Shazam! continues the streak of films that appear to be moving the DCEU in the right direction. Following in the footsteps of Wonder Woman and Aquaman, Shazam! tells a brighter, more fun superhero story, while keeping the tale firmly rooted in something resembling reality. Shazam! tells the story of Billy Batson, an orphan who is given powers beyond his wildest dreams. With the help of his foster brother, Freddy Freeman, Billy learns how to use his powers and be a real hero. The film relies less on traditional, grandiose battles between good and evil, and more on the relationship between the hero and his family. In this way, Shazam! really changes things up and it is all the better for it.
There is plenty to like about this film, but it's in no way perfect. There are, of course, a few things that, if we had our druthers, might be different. However, these are very small issues in the big picture, and the film is overall a great watch, with some fantastic performances and really entertaining sequences. There is definitely more that Shazam! does right than it does wrong, and in this way, it makes for a big step in the right direction for future DCEU films. There is a lot to like about this film, from its sense of humor to its sincerity in telling a story rooted in familial themes to its exciting third act battle. Here are the 18 Best Things About Shazam (And 3 Things We Didn’t Like At All).
One thing that gives Shazam! a touch of character is the fact that it is set during the holidays. This is something that Shane Black famously does with most of his movies, and it's just a really great way to ground the story in a specific time frame. The snow on the ground and the Christmas decorations everywhere also just add a bit of texture to the background.
Of course, the fact that the story is set at Christmas also helps to play into the other big theme of the film, family (more on that in a moment). It also allows the film to do some pretty funny stuff with a Santa Claus who keeps getting freaked out by all the super fights happening around him.
When the DCEU was in its earliest stages, it was clearly meant to rebuff the bright, zippy, fun of the MCU. Zack Snyder's original vision seemed to be taking the DCEU into a much darker and more serious territory (although the early films felt more self-serious than anything).
That dour, bleak outlook has since started to wear off, and films like Wonder Woman and Aquaman seem to be moving the DCEU in a new direction, one that is closer to the precedent set by Marvel. Shazam! continues this trend by being a lot more lighthearted and fun, filling the gaps between the action with plenty of humor.
The major theme running throughout Shazam! is finding a place where you belong. Specifically, it puts its focus on family more than anything. Billy Batson is an orphan who has spent his life trying to find his birth mother if only to give himself a real home and find the place he belongs.
When he is assigned to a foster family that has already taken in other children, Billy feels like he doesn't belong, that this is not a real family. However, over the course of the film (and after being turned away by his real mother), Billy realizes that family can be found in the most unlikely of places.
Most of the charm in Shazam! comes from none other than Freddy Freeman, played by Jack Dylan Grazr. Grazer had already shown some solid acting chops playing Eddie Kaspbrak in IT, and he really gets to stretch those muscles in Shazam! playing the overenthusiastic superhero fan.
In addition to providing some great comedic chemistry with Zachary Levi, Grazer also gets to play some real emotional moments, such as admitting that he wished he had been given superpowers because he wouldn't just waste them like Billy has been doing.
Along with Grazer, the film also features some great performances from the young actors playing Billy's foster siblings. Grace Fulton portrays Mary as the sibling with the most responsibility and gets a really nice moment to reflect on how she feels guilty leaving her family to go to college.
Likewise, Ian Chen and Jovan Armand play Eugene and Pedro with a lot of personality. Eugene is an energetic gamer, while Pedro is more of the strong, silent type. Last but not least, Faithe Herman makes Darla the precocious and sweet little sister that anyone would want to have in their life.
While the trailers and advertisements for Shazam! made no secret of the fact that Mark Strong would be playing Doctor Sivana, one thing they kept close to the vest was the appearance of the seven sins, classic foes of Shazam who are actually featured very prominently throughout the film.
In fact, these monsters provide a great contrast to the colorful and energetic superhero. They are delightfully frightening, and really lend a threatening air to the villain, who utilizes the monsters in order to take on the hero and try to steal his powers away.
