The DCEU (or whatever it is officially called) has started to throw off some of the shackles and criticism that many of the early films had with the more positive response to Aquaman, now they’re looking to follow that up with a slightly less mainstream property, Shazam!.
Shazam is a unique superhero. Whilst he is magically imbued with a number of powers through a number of mythical deities, in reality he is a 14 year old called Billy Batson. This has lead to a lot of people describing Shazam! as a cross between Superman and Big. The director, David F. Sandberg, clearly used Big as an inspiration for the film, taking the comedic tone, and even referencing Big fairly directly at one point.
But Shazam! is still very much a superhero origin film. Asher Angel and Zachary Levi do an excellent job in dual role of Billy and Shazam as a character who is learning what it means to have these powers and what it means to be a hero. It’s a fairly standard superhero story, but what really stands out in Billy’s journey is the fact that he’s a character going through the foster system, and searching for acceptance and a place to belong.
Levi is particularly impressive because he has to capture the spirit of a 14 year old in his performance. He plays the childlike mannerisms of Billy superbly, whilst also managing to show the shock and wonder at being granted superpowers that someone would have. Alongside Billy is his roommate at the group home he lives in Freddy played by Jack Dylan Grazer, who has superb chemistry with both Angel and Levi. Grazer may only be 15 but he is proving himself to be one of the best young comic actors around right now, delivering many of the best comedic moments of the film.
And the comedy is a big part of Shazam!. A lot of people have been frustrated with origin stories in Superhero film and feel as though they’re stale, but director Sandberg and the screen writer Henry Gayden manage to find a lot of humour in that. Whilst the discovery of powers is usually an epic moment, these are some of the funniest scenes of the film and an incredibly creative way of showing something we’ve seen in films a lot over the past 20 years.
It’s refreshing to see a film in the DCEU take such a different approach to the tone and feel of one of their films because it shows a willingness to have these films stand as their own unique piece rather than merely servicing a larger story. And that leads to Shazam! being a delightfully fun film, with some really powerful moments, and certainly a Superhero film well worth watching.