The DCEU is in a unique position to propel itself forward even further. After the success of Wonder Woman and Aquaman, Shazam! comes along and has the chance to prove that those films were not just flukes in the DCEU and that we are finally seeing a renaissance period following some less than spectacular entries in the universe.
Shazam! as portrayed by all of its marketing is a light and somewhat adolescent take on the superhero storyline. Billy Batson (Asher Angel) a foster kid who keeps jumping from home to home, finds himself in a new home with five other foster siblings. Always running from his foster homes, Billy thinks that he is better off on his own, and continuing his search to find his birth mother. His new foster brother, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), is being picked on and beat up at school, and Billy stands up to the bullies and turns them on himself. As he races away, he makes it to the subway where he is transported to another dimension where he meets a wizard. The wizard is looking for the purest of heart, and a champion to take on his powers and help fight the seven sins which Dr. Sivana has taken on and thus becoming our story’s villain.
Transported back to reality, Billy no longer looks like Billy, but rather a beefed up 30-something-year-old superhero named Shazam (Zachary Levi). Not knowing where else to turn, he goes to see Freddy, the biggest superhero fan he knows, to help him navigate his newfound powers. As they work together to test what his strengths are, they inch closer and closer to Dr. Sivana finding Shazam!
What is interesting about Shazam! is that I went in expecting the film to be totally light and slightly campy like the trailers, but from the very first scene, David Sandberg establishes his tone right away. The film begins with Dr. Sivana’s origins the take is incredibly dark and frankly surprising to me. I should have known better considering the history of the DCEU, but the marketing threw me off in the end. Fans of Sandberg will find a few hidden nods to his previous work if they look and listen carefully.
Of course, to balance out the darkness and heavy weight of the beginning and other parts of the film, we have to rely heavily on humor to lighten the load. The humor in the film works well because of the chemistry between Freddy and Shazam! highlighted by Zachary Levi’s charm and charisma as an actor. It is incredible to me with how talented he is that he has never been in a lead role in a film. Luckily for audiences who didn’t get to see him in First Date on Broadway a few years ago, his full charm is on display in Shazam. It is very similar to the performance dynamic that Dwayne Johnson had in his role in the last Jumanji film. His approach and honesty with the performance allowing the audience to fully invest in the character and see Shazam and Billy as the same person, despite their obvious physical differences. Jack Dylan Glazer as Freddy provides a lot of the comedic relief and the film relies a great deal on the relationship between Shazam, Billy, and Freddy. Asher Angel as Billy does excellent work in the film and hits each emotional note spot-on, giving us a believable and well-rounded character. Also, the two youngest actors in the film happen to be some of my favorites and two kids jumping from television to film — Ian Chen as Eugene Choi and Faithe Herman as Darla.
What is endearing about the film is the approach it takes with the idea of family. As Billy goes through his experiences as a newly made superhero, he learns to change his perspective on family and appreciate what he has. The casting of these characters was fantastic, and each of these young actors proved themselves. There is a huge plot point in the film that deals with the family, and I won’t spoil it, but even in a press screening, the audience reacted audibly to it, so I’m sure audiences are going to love it.
Shazam solidifies the DCEU even more, giving us a superhero film with strong comedic elements while still having depth and heart. Zachary Levi was the perfect casting choice for the film and with Asher Angel, have created a truly memorable performance. David Sandberg has created a film that is exciting, bright and fun, but also highlights the darkness in the world and within ourselves. He gives the ultimate message to the audience that strength, honesty, and family will be the saving grace for us all.