Shazam! review: Latest DC movie electrifies superhero genre


Ashu Ebot-Tabi

Shazam!, the latest film in the DC Extended Universe. Directed by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation), the film stars Zachary Levi (Tangled, Chuck) and Asher Angel (Jolene) in the title role, with other actors including Jack Dylan Grazer (IT) as Freddy Freeman, Mark Strong (Zero Dark Thirty, Kingsman: The Secret Service) as Doctor Sivana, & Djimon Hounsou (Without You I’m Nothing, Amistad) as the wizard Shazam . Based on the DC Comics character of the same name (formerly known as Captain Marvel), Shazam! tells the story of 14-year old foster child Billy Batson who gains the ability to turn into a superpowered adult by uttering a single magic word: Shazam.

Ashu Ebot-Tabi, Reporter

It seems with every passing year, the greater the concentration of comic book films in cinemas becomes. Just this year alone, nine films from April to October will release, with about nineteen set to come out between 2020-2022. While this seems great on paper—after all, four of the highest grossing films of all time feature comic book characters—making them an extremely safe investment for studio executives.

Used to describe audience weariness of this genre of movies, the notion of superhero fatigue gained major attention when Titanic director James Cameron argued it as an inevitable occurrence that audiences would lose interest in these films, with a variety of thoughts both against and in favor of the notion presented ever since. Regardless of one’s views on the matter, there exists one undeniable truth: the increasing amount of superhero films in theaters requires each one to craft its own unique identity and style. 2019’s Shazam!, released April 5, certainly managed to fulfill this requirement.

Based on the DC Comics character of the same name, formerly known as Captain Marvel, the film tells the story of foster child Billy Batson who, after gaining the ability to turn into a superpowered adult by uttering the word “Shazam,” must confront both the evil Dr. Sivana and his feelings toward family in general. The story of Shazam!, while nothing particularly game-changing regarding the genre, makes up for that in emotional heft. The film, for all its DC Extended Universe (DCEU) references and lighthearted tone, provides shockingly candid commentary on the plights of foster children and abandonment. This commentary works because the humor of the film, though seemingly childish and immature, serves to compliment these moments, rather than detract from it.

As the old adage goes, “a hero is only as good as the villain.” If that holds meaning, then Shazam may soon find himself among the great superheroes in recent years. Played by Mark Strong, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana seeks to unleash the Seven Deadly Sins on Earth. A seemingly simple scheme, befitting the relatively straightforward antagonist. The lack of character development attributed to comic book villains does not apply to the doctor. The film actually begins with Sivana’s childhood, showing exactly what informed his future decisions (thus helping a specific scene land with greater impact). More importantly, Sivana poses a legitimate threat to Batson, representing what would happen if he abused his powers for selfish gain or never reconciled his feelings of abandonment.

If the film possessed any flaws, those lie with the characters. Not so much with its title hero (played by Asher Angel and Zachary Levi, both of whom inject the character with a great deal of edge and optimism) but in the foster family with whom he resides. Freddy Freeman, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, certainly emerges as the breakout character, bouncing off Billy Batson in both his forms while also dealing with his own issues. A similar sentiment can apply to Darla Dudley, played by Faithe Herman, who radiates positivity. Rather, Mary, Pedro, and Eugene (played by Grace Fulton, Jovan Armand, and Ian Chen, respectively) lack an ample amount of screentime to give depth to their own respective storylines.

In all, Shazam! easily dispels the notion of superhero fatigue by injecting the film with a great deal of humor, style, and most importantly: heart. For any on the fence debating watching this film, give it a try. For curious DC fans, expect a fair share of easter eggs referencing Batman vs. Superman, Man of Steel, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman. Fans should also expect two cameos from major DC characters, a subtle one fairly early on, and a massive one that bookends the film.

The Chant’s Grade: A-