“Shazam!” is an effortlessly entertaining family film

Looking for a fun family-friendly adventure film to watch before the summer kicks off? Check out DC’s “Shazam!," a delightful superhero adventure that everyone can enjoy.

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Emma Hall and Rain Richards

Shazam (Zachary Levi), the champion of good, stands against the villainous Dr. Thaddeus Sivana.

Nowadays, it seems like every major studio under the spotlight in the Hollywood scene is trying to create their own cinematic universe. This is natural, of course, considering how many franchises have spread far and wide, becoming massive sensations to movie-going audiences. Take the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it had humble beginnings, but eventually spawned into a 22-film box office monster. Unfortunately, a great many have not succeeded in transforming their properties into film franchises. The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is one example: they rushed to put out their big team-up blockbusters without proper build-up, and their saga has mostly fizzled out in the years since it began. Lately, all they have been doing afterwards is making separate solo films in the hope of redeeming themselves. “Shazam!” is the redeemer that they needed.

“Shazam!” is a rare win for DC ~ Warner Bros. Pictures

The movie revolves around the 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a delinquent orphan who has been scouting the country since his childhood to track his parentage. After getting sentenced to live with a foster family, Batson comes to the attention of the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou), an ancient being who has been searching for decades for the right person to entrust his immense magical powers with. After gaining the powers, all Batson has to do is say a word and he can transform into the extraordinarily powerful Shazam (Zachary Levi).

Throughout the film’s 2-hour runtime, two prevalent themes are grasped upon, the first of which is the most obvious: taking the role of hero. More specifically, the common teenager who already is troubled with his own problems having to take the mantle. This overarching idea may be common to find in novels or comic books, but it hasn’t appeared in quite as many movies—the Spider-Man saga being a major exception. Additionally, the concept that this person in particular can magically turn into another person altogether is present—Tom Hanks’s 1988 “Big” is one of few to take this concept on. These two ideas meld together perfectly in “Shazam.” At the outset of gaining his powers, Batson doesn’t use it for the “good of mankind” or anything like that. He does exactly as you would expect someone his age to use them; gaining extra money off the street, antagonizing bullies, and even attempting to buy a pack of beer. But as Uncle Ben once wisely noted, “with great power comes great responsibility.” So, he has to learn to use his powers wisely lest he risk causing more trouble than need be.

The other overarching subject matter in “Shazam” is family. As stated in the premise, Batson is an orphan who was separated from his mother at a young age. The effect of the splitting of him from his family is noticeable in Batson’s attitudes throughout the film. He may seem unreasonably angsty throughout, but it is understandable considering his backstory. Further complying with the theme of family is Batson’s relationship with his foster family. His new family is eager to accept him as one of their own, but he doesn’t see them as “family” because they aren’t related. Later on, though, a different attitude develops: family isn’t limited to the people you are related to. Adoptees and all the people who share strong familial relationships with people who aren’t a part of their lineage will especially relate to this theme in “Shazam.”

Shazam / Billy Batson (Zachary Levi) senses danger while surrounded by his foster family ~ Warner Bros. Pictures

The acting elevates the film. Zachary Levi is called upon to play the titular character, Shazam. It’s a role that requires more talent in hitting all the comedic notes and exuding a wholehearted personality than being self-serious, but that’s fine. The character of Shazam has never been one to be somber, like some of the other DC heroes. Levi is absolutely perfect in the role. He emits a joyous assertiveness, nailing Batson’s teenage personality and the whole “young person in an adult body” concept. Another standout is Jack Dylan Grazer (of 2017’s “It”) as Batson’s foster brother Freddy Freeman. His character is mostly used for comic relief with a touch of dramatic moments when he confronts Batson about his behavior, and like Levi, Grazer is fantastic in exuding the liveliness of the part. Mark Strong is a nice addition to the cast, playing the enjoyably over-the-top villain Thaddeus Sivana, who seeks to steal the power from Batson after getting rejected for the role as a child.

In a world where almost almost all blockbusters are trying to be as cumbersome as possible, “Shazam” is a breath of fresh air.”

— Edward Keen

An ample quantity of inspiration is taken from the features released in the earlier age of cinema. For one, the all around mood of the film is a crisscross between the lively, humorous parts meant to entertain and engage viewers: there’s a fantasy aspect, what with a whole subplot about a society of wizards and having to protect Earth from a pack of ravenous creatures called the Seven Deadly Sins and bits and pieces of other widely-used subjects like coming-of-age are employed. Additionally, it is much simpler and less dependent on special effects than most mainstream movies today. It isn’t trying to be complicated and call upon excessive worldbuilding, with massive world-ending stakes and explosive CGI battles. It’s just a to-the-point story that doesn’t have high aspirations. In a world where almost all blockbusters are trying to be as cumbersome as possible, “Shazam” is a breath of fresh air.

All in all, “Shazam” is a constantly delightful movie for all generations of the family to enjoy. For those looking for a more low key superhero flick to attend to in the age of behemoth blockbusters stirring up the Hollywood scene, it is the perfect watch. If DC continues churning out movies like this, then they will assuredly be on the right track for larger success in the future. Grade: A