Following the success of Superman and Batman, comics publisher Fawcett Publications decided to capitalize on the new trend. In 1939, they commissioned writer Bill Parker and artist Charles Clarence Beck to create a superhero that could rival Superman. The two created the character Captain Marvel, and the character debuted in Whiz Comics #2 in February 1940. He proved so popular that it even outsold Superman, which led DC Comics to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Eventually, Fawcett ceased publishing the character in 1953, and the character rights were sold to DC in 1972. Soon, Captain Marvel became a prominent figure in DC Comics, but was renamed to Shazam to avoid trademark conflicts. The first live-action adaptations was a twelve-part serial in 1941, known as Adventures of Captain Marvel. Flashforward to 2019, where a new film adaptation has been released as part of the DC Extended Universe, Shazam!
Young Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has been bouncing around between foster families while searching for his long-lost mother. He ends up moving into a new foster home, where he meets Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), a superhero fan. After defending Freddy from some bullies, Billy gets chased down and eventually outruns them in the subway. While on the subway, Billy is teleported to an ancient realm, where he’s greeted by an old wizard (Djimon Hounsou). The wizard says he’s been searching for a champion to inherit his powers, and he chooses Billy as his champion. By saying the wizard’s name, “Shazam”, Billy is transformed into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi). Soon, Billy aka Shazam is confronted by the villainous Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), who wants Billy’s powers. Now, Billy has to rise up and find the hero inside himself in order to save the day.
Without a doubt, this is easily one of the best entries in the DCEU, somewhere between Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Zachary Levi does a great job as Shazam, exhibiting a boyish charm and feeling like a kid in a man’s body. Also, many of the younger actors, including Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer, give great performances. While this is clearly a superhero movie, at its heart, this is a film about family. The scenes with Billy’s foster family are fun and heartwarming without going too overboard and feeling sappy. While Billy and Freddy are given the spotlight, the other kids in the family are given their time to shine. It’s also refreshing to see a more realistic view of what a kid would do if he were given superpowers. Seeing Freddy and Shazam goof off and have fun with his powers is enjoyable and provides plenty of laughs.
Any complaints I have here are very minimal and really don’t detract from the film overall. While Mark Strong does a great job and has an interesting backstory, the character just falls into standard villain territory. But, that might’ve been intentional as he’s more an obstacle for Billy/Shazam to overcome rather than a compelling villain. That said, this is definitely one of the better superhero movies released lately and is a fun time all around. While the fate of the DCEU is in limbo, given the latest entries, it seems things are picking up. It also helps to have a fun and lighthearted superhero movie to offset the big gamechanger, Avengers: Endgame. I apologize for not having much more to say, but when it’s this enjoyable, it’s hard to say much. Overall, Shazam! is a fun superhero adventure with tons of heart and great characters.