Fun fact: Shazam is technically a Christmas movie.
But it is also an incredibly sweet movie that generates a loving origin story surrounding the main character and his family, creating a narrative that refreshing, humorous, and incredibly, incredibly fun to watch.
Asher Angel pays Billy Batson, a young runaway teen on the lookout for his mother who he was accidentally separated from when he was a child. He is placed in a large— and nice— foster family but is not having any of their sweet dinner rituals and found family antics. This is derailed anyways when a dying wizard bestows Billy with the collective powers of multiple famed godly beings throughout history, turning him into the hero that we know as Shazam.
(Or Captain Marvel in the comics but Marvel Comics snagged the old name from them. Copyright is hilarious sometimes).
Anyways, whenever Billy uses these powers, he turns in Chuck’s Zachary Levi— a man in his late-30s.
Angel is an engaging actor, endearingly sympathetic as a clearly heartbroken child even when Billy is being a bit of a brat. (He is also a near duplicate of Maisie “Arya Stark” Williams.) There was a quick concern that we will loose Billy in Levi’s antics and forget the kid behind the mask (or, ah, adult-man-body). This is the case for a lot of movies— see Big or switched up in 18 Again or any film that partakes in the popular trope of “child gets zapped into something else for a day”, but the film consistently reaffirms Angel into the film during the emotional beats of the film.
Levi has always been a goofy, physical actor and it was a throwback for me to see him back as a fun-loving centerpiece again. He took the pre-teen angle and ran with it— always fun while getting Billy’s own personal hang-ups through his actions. They are definitely two sides of the same coin— while Angel getting more of the dramatic scenes and Levi getting some of the more goofy, maybe a little less cool ones. And the latter makes sense— a rough kid still is going to be kind of silly when you see his actions in a man’s body. (Cue first-taste-of-beer spit take.)
The wizard deemed Billy as “pure of heart”, but it takes a while for our protagonist to get there— he is actively selfish, impulsive, and kind of mean. But he is also fourteen and the natural growth of Billy’s character development was packed well into the high-concept of his powers. There’s something kind of surprising to see your kid-hero actually being kind of terrified by being hunted down by an grown-man-villain with zapping powers.
The supporting cast was fantastic as well— Billy’s fellow foster child Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) takes up the other third of the film as a supportive fanboy and rare “friend-in-the-know” who actually participates in the hero scene. Billy’s youngest foster sister Darla was absolutely adorable. Shazam deal with themes of found family in ways that feel jarringly realistic, while keeping an idealistic base that gives it a distinct superhero feel.
And in case you are wondering, Shazam is a little divorced for the larger narrative of the DC Cinematic Universe. (And that’s all I will say about that!)
I liked Shazam the way I liked Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse— a movie that tackles a young adult’s life as they move on to the next stage of their life. Movies that can approach mature, maybe even dark, subjects with a wide-eye type of kindness that is needed for all audiences. The final battle scene of Shazam causes a thrilled gasp throughout the theater and I believe it earned it completely with how it built its story.
If you are the type of person deeply exhausted by the slew of superhero movies (and I sure am glad I am not you, sounds rough), Shazam would probably be the movie for you. The coming-of-age feel and separation from a larger narrative allows it to be a contained story that focuses on the fun, wild growth of its cultivated characters.