‘Shazam!’ pulls off light-hearted DC film

The DCEU’s best film to date has come in the form of a fun coming-of-age story.

The following review contains spoilers for “Shazam!”

If you're at all familiar with comic books, you're bound to have at least one long shot character: a character you enjoy that, for one reason or another, is bound to remain on the page and in cartoons. For me, that character had always been DC’s Shazam (aka Captain Marvel). I always held the firm belief that the character held too much 1940s cheese to be adapted. Whereas Superman and Batman matured with time, Shazam didn’t. And for good reason — how do you mature a 12-year-old foster boy who can say a magic word and turn into a superhero?

As you can imagine, when “Shazam!” was announced in 2014 I was ecstatic. Finally, on April 5, “Shazam!” was released, and it’s fantastic.“Shazam!” is a nearly-perfect adaptation. Everything feels right. The casting of Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and Shazam (Zachary Levi) are absolutely spot on.

For this adaptation, Batson is aged up two years and given his more cynical personality seen in The New 52 . Angel absolutely nailed his share of the character, but Levi’s performance as a 14-year-old in a superhero’s body especially shined. The movie’s best moments are enhanced by the chemistry held between both Batson actors and Jack Dylan Grazer, who plays Batson’s foster brother and in-universe superhero nerd Freddy Freeman.

Interactions between these two characters make up a majority of the film and the outstanding chemistry between the three actors made a lot of moments that much more memorable.

“Shazam!” is one of the most well-casted superhero films of all time.

The film’s antagonist is Doctor Sivana (Mark Strong). The film opens with Sivana being transported to the Rock of Eternity and meeting the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who promptly deems him impure and unworthy of his power. Sivana becomes obsessed with gaining the wizard’s power and eventually gets corrupted by the Seven Deadly Sins. Of course, the one to get Shazam’s power is Billy. While this makes for a nice parallel between Billy and Sivana, superheroes and their villains sharing similar backstories is becoming a little overdone. It becomes that much worse when Shazam gets an, “I understand how you feel,” moment with Sivana. This moment rings hollow considering it’s a 14-year-old who was purposefully abandoned by his mother having this moment with a grown man who had a mean millionaire dad.

Something superhero films going forward ought to take note of is how “Shazam!” handles its place in an extended universe. “Shazam!” has characters seamlessly acknowledging the existence of other heroes in the film’s universe, but never too vaguely or gratuitously. My favorite instance of this is Freddy’s ownership of a bullet certified to have bounced off Superman, which is later referenced when Freddy gets video certification of bullets bouncing off Shazam. This is also a notable example of the film’s wonderful use of callbacks.

What ended up pushing this movie beyond the typical superhero affair for me was the final 30 minutes. The last act of this movie left me feeling the most childlike joy I’ve ever felt watching a movie. The movie finished off with a chain of events including the introduction of the Shazam Family, a realization of what family is, a Superman cameo and two suitcase wedgies. I suppose it was a little bit of that 1940s cheese I thought made the character unadaptable that ended up making the movie incredible.

“Shazam!” definitely stands out as the best DC Extended Universe movie to date, and is a must-watch for superhero fans. With any luck, “Shazam!” is a sign of things to come for DC’s presence on the big screen.

Edited by Joe Cross | jcross@themaneater.com

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