The after effects of most of the DCEU films have been so chronic that I have always entered the theatre with apprehension and a genuine worry for my sanity. But even after having the lowest possible expectations, films like Justice League provided a new low. So when I saw the trailer of Shazam!, I was naturally skeptical. But as it turns out, Shazam! offers a lot of good things, and above all, it is hugely entertaining.
The character Shazam! was created in 1939 as Captain Marvel (yeah, no kidding) by Fawcett Comics as the alter ego of a 14-year-old foster kid Billy Batson.
By saying the name Shazam, billy is transformed into a superhero with powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury (acronym of SHAZAM). Back in the day, Shazam! comics became so popular that they overtook even Superman and in retaliation, DC (National Comics Publications at the time) filed a lawsuit against Fawcett Comics for creating Shazam by borrowing from Superman. Subsequently, Fawcett stopped publishing Captain Marvel due to the lawsuit and a rapidly diminishing popularity and sold the rights to DC in 1972. DC, in turn, promoted the comic under the brand Shazam!, leading people to assume that it was also the name of the character. So In 2011, when DC relaunched Shazam, they officially changed the name.
Coming to the film, Shazam! starts off with a kid named Thaddeus who is invited into a secret cave by a wizard for a test, passing which he would give all his power to the kid. The kid fails the test and vows to go back and steal the power. Cut to many years later, we meet Billy Batson, a 14-year-old who got separated from his mother at a local fare when he is very young and has spent all these years trying to locate his real parents. After running away from another foster home, Billy is put in the care of Victor and Rosa who run a group home. Mary, Pedro, Eugene, Darla, and Freddy are also living in the group home and Billy shares his room with Freddy.
Things basically go into hyperdrive (read: hilarious) from this point on and Jack Dylan Grazer playing Freddy owns every scene he is in. Billy gets invited by the wizard and is almost forced to take the wizards power. All he has to do is say the wizard's name, and when he does, he turns into a fully grown man, played brilliantly by Zachary Levi. This part reminded me of a film I saw as a kid long back called Big (1988) starring Tom Hanks. Just like Josh & Billy from Big, In Shazam!, Billy & Freddy share excellent chemistry and have the potential to become a cracking duo in the follow-up films.
Zachary Levi is the life of this film and perfectly expresses the emotions of a 14-year-old kid transforming into a grown up. He excels at playing a goofy superhero with misaligned priorities.
In one scene, Billy realizes that now he looks like an adult so he can go and buy beer. The entire sequence of Billy & Freddy trying and spitting beer and then settling for soda is hysterical. The film continues to have a breezy pace until the very end and boasts of some clever writing. Another cool thing about this film is how it uses references of other DCEU characters, especially Superman and Batman. A Batarang features prominently, along with a special appearance from Superman newspaper clippings as well as a used Bullet, shot at Superman. There is also a special someone who visits Freddy during lunch in school. Even in the final credits, there is an animated film that shows Shazam messing around with Batman, Flash Superman and taking Wonder Women out on a date, driving the Batmobile.
Apart from being funny, the film works because there is an emotional aspect to it. Shazam! does a great job as a family drama and talks about the importance of family. Towards the end, Billy says "What good is power if you don't have anyone to share it with" and this is followed up by an extremely heartwarming dinner scene where, for the first time, Billy leads the prayer before dinner with the entire family. The film ends here and this moment beautifully encapsulates what the film stands for.
There are however some irritants in the film. The biggest being the awful monsters representing the 7 deadly sins. I am surprised that a superhero film in 2019 would have such unimaginative CGI. The least they could have done was make them differentiated from each other because if you line them up side by side, no one can distinguish Envy from Greed. The other thing I did not enjoy was the character of the villain. Dr. Sivana played by Mark Strong (Kingsmen, Miss Sloane) could have become an iconic villain. Unfortunately, in spite of a strong backstory, he is extremely one dimensional.
Shazam! is an entertaining film and it delivers what it stands for really well. I am very excited about the follow-up films, especially with Dwayne Johnson playing Black Adam. I am sure some people caught a glimpse of Black Adam even though his name is never mentioned. In the scene where Billy meets the wizard, we see the wizard tell him about a champion in the past who turned bad. Dwayne Johnson was to appear in Shazam! but things changed and now he is getting a solo film before going head to head with Shazam. I loved this film and I can't wait for those films now.
P.S. There are 2 post credit scenes. I would recommend staying for the first one which features a new villain, Mister Mind.