Billy Batson receives his magical superpowers from a wizard named Shazam, who had been the protector of Earth for centuries. However, after failing to find a suitable replacement for so long, the wizard had grown old and weakened. In finding Billy, the wizard was finally allowed to fade away, and leave the world in the young man's hands.
Djimon Hounsou did a great job playing this old and wizened wizard, despite the fact that he is only 55 years old, and actually looks much younger than that. Still, he imbued the character with great strength and nobility, and although he only appears in the first act, the wizard leaves a lasting impression.
With all the whisperings of Dwayne Johnson appearing as Black Adam in his own movie, there was an understandable sense of disappointment when it was announced that Black Adam would not be featured at all in Shazam!. However, fans still got a little bit of a Black Adam tease to tide them over.
As the wizard is explaining to Billy how the first champion that he chose used his powers for evil, it becomes very clear that the person he is talking about is none other than Black Adam himself. Does this mean that Black Adam might be featured in a Shazam! sequel? We'll probably have to wait a couple of years to find out.
While they have their obvious differences, one thing that superhero films, or in this case, superhero origin films, have in common is the moment when the hero begins to discover their powers and learn how to harness them. Most films will accomplish this in a quick montage, but Shazam! has a little more fun with the standard sequence.
We get to see Billy, as the adult superhero, discovering that he is super fast, has lightning powers, and super strength pretty much by accident. The moment he discovers that he is bulletproof by asking two would-be robbers to shoot him in the face is an absolute classic. As the sequence goes on, he discovers all of his other powers (including being fireproof, which was done without his knowledge).
When we think about superhero films talking about power and responsibility, we mostly go to Spider-Man. It is, after all, the central tenet behind the web-slinger's entire story. It's something that gets touched on in a lot of other superhero films, but Shazam! does a great job in covering that ground without being too obvious.
Before he really becomes a superhero in earnest, Billy first spends a lot of time just playing around with his powers. It's what leads to his first heroic moment rescuing a bus full of people (which he disabled with his lightning), and it is most evident in the conversation he has with Freddy right after, who points out the unfairness of such amazing power being given to someone who would just waste it.
While Shazam! featured a really fun superhero who got to play off of a hilarious sidekick and share his powers with other people (more on that later), the film did, unfortunately, feature one problem that does tend to plague most superhero movies. We're talking, of course, about the two-dimensional villain.
Doctor Sivana, while making a great foil for Shazam in the sense that he is a serious, mean, and power-hungry villain, never really comes across as anything but that. Given that he had the chance to be the hero in the film's first minutes, but ended up being tempted away from the Wizard, his story should be more tragic. He should have more of a reason for wanting power. As it is, he is just a stock bad guy.
Of all the actors playing superheroes in the DCEU, Zachary Levi had the hardest job of them all. That's because he wasn't just playing a hero. He was given the task of playing a teenage boy who becomes a superhero. And honestly? Levi nails this role in pretty much every way possible.
One thing he conveys really well is exactly how a teenager would act given a ridiculous amount of power (and also an adult persona that allows him to get away with things like cutting school). He never acts so differently from Asher Angel that you forget they are supposed to be the same person.
One thing we already mentioned that was great about Shazam! was how it had a sense of humor, something that had been sorely lacking in the DCEU since the beginning. One of the best moments in the film that utilizes this sense of humor is when Sivana is making a climactic speech about how he is going to defeat the hero.
It's a moment we see in a lot of superhero films, but Shazam! subverts it perfectly by having Sivana give the speech while Shazam is so far away that he can't hear anything he is saying. By cutting back and forth between the two, it heightens the humor by conveying just how serious Sivana is, and how it is all lost in the moment.
Just like the seven sins, another aspect of the film that was never revealed in any promotional materials was the introduction of the entire Shazam family. During the final battle, Billy shares his power with his foster siblings, turning them into superheroes as well.
