I finally saw DC’s money maker Shazam the other weekend. The crowdpleaser amassed over $300M at the box office, seemingly dousing the fires of doubt at Warner Bros. Audiences enjoyed the kid-friendly tale of Billy Baston’s journey to become The Champion. I appreciated the film as a homage to 1990s kid flicks. And while not perfect, I enjoyed this lighter fare from D(ark)C comics.
For those unfamiliar with the character, it’s a bit of a iconic mess in nerd lore, but we’ll ignore that for now. Shazam is an ancient power bestowed upon the purest of heart by a wizard (Djimon Honsou) of the same name. After an ostracized child-turned vengeful adult (Mark Strong) unleashes the Seven Deadly Sins into the universe, this power is given to Billy (Asher Angel), an orphan running from his problems to find his birth mother. (Orphans were SO 90s – Angels in the Outfield, Free Willy, Little Princess, Richie Rich etc.,)
By yelling his name, Billy transforms into Zachary Levi, a Superman-esque hero who throws bolts of lightning from his fingers. The body transforming makes for some funny bits throughout. The greater lesson as he meets his nemesis, is what it means to be a hero, with and without powers.
Levi is perfect as adult-hero Billy, fumbling through his new supernatural abilities like puberty. He and Freddie (Jake Dylan Grazer) have great chemistry. Strong is also great as Doctor Sivana. His moments of terror were incredibly dark, which may play odd for some in a film targeted to children.
I tended to lose interest as the film attempted to tackle the familial narratives. Sivana’s issues felt unearned, especially the flippant way they explain his origin. Not sure why his family hated him so.
While Billy and Freddie formed a relationship, other children in the group home were ignored and story lines unresolved. Pedro’s silent treatment and poor grades went without explanation. And Darla’s emotional attachments go unexplained. I thought we’d see Billy opening up to each of his siblings, making the final showdown a bit more sentimental.
Also were they attending a K-12 school? Darla couldn’t be anymore than a 2nd grader, and Mary was heading to college – how they all at the same lunch? The bullying of Freddie went TOO unchallenged, especially in that first scene. And how you have monsters biting humans’ heads off and their not be a lick of blood.
Sidenote: Djimon Honsou did not lead a revolt on a slave ship; save Leo in Africa; fall in love with Queen Latifah; and, challenge Star-Lord and Captain Marvel to always be cast as some secondary character. Put some respect on his name!
All in all the movie was a pleasant watch. Not worth seeing in the theater, but definitely something for families to enjoy. It mostly proved DC can do something different than dark, CGI’ed doom and loom.