I never imagined I would be writing these words, but the new DC Comics superhero film Shazam! is the best one they have produced in the past decade. I loved Wonder Woman and it’s a close second (sorry, ladies), but this is easily the most fun I’ve had watching a DC film in years.
I’m not up-to-date on the Shazam! mythos, but this movie is a serious departure from the hokey character I knew from the comics and TV show in the Seventies – which is a good thing. The new film’s plot owes a lot to the Tom Hanks classic Big, but it’s much bigger than Big in super-terrific ways.
A quick note, before getting into the spoiler-free guts of this film: It is a cosmic-scale coincidence that Shazam, also known as the original Captain Marvel, is having his big-screen debut within a month of Marvel’s Captain Marvel film. It’s a decades’ long and convoluted scenario that involves Superman, copyright infringement and three different comic-book companies trying to one-up each other. Nevertheless, as far as movies go, Shazam! easily out-marvels the recent Captain Marvel film. (Sorry again, ladies!)
From the outset Shazam! surprises and it takes a little while before you realize what you are actually watching (no spoilers.) The set up is a little slow, but it is all an integral part of the narrative that pays off richly in the end. I knew enough about the Shazam story to think I knew where it was going, but I was pleasantly surprised at almost every turn.
In this modern rendition of the story, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a troubled teen who is trying desperately to find his long lost mother. He is bounced from foster home to foster home and finally ends up in good one, with a mash-up of fun, young characters from various backgrounds and cultures.
The most interesting foster sibling of all is “Freddy” Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), a handicapped kid who refuses to allow Billy to feel sorry for himself. The entire foster family is well-written and well-developed and their story could potentially stand on its own, even without all of the super shenanigans.
Of course, Batson ends up obtaining the powers of Shazam (Solomon – wisdom, Hercules – strength, Atlas – stamina, Zeus – power, Achilles – courage, Mercury – speed – SHAZAM) as he is the only one “pure of heart” enough to do good with them – sort of.
Like the film, Big, when Batson transforms into Shazam he becomes a teenager in an adult body – but with super-powers – which is a major change from the original comic book character. A crazy origin tale ensues, that is kind of a cross between the very first Spider-Man movie and that aforementioned Tom Hanks film, and it is packed with hilarious fun and adventure.
Don’t let anyone tell you any more than this about Shazam! It is a heart-warming, funny and extremely entertaining family film – possibly the best comic-book themed family film ever made. Surprisingly, I can’t wait to go see it again. Grade: 9/10
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