Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
With all of the changes in programming, it is difficult to keep track of which movies DC Comics and Warner Bros. are considering to be part of the DC Extended Universe these days; but judging from a brief cameo in Shazam!, this one is part of the family. And it is a refreshing change of pace for the franchise that started with the moody Man of Steel and then got moodier in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Subsequent movies like Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman did lighten things up a bit, but Shazam! is a straight-up comedy; a remake, essentially, of the Tom Hanks 1988 hit Big, only instead of just becoming an adult, this kid is also gifted with superpowers. What does a 15-year-old suddenly gifted with superpowers do with them? That is all part of the non-stop fun in Shazam!
After a brief prelude, the movie introduces us to a teenager named Billy Batson. Billy has been in and out of foster homes since he lost his mother at a carnival as a boy, but he continues to search for her, convinced she has been trying hard to find him, too. After a run-in with the police, he is placed in a new foster home. His new family is friendly enough, but Billy keeps his distance. When his new roommate suffers the abuses of bullies, Billy is compelled by something inside of him to step in and defend him. This catches the attention of an elderly wizard named Shazam, who magically transports the confused Billy to his underground sanctuary.
The old wizard explains that he is the last of his kind and must transfer his powers to a worthy successor, who can use them to protect the world from the seven deadly sins, represented here by giant gargoyle-like monsters. Billy first thinks this is some kind of joke, but with one utterance of the wizard’s name, he suddenly finds himself in the body of a 35-year-old man, dressed in superhero suit complete with cape, and gifted the abilities of super strength, super speed, bullet immunity, and the power to shoot electricity from his fingertips. At first all he wants to do is have fun with his new found powers, but when word gets out that the wizard Shazam has picked his champion, the villainous Dr. Sivana, currently in possession of the power of the seven deadly sins, comes looking to take ownership of the powers that he believes to be his destiny.
Shazam! is in many ways the family-friendly version of Deadpool, dissecting not only what it means to be a superhero, but also what it means to be a superhero movie. Genre clichés are pointed out and poked fun of, but in a way that still manages to be respectful to its genre elders. There is even a running joke throughout this movie as to what Billy’s superhero name should be. This plays on the fact that the character was originally named Captain Marvel, but now cannot be, for reasons that should be clear to anyone who has been to the movies recently.
Shazam! is an incredibly entertaining movie from start to finish. Director David Sandberg has absolutely nailed a comedic tone that works perfectly for the story. If a 15-year-old was suddenly gifted with superpowers, he most likely wouldn’t mope around about it. He would have fun with it and this movie takes that idea and runs with it. Even in the requisite action-packed finale, the movie maintains its light and fun tone. And because the movie is so darn funny, it is easy to forgive it some minor faults, like a few shaky CGI moments.
The movie’s comic genius starts with Zachary Levi as Billy’s superhero alter-ego. Like Tom Hanks in Big, Levi perfectly captures what it would be like to be a 15-year-old trapped in a 35-year-old superhero’s body. His brilliant line readings and not-quite-winking facial expressions sell many of the movie’s best gags. Cheers to Jack Dylan Grazer as well, who plays Levi’s teenage best friend and gives him lots of good work to play off of. The editors of this movie will be its unsung heroes, though. Although the movie is lengthy and could probably benefit from some trims to its exposition, the editors more than make up for that by generating many of Shazam!’s biggest laughs with perfectly timed cuts.
Shazam! probably could have gotten by on its humor alone, but it also manages to tell a moving story about family. After all, not even someone with the power of a god should have to go through this life alone.
Sometimes we take our superhero movies a little too seriously and it is nice that a movie like Shazam! exists to remind us that these stories should first and foremost be fun. Shazam! is the 15-year-old in all of us, suddenly blessed with the superpowers of laughter, heart, and family.
Shazam! opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Kent Station 14, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Stadium Landing 14 in Renton.