“Shazam!” is all about family. Whatever others may write about it, at the heart, it is about connection, family, and togetherness, wherever you find your home and whoever your family is. I found it heartfelt, lighthearted, funny and one of the best DC movies, right up with Wonder Woman and the best of the Marvel films as well.
In “Shazam!”, we first meet the seven deadly sins and the wizard holding them contained, Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who is searching desperately for a champion. We’re first introduced to Thaddeus Sivana in 1974 as a child, who fails the test when he reaches for the Eye of Envy and is transported back to his father, causing an accident. The film moves forward as Shazam continues his search into present day. We meet young fourteen Billy Batson (Asher Angel and Zachary Levi) who is arrested by child services when he traps a pair of police officers. He is taken to live in a group home run by the Vasquez’s and shares a room with Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody), a paraplegic. Meanwhile Sivana (Mark Strong) manages to return to Shazam and frees the sins. Billy is recruited and given the powers of Shazam but he can only learn to use them with the help of Freddy who has tons of superpower knowledge but will he be in time before Sivana harms his family and steals his powers? With the help of the rest of his foster siblings, Mary (Grace Fulton and Michelle Borth), Darla (Faithe Herman and Meagan Good), Eugene (Ian Chen and Ross Butler) and Pedro (Jovan Armand and D. J. Cotrona), Billy learns to embrace his true potential so he can fight back against Sivana and the Sins.
What makes this film so powerful is the message of family. Both Billy and Thaddeus have come from families that rejected them. Billy’s mom abandoned him while for Thaddeus, his father and brother treat him as less than them and don’t believe in him. It is in the contrast between the pair and how they deal with their rejections that provides the story. Billy chases after his mother until he learns to accept that he is never going to have what he wants so badly and embraces a new family. For Thaddeus, he continues to chase after something to fill the hole in his soul. Instead of learning to let go or find a new path, he holds onto the darkness inside himself while Billy chooses light. It is as profound a message as any superhero movie I have seen and never heavy handed, remaining both fun and heartwarming.
The pacing and action are tightly woven, the story taut and always moving the plot forward. The introduction jumps you right into the heart of the story and moves quickly to introduce Billy and his purpose. Even while it spends time on Billy learning his powers, it never lingers too long, staying on track and getting into the fight scenes without wasting time. Interspersing action with comedy, moments of lighthearted fun, such as Zachary Levi dancing or saving a convenience store, there is never a down moment. And every part of the story is connected, every part of it important to the conclusion and the final scenes. And while you don’t see much of the parents, the Vazquez’s, they are as important as the children. They were foster children who grew up wanting to give others a home and that idea is the heart of the plot. Their actions drive the story as much as Billy or the other children.
The acting is fantastic. Zachary Levi does a wonderful job, playing someone who suddenly has an adult body and powers, embracing those powers and having fun with the part but still infusing his role with warmth and caring. Younger Billy, Asher Angel, is equally skilled, giving a great performance as he struggles with how to use his abilities and how to fight Sivana. Jack Dylan Grazer is incredible as Freddy, fun but connecting with Billy at all the right times. He has a great dynamic with both Zachary Levi when he’s teaching Billy how to use his powers and with Asher Angel, teaching him how to have a family. Faithe Herman is adorable as Darla, warm and loving, bringing just the right touch to her part in the story. The other children, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand and Grace Fulton are just perfect in their portrayals. Mark Strong is the perfect villain, never once playing his character as black and white but demonstrating why Thaddeus Sivana wants power, showing his rejection and his willingness to do anything to get what he wants. Cooper Andrews as Victor Vasquez and Marta Milans as Rosa Vasquez are caring and fierce as parents to their foster children.
If there is any critique I have, I wonder why this film is set over Christmas and wasn’t marketed for the holiday season. The story being about family and connections would make it perfect for the holidays and the setting is perfect as well. I think it was a slight miss but overall, the story is beautiful, the action is fantastic, I love Shazam’s powers, the comedy makes you laugh, and the acting is absolutely the best. If you like superhero movies, this is definitely one to watch, especially if you love movies for the entire family and if you love Zachary Levi getting to be both a goofy kid as well as the hero.
Rating: 5 Lightning bolts out of 5.