DC Turns out Delightful Superhero Comedy with “Shazam!”

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The latest Warner Bros.’ DC Comics film, Shazam!, is a pleasant deviation from their usual darker fare such as Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The cheerful, funny Shazam! is the first DC Extended Universe film to go beyond its role as a superhero action movie — it also serves as a coming-of-age story with strong family themes. While the action and visual effects are a little lacking at times, an excellent script with relatable characters, genuine emotional stakes, and spot-on humor more than makes up for it, making Shazam! my personal favorite of the DC films so far.

Stars Asher Angel and Zachary Levi do an excellent job playing the protagonist, Billy Batson, and his superhero alter-ego, Shazam, respectively. At its center, Shazam! is a story about a kid getting superpowers, and this is why I, personally, enjoyed it so much. Levi takes no small amount of delight in playing a child who becomes a superhero, and his performance of pure wish fulfillment is the film at its best. His story is an uplifting boy’s journey rather than an overwrought superhero’s struggle. 

While Levi sells the coming-of-age story, it is Angel who provides the film’s heart. His arc is genuinely heartwarming, and it helps Shazam! reach real emotional depth in a way that few superhero movies do. While Levi represents our inner child, Angel’s Billy Batson speaks to the cynic in us. He has seen too much and been let down too many times to expect anything but the worst. Angel does an excellent job bringing Billy to life, and seeing him grow and change is what keeps the movie grounded, in spite of the often surreal action.

Levi and Angel’s performances are further elevated by the supporting cast, particularly Billy’s foster family. Every member’s arc explores their relationship with Billy and growth as a family. Freddy, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, is a particular standout. A superhero-obsessed nerd who stands with Billy for his entire journey, Freddy’s voice mimics the audience’s inner monologue in this film. Grazer perfectly portrays the child’s emotions, from excitement and joy to jealousy and judgment, right alongside the viewer.

Because Shazam! is primarily focused on its protagonists and their relationships, the villain, played by Mark Strong, is almost relegated to a footnote. While Dr. Sivana is a compellingly written character, Strong’s portrayal is a little dry, making his scenes a significant come-down from the rest of the film. The character itself is compelling; a self-made villain who is relatable, if not likable. Yet Strong never finds the depth the protagonists achieve, making a nuanced villain seem one-dimensional, particularly at the film’s end.

Shazam! breaks new ground for DC movies in terms of humor; it is the franchise’s first movie with jokes that land. While comedy has so far seemed the sole purview of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shazam!’s jokes are up there with the best MCU gags, breaking the tension with laughter without cheapening the emotional beats. Indeed, this movie is closer stylistically to a Marvel film than it is to any previous DC film. Yet, while the film shines when focusing on Billy and those around him, a combination of bad CGI, a weak performance from Mark Strong, and overly long action sequences make the fight scenes almost boring to watch at times. All told, this is a small defect in an otherwise compelling movie and didn’t do much to hamper my enjoyment.

Quite simply, Shazam! is a good movie. While it likely won’t be awarded any Oscars, it will win the favor of superhero fans and people who want to see a fun, family-themed movie.

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