This is a moment taken straight out of the comics, specifically Shazam's New 52 origin, which is the story that the film is mostly based on. In fact, the film follows that origin story almost exactly, save for the fact that Doctor Sivana is the villain, rather than Black Adam.
So when the rest of Billy's foster siblings are also given the same powers as him, they also grow into adult superheroes. Among them is Seth Cohen himself, Adam Brody. This cameo was a great little surprise in a film that was actually full of them, and it was a nice way to bring another great actor into the mix.
Adam Brody plays the superhero version of Freddy, and suddenly, you realize that Brody is the perfect actor to play a grown-up version of Jack Dylan Grazer. It's one of those surprise cameos that is a lot of fun, and bodes well for the future of the entire DCEU.
There is another big problem with a lot of superhero films, and that is the climactic battle between the hero and the villain. Usually, it involves a giant energy beam made of CGI being shot into the sky while the hero and villain duke it out with their own CGI beams. It can get really messy.
Shazam! does a great job in avoiding this common pitfall by having the heroes battle the sin monsters in a Christmas village, and keeping the stakes of the battle relatively small by cutting between each hero's own particular fight. Even Shazam facing off against Sivana in mid-air offers a bit of reprieve by utilizing humor to cut through the tension.
By the end of the film, the heroes have saved the day and Doctor Sivana has been put in a tiny prison cell. He has spent a lot of time writing all over the walls, once again trying to crack the code of making his way back to the Rock of Eternity. As he is just about to give up, he hears a small, tinny, robotic voice.
On the window sill sits a caterpillar, one that we had glimpsed earlier in the film, talking through a small, metal voice box. This is none other than Mister Mind, a classic Shazam villain who is one of the founders of the Monster Society of Evil. Who knows what the future will hold for these two villains?
At the end of the film, Billy delivers on his promise to have lunch with Freddy, proving to the rest of the kids at school that he really is friends with a superhero. This would have been a great moment on its own and would have played really well as a sweet and funny ending, but there was just one thing that almost ruined it.
As he sits down, Billy, in superhero form, tells Freddy that he brought along another friend. Freddy turns and sees none other than Superman holding a lunch tray. Of course, his head was not in the frame because there's no way Henrey Cavill would have done such a small appearance. Ultimately it just felt a little bit pointless, and the filmmakers should have just let Shazam have this moment.
After its awkward Superman cameo, Shazam! launches into its credits sequence, which is scored by the classic punk rock anthem, "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" by the Ramones. The song is a perfect fit for the story of the movie, and it is accompanied by some doodles of the further adventures of Shazam.
Okay, so this credits sequence was cribbed from Spider-Man: Homecoming, right down to featuring a song by the Ramones, but it doesn't make it any less fun to watch Shazam steal the batmobile and take Wonder Woman to the prom. It was a fun little capper to an already fun movie.
Right from the establishing helicopter shots, we know that unlike Superman and Batman, Shazam lives in a real city: Philadelphia, PA. He even gets a few scenes on the famous stairs in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where Rocky made his heroic climb.
Of course, anyone who lives in another city will recognize immediately that the rest of the film is not Philadelphia. From the TTC subway to the Gardiner Expressway, it is painfully obvious in many different shots that Shazam! was actually filmed in Toronto, Ontario. Of course, maybe everyone outside of the two cities won't even notice.
In the final post-credits scene of Shazam!, the film gets on one last dig at another DC superhero. Freddy is seeing if Shazam is able to talk to fish, just like Aquaman. Of course, Shazam immediately notes that it's a stupid superpower anyway. That's a pretty giant burn to make on a movie that came out just a few months before this one.
Overall, there is a lot to like about Shazam!, and although the film is not perfect, it does a great job in moving the DCEU in a direction that is more palatable to audiences. The performances are great, the story moves at a nice pace, and there are some genuinely emotional moments.