Billy Batson is a streetwise 14-year-old who encounters a wizard that lets him turn into an adult superhero by simply saying the word “Shazam”. His newfound powers soon get put to the test when he squares off against the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana.
By focusing less on world-building and more on humor and heart, Shazam! turns out to be one of the DC Extended Universe’s greatest successes yet. It immediately establishes itself as a funnier DC movie but also uses the light tone to convey some real sweetness in its themes. Zachary Levi owns his role with plenty of charisma and perfectly portrays a superhero discovering his powers and size for the first time, which makes for the most enjoyable sequences of the film. Even though you spend so much time with Levi that there isn’t enough unity felt between him and the younger actor playing Billy, both performances are skilled on their own. The movie takes themes that feel rather family-friendly, such as the importance of family and sharing, and perfectly intertwines them with the aim of a PG-13 audience of a live-action superhero film, making for a very heartwarming and cheerful experience, especially in the final half. The one major thing that will bother some viewers is the villain — sure, envy and greed are good motives, and Mark Strong is a great actor, but the execution of the character is ultimately dull and felt so inferior to everything else in the movie, where everything else says “Check me out, I’m awesome!” while the villain’s writing is basically “By the way, I’m evil and I’m doing evil things.” His execution feels really one-dimensional and we never really feel the rage or jealousy of him, and even though we see his backstory, he just feels heartless and mean later on, ignoring the layer the writers could have offered to the character. Also, some of the production design and CGI aren’t very pleasant to look at, such as a wizard’s lair that looks to obviously like a film set and has little to no realism to it. Perhaps a larger budget to make the visual appeal much less underwhelming would have helped. However, Shazam! has a way of playing on cliches, making its audience die of laughter, and humanizing seemingly unimportant side characters and making them feel like emotionally potent roles, as well as giving foster kids representation on the big screen in a superhero movie for the first time.
Shazam! is arguably DC’s greatest win since The Dark Knight, and — surprisingly — the better movie based on a character named Captain Marvel this Spring. More uplifting than Aquaman or Justice League, and definitely more interesting for tweens than Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad. It’s definitely up there with Wonder Woman as the DCEU outings that have definitely hit their mark, and for once makes you look forward to the next wave of films starring Levi as the titular character. It isn’t perfect as some of the production could’ve used improvement and the villain and plot structure are familiar, but under it all is a message that will reach viewer’s hearts and also make for a damn good time — go see it with family and friends when it’s out on April 5!