The Spool / Movies
Shazam! Review: Say the Name and Enjoy That Charisma
The DCEU continues its upward trajectory with a flashy, fun, and surprisingly heartfelt teen superhero story.
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The DCEU continues its upward trajectory with a flashy, fun, and surprisingly heartfelt teen superhero story.


There exists a kind of irony to the fact that the most abashedly excited to be a part of shared universe DC superhero film comes when the idea of the DCEU has been more or less retirement to history. Yet, that proves the case with Shazam!.

As good as Wonder Woman turned out — and that is very good, for the record — and as wacky fun as I found Aquaman, neither of those films exactly embraced their fellow superheroes. WW took place some hundred years before Batman or Superman would exist and Aquaman referenced his teammates just enough to alert us not to worry about a Cyborg or Flash sighting. Shazam!, on the other hands, makes no bones about where this story unfolds, an Earth of super-powered heroes, dastardly bad guys, and the occasional grim (but still highly marketable) vigilante.

This attitude pervades everything the movie tries. Like the teenagers the film revolves around, the film is overflowing with energy and optimism. Its swipes at capturing the cynicism of Dr. Theodore Sivana (Mark Strong), the Seven Sins powered villain, feel like a teenager’s attempts at hating the world. Utter in their conviction, shallow in their delivery.

I do not mean that as a criticism, however. I loved how this movie seemed to be the emotions and worldviews of the tweens and teens. Sivana works wonderfully as the kid who never outgrew his trauma and, while his methods have gotten terribly adult, his obsessions and wounds remain locked into those adolescent years.

Like the teenagers the film revolves around, the film is overflowing with energy and optimism.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) sits on the other edge of that divide, teetering on the edge of never letting his pain be processed. He has been running from foster homes and helping hands for so long in search of a mom (Caroline Palmer) that he lost in a crowd that he has convinced himself that he needs no one. Or, at least, no one except her. So when he gets to be the superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi), all adult, handsome, and muscley, he carries that attitude with him. He feels only the vaguest motivations towards heroics, because he has been struggling to protect only his safety for so long.

Not to make this sound overly dark and unpleasant – Levi throws all of his considerable charm into the part and it pays off in spades. In keeping with the theme of teenagehood mentioned above, even when his Shazam succumbs to self-involvement and self-importance, you can still “see” the good kid underneath. Batson is not bad and, thus, neither is Shazam. They’re (he’s?) just struggling to be a whole person.

That push and pull runs through all of Batson’s fellow group home residents/foster kids (they use the term interchangeably in the film although, speaking as a group home clinician, the two are very different things). Freddy Freeman (a likeable Jack Dylan Grazer) is in love with the idea of heroics but his first vicarious taste of it sees him falling for the glitz and losing sight of the substance. Mary (Grace Fulton) can’t decide if she wants to run to the farthest university possible or never stray from her front door. And so down the line for Pedro (Jovan Armand), Eugene (Ian Chen), and Darla (Faithe Herman).

The movie is admittedly slight. At over two hours it does not feel long in the moment, but upon review it is clear it covers little ground considering the running time. Trimming or cutting an entire “discover the superpowers” montage probably could have happened without anyone being the wiser. Additionally, the climax at a fair called “Chilladelphia” lacks a certain thematic heft –save a moment I refuse to spoil. The monstrous impediments of the Seven Sins repeatedly puffing into dust is perhaps the perfect metaphor for this weight and overall importance.

All of this said, SHAZAM! is a bright cheery sugar rush of a movie. It is pitched younger, which may certainly bother some, but it made me smile and giggle in equal measure. Levi supercharges the proceedings with his charisma and it effortlessly papers over the flaws. It made me leave the theatre thinking something I never expected to. “Is it too late to give this whole DCEU thing another shot?”

Shazam! Trailer