Shazam!, directed by David Sandberg, is one of the first superhero films of 2019, and a perfect double feature to balance out the slew of horror films releasing shortly, including Pet Semetary and Jordan Peele’s sophomore film, Us.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel), our young hero, was orphaned as a toddler, but over the years this didn’t stop him from running away from every foster family in search of his mother. Now its Christmas time in Philadephia and Billy has found himself in his seventh foster home with the Vasquez, and their 5 adopted children. Simultaneously, a great battle is brewing as the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) is in need of a champion to defeat monsters determined on causing chaos in our world, and their champion, Doctor Sivana (Mark Strong). Running out of time, the wizard chooses Billy as his champion, granting him with the powers of the seven wizards all by saying the magical word “Shazam!”, which turns him into the superhero we are all familiar with, Shazam (Zachary Levi).
Ok, now let me be blunt with you for a second, Zachary Levi in an inflated red superhero suit is about as cheesy as you would expect, and, yes, this is basically a superhero version of the 1988 film Big, but that is what makes Shazam! great. Shazam! is not afraid to be fun, and I don’t mean fun in a Marvel Cinematic Universe type way with overbearing quips every two minutes, or fun in the “haha, no more over-the-top darkness in my DC Extended Universe” (DCEU) way. We are talking about genuine heartfelt family moments, clever jokes, and awesome action scenes that feel earned, rather than forced. Shazam! will truly make you grin like a child in a candy shop.
The best part about Shazam! is the sense of character development and overall family dynamic between Billy and the Vasquez family, but more specifically the bond between Billy and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), his new foster brother. Freddy is a superhero enthusiast that could easily represent any DCEU fan in the way he obsesses over Batman and Superman. His vast knowledge of all things superhero is what starts his bond with Billy as he helps him figure out his powers in a comedic fashion. The more Billy bonds with his foster family, the more he realizes what being a hero is all about.
Being skeptical of any film released in the DCEU is more rational than insane in the year 2019. After all, we have all been down this road before, a hyper-stylish trailer appealing to our senses, despite a gut feeling telling us to approach with caution. First Batman vs. Superman, then Justice League, and finally Aquaman, all exceeding in certain aspects of joyful entertainment, but ultimately a letdown to a mixed bag at best. Luckily, Shazam! doesn’t care about your skepticism or your viewpoints of the direction the DCEU is heading towards. Shazam! does something the other films in the DCEU fail to do, focus on providing a cohesive film experience for all ages.