The DCEU was in utter shambles by the time Justice League (2017) came around, with Wonder Woman being the only acclaimed film under its belt. But once Joss Whedon disappointed everyone with 2017’s Justice League, many were ready to call it quits on DC. Even though Aquaman managed to make box office records a year later, there was a lesser-known superhero on the horizon that really changed the game for DC fans and the DCEU, which turned out to be Captain Marvel…I mean Shazam!
Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel) is an orphan living in foster care trying to find the mother that abandoned him. While in his new foster home, he quickly befriends superhero fanatic Freddie (played by Jack Dylan Grazer). On a subway ride home, Billy is teleported to another dimension where a wizard gives him the power of Gods, turning him into the superhero Shazam! (played by Zachary Levi). With this newfound ability to be a superhero, he unwittingly attracts the attention of Doctor Sivana (played by Mark Strong), who holds all the powers of the Seven Deadly Sins. It is now up to Billy to stop Sivana before his powers are used to wreak havoc upon the innocent.
Compared to much of the early DCEU films, Shazam! is the black sheep tonally but that isn’t an insult. Shazam!’s tone manages to remain consistent and fun throughout its runtime while also spitting in the face of the overall dark tone of the DCEU. While yes, dark and brooding can work for a superhero film, but it would not have worked for the story this film was telling. Since much of the story’s themes revolve around family, the tone needed to be lighter and it more than succeeded with that.
I also have to admit that Shazam! works well as a sort of wish fulfillment for many children with dreams of becoming a superhero. One of the highlights of the film is Billy testing out his new superpowers with Freddie, set perfectly to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”. It is hilarious, innocent and an absolute blast especially with how relatable the sequence is. It also proves how in over your head someone in Billy’s situation can get without proper training or a serious attitude, especially when a supervillain is just as powerful and more experienced. This is seen with Billy and Sivana’s first fight in a Philadelphia mall, which is both realistic and side-splitting.
As I mentioned before, much of Shazam!’s themes are about family, and not the forced fed Fast & Furious style of family but a more natural and relatable version of family. They take the foster system into account and really help sell how love, not blood, makes a family. This is shown when Billy’s foster siblings found Billy’s birth mother that abandoned him without him even having to ask. It was something he needed closure on, and his foster siblings understood that better than anyone. This makes their ultimate team up and transformation into the Shazam Family later on in the film feel earned.
I haven’t even begun talking about the performances. Zachary Levi takes a page from Tom Hanks in Big as being a kid in an adult’s body, and it is clear he is having the time of his life. Meanwhile, Asher Angel as the child counterpart of Billy Batson is the more guarded foster child, which really helps us empathize with him. Jack Dylan Grazer is fantastic as the best friend and has excellent chemistry with both Levi and Angel. He’s basically every single DC fan that watches every single film. But definitely a highlight was Mark Strong’s charismatic Doctor Sivana. Sivana was both a tragic figure and intimidating villain, having both an abusive father and older brother, and an unhealthy obsession with magic was not a great combination. Even though his heartbreaking backstory makes him sympathetic, a deadly amount of magical abilities makes him intimidating and a perfect contrast to Billy Batson.
Shazam! is the necessary blacksheep in the hit-and-miss saga of the DCEU, as its tone is unlike anything else in DC and that strengthens the film in every way possible. The upbeat tone and familial themes really create a story everyone can relate to. It also helps that they play into everyone’s superhero fantasies of children getting superpowers, both good and bad, with moments such as “Don’t Stop Me Now” and the first Billy vs Sivana fight. Excellent performances from the entire cast particularly Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Zachary Levi make the film that much more enjoyable. Shazam! is proof that DC doesn’t need to be dark and brooding all the time, it just needs to tell an intriguing story and have some fun!