As light-hearted as Shazam! was compared to the DC movies before it, it did throw in some cool callbacks to them, such as Billy and Freddy mentioning Superman multiple times, not to mention Freddy keeping a legitimate Batarang in his private collection. I can say for sure that this all would eventually come to good use later in the movie.
It's true that I haven't seen any of the movies from the DCEU, except for this movie, Wonder Woman (a splendorous movie with an amazing superheroine), and Aquaman (which I thought was good, but mostly in its second half). However, after reading about its jumbled track record in terms of its films, watching these three movies gave me hope and had me thinking that DC might be learning from its mistakes and finally realizing what it takes to deliver entertaining, truly worthy superhero movies. Let’s hope DC keeps this up with its future films.