Since the early 2000s, superhero movies have become a genre of their own, a genre that has been able to encompasses aspects of comedy, noir and science fiction, sometimes within the same movies. With the expansion of superhero movies from merely far-fetched action movies to being their own genre, there have been an extensive amount produced, with DC’s “The Dark Knight” widely lauded by critics and fans as not only being the best superhero movies of all time, but one of the best movies of all time. However, while DC struck gold with “The Dark Knight” trilogy, Marvel Studios has largely reigned supreme, both critically and financially since t 2000. With only a handful of exceptions, DC’s films have lacked the qualities necessary to both please critics and attract fans who would be excited to finally see some of their beloved characters on screen. However, with the release of director David F. Sandberg’s “Shazam!,” that negative trend may have come to an end.
“Shazam!” is the story of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a 14 year-old-boy who unexpectedly receives superpowers from a mysterious man known only as Shazam, who is seeking to find a worthy champion for his powers. Whenever Batson says the name “Shazam,” he transforms into an adult superhero who is known as “Shazam” (Zachary Levi). Much of the conflict of the movie comes from Batson adjusting to life in a foster home, while also learning his new superpowers and maintaining relationships with his foster siblings. Batson must also deal with the arrival of Dr.Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), a supervillain who possess the same powers as Shazam and is under control of the physical incarnations of the seven deadly sins.
“Shazam!” succeeds where all of the other recent DC movies (with the exception of “The Dark Knight” trilogy” and “Wonder Woman”) fail: it’s fun. That's the overarching feeling that came from this movie! It was just plain fun! The story and structure of the movie are fairly unoriginal, but that doesn't matter because the movie plays to the idea of what would happen if a 14 year-old-boy received superpowers. All of Billy’s traits were traits that many of us had (or still have) as children and teenagers. Billy Batson is immature, selfish and naive, and yet that’s what makes him such a good character. This relatability allows the audience to identify with Billy and his band of misfits that are his foster siblings. The characters are what makes this movie fun and enjoyable. They are likeable, albeit fairly simplistically written. Yet that is what helps the audience root for these characters; other than Billy, his friend Freddy and Dr. Sivanna, the lack of complexity within the supporting characters gives each character ample time to make an impression on the audience.
“Shazam!”’s plot is a perfect example of less is more, as the plot is not very complex, yet its lack of complexity allows for its simple narrative of a teenage boy turning into a superhero to perfectly connect to the audience. DC seems to have learned from their previous mistakes and have adopted aspects of the Marvel formula to create both a movie that works as a superhero movie and as a coming-of-age comedy, and it doesn’t feel convoluted by pointless subplots. Everything that happens in the movie is used for the character development of Billy Batson. Thus as the movie ends, there is a personal connection to Batson that has not been seen in many of the DC films.
The stand outs of “Shazam!” are Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer, who played Batson’s friend Freddie. Grazer brings childlike excitement to the movie, an excitement that is seen through Freddie’s understanding of how superheroes should behave and their powers, but one that is also shown in his exploitation of Billy’s newfound power. Zachary Levi is who really sells this movie. Though Levi portrays a superhero in the movie, his performance really is that of a 14-year-old boy. He perfectly captures how a teenage boy would handle being a superhero, both the positive aspects and the negative ones. Levi is a fresh new face to the superhero world and will likely be one of the main stars in the coming DCEU movies.
“Shazam!” is nothing less than an amazing movie, one that reminds us why we not only love movies, but why we love superhero movies. Its observation of the superhero world through the lens of children is what makes this movie feel both fresh and familiar. While “Avengers: Endgame” will likely eclipse it in the next month, “Shazam!” appears to be the beginning of great things in store within the DC cinematic universe, a franchise that may have just found its footing with “Shazam!” 5/5 stars