Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is obsessed with finding his lost birth mother, regularly running away from foster homes to pursue her. When he is placed in a foster home he meets superhero obsessive Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). After Billy is bestowed tremendous powers by the wizard Shazam, Billy and Freddy must figure out how to use his powers to save the world from the villainous Doctor Sivana (Mark Strong).
With Shazam! DC takes its biggest step yet away from the Snyder-helmed dark shared universe. Gone are the bleak visuals, the joyless characters, and the overwhelming burden of super powers. Clearly, lessons are now being learned from Marvel, particularly Deadpool and Spider-man Homecoming from which this movie takes its tone and humour.
The humour of the film occasionally detracts from the drama. Villains and supporting characters are often made to wait patiently whilst the main character’s bicker. Zachary Levi is also playing Billy much younger than Asher Angel. Arguably the superpowers make Billy act more childishly than his sullen teen alter-ego, but it’s more likely that Levi is learning into the comedy of having a boy in a man’s body and in so doing is breaking the consistency of the character. Comedic relief is a very difficult thing to get right. Marvel films frequently misjudge, but it’s most disappointing when the film has so much potential, as Shazam! most surely does.
The film does also overstay it’s welcome, particularly in the final action sequence that takes up a half hour of run time. There’s a very fun twist halfway through this sequence which arguably should have happened sooner. The entire sequence needed to be paced better. I did enjoy the slow start to the film and extended introduction to the background of the film’s villain. It is also refreshing that so much of the narrative is dedicated to a conventional secret identity premise, which has been missing from the superhero scene for a long time (barring the recent Spider-man movies). It’s very enjoyable to see a young, impressionable kid given incredible powers. Levi and Grazer work very well together.
Shazam! is about family. It has the beautiful message that family is not what you’re born with but the people you chose. The group foster home that Billy lives in is filled with a diverse group of characters, all of whom are a little thinly drawn but immediately likeable. The promise of the film that these characters will become more prominent in subsequent film, is perhaps it’s most interesting.
Shazam! is a very fun though flawed superhero film that would feel a lot more disposable if not for its heart. It feels designed to entertain the young and young at heart and restores a sense of simple wonder to the superhero genre that has perhaps too often been overlooked amidst the huge crossovers.