Yes, folks, this is the first live-action Shazam! movie ever. I know a lot of you think Sinbad was in a genie movie, and it’s funny that this Shazam! briefly addresses the concept of mass hysteria like the one that led people to believe Sinbad made a genie movie. But there was no Shazam! until the comic book superhero got his own live-action movie. (There were animated versions of Shazam, I’ll give you that.)
The original Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) has been looking for somebody to pass along his powers to, someone pure of heart. Thad Sivana (Mark Strong) didn’t pass the test when he was a kid, and by the time Billy Batson (Asher Angel) gets a chance, Shazam doesn’t have time to be so picky. Whenever Billy says “shazam” he can become a new Shazam (Zachary Levi).
Billy is irreverent to the exposition the way any kid would be. It also lets him have fun with the powers. Billy and his foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) enjoy testing out Billy’s new powers, and they user the power to get up to shenanigans too. Stealing from an ATM and buying stuff is not noble, but they’re only screwing over the banks so I’m okay with it.
Eventually, the kids get in over their heads and that’s when their true character is tested. You know what they say comes with great power. They can’t say it in this movie because it belongs to another one, but it’s the same lesson and it’s a good one. There’s a reason it’s universal. Billy has to learn about consequences too. You can get back at the school bullies, but if you escalate things too far you may meet a bully you can’t stop. These bullies are pretty vicious though, hitting kids with their car and picking on a kid with crutches.
Just like the super powers are like a new toy Billy and Freddy can play with, like any kids with a new toy, they develop separate agendas. Any parent recognizes this. My parents and my friends’ parents would get together and make sure to get each other the same toys for holidays so we couldn’t fight over each other’s toys. It’s a good lesson for kids to learn to share whether they’re the recipient of the power or the supportive friend of the superhero, but that adolescent drama plays out on an epic stage.
Being an orphan, Billy is self-centered and anti-family but Shazam! is an empowering love letter to foster families too. Not just Freddy, but the other siblings like sweet Darla (Faithe Herman), gamer Eugene (Ian Chen), overachiever Mary (Grace Fulton) and underachiever Pedro (Jovan Armand) all have something to contribute. Foster parents Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor (Cooper Andrews) have the patience of saints when you figure they think they’re only dealing with a rebellious kid.
You’d always do well to cast Mark Strong as your villain. Thad is researching mass hysteria as a front to find his way back to the wizard. The power he gets comes from the seven deadly sins, whom he can manifest as monsters. The wizard kind of created his own Lex Luthor there. If he’d been a little nicer when Thad was a kid… well, Thad still had a shitty father and brother, but still the wizard should’ve known not to show Thad these super powers.
All of my favorite movies growing up had scary parts I had to face. Parts my mom told me to cover my eyes like the melting Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but nothing was scarier than Large Marge. Thad’s scary magic is now CGI, but they have the fun of director David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation but hardcore kills to show they mean it. Shazam! naturally utilizes a lot of the visual effects tricks of modern moviemaking, but usually has an irreverent kicker to make sure it’s something you haven’t quite seen before.
Shazam! is the perfect origin story. It has fun teaching us the mythology of Shazam powers and teaching Billy to become a true hero. I love all these characters and hope to see them again in many more Shazam! films. Franchise Fred approves.