ADVANCED REVIEW: Shazam! Spoiler-Free!

Shazam Midair

Let’s do things a little bit differently with this review, yeah? There have been too many superhero movies over the past decade-plus for me to simply recount the story, tell you what worked and lacked, then go into performance, sound, and effect details. I feel like there are certain expectations that people bring to superhero movies now, and since you and I even comic book, I want to be a little more casual than usual with this Shazam!* piece.

*The official title is Shazam!, complete with exclamation point, which may look silly but also demands being read in an exciting voice.

Cut to the chase – does it suck or not?

It most certainly does NOT suck! Shazam! has humor and heart in spades, with as much entertainment and character development coming from Billy Batson’s ordinary life as his super-powered alter-ego. The movie and its characters are hyper-aware of superhero tropes and make sure to either subvert or justify their usage.

Does that make this the best DCEU movie yet?

Shazam! certainly benefits from the freedom of few expectations. Batman and Superman are almost too many things to so many people, making audience reaction a crap shoot. Meanwhile, the idea of a kid gaining surprise superpowers without a manual is extremely accessible for all ages. In addition, the movie’s messages and morals apply beyond The One Chosen Hero Who Struggles To Fight For Good – thematic consistency flows from Billy’s foster family to his super-powered self-discovery to the villains and even some characters you might otherwise expect to go unsung.

Shazam! is not the eye-popping spectacle Aquaman was, but it makes good use of its effects. It’s not the somber morality play that Man of Steel or Batman v Superman were, but it’s got a clear vision (and a whole lot more joy). It’s not stuffed with attitude like Suicide Squad, but it does use an excellent ensemble, especially the family unit played by Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Ian Chen, Faithe Herman, Grace Fulton, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans, and Cooper Andrews. Shazam! is probably closest in heart and intention to Wonder Woman in terms of a lead superhero relying on a team of mortals to determine humanity’s worth.

Mark Strong’s villainous turn as Sivana is on the Zod/Orm end of the DC movie villain spectrum, meaning he’s a believable threat who’s fun to behold chewing scenery. True to their switcheroo synergy, Asher Angel and Zachary Levi grapple with Sivana and the Seven Deadly Sins with conjoined fear and frustration.

Did you know Shazam was the original Captain Marvel?

DC buried the character in court for nearly twenty years because they wanted Superman to rule the market, so I think Marvel deserves to use the name Captain Marvel and be known for it.

Now that you mention the impeccably timed movie that reviewers must inevitably bring up, let me compare. Shazam! and Captain Marvel are both movies concerned with the ways in which power can be repressed. They both also make moving observations about the power of family bonds, especially families of choice. Neither movie wastes the opportunity to depict flight as an absolute joy. They both also benefit from scene-stealing black girls and women.

Can I take my kids? How PG-13 is this?

You’ll hear “shit” and “ass” a couple of times apiece. There are some bloodless deaths. There are some jokes about a “gentlemen’s club,” though we never see inside it. A lot of reviews like to compare Shazam! to Amblin films such as Gremlins and The Goonies, which are fair comparisons. The score certainly tugs at the heartstrings with cues that will be familiar to fans of the better all-ages movies of the 80s and 90s. There are some overt Christian references throughout the movie, but without any effort toward converting the audience

Is it anything like the comics?

Oh yes, especially both series written by Geoff Johns, including the New 52 interpretation illustrated by Gary Franks and the current series illustrated by Dale Eaglesham. Readers will recognize some bits that translated over, plus the comics models of Billy’s foster family were faithfully adapted to the movie.

How was the audience’s reaction?

There was a lot of laughter! Shazam! has great comedic timing, knowing when to send up a gag and when to play things seriously. Superhero movies sometimes struggle with letting a dramatic beat land without someone making a snarky remark, but here the story weaves details between dramatic and humorous modes, which leads to satisfyingly well-timed callbacks.

I can’t speak for the mist in anyone else’s eyes, but there were scenes regarding Billy’s parentage that hushed the theater and hit for personal reasons. If the big-brother/little-sister angle in Wreck-It Ralph wrecked you, expect a similar effect here.

Should I stay through the credits?

Stay through the very end!

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Thomas is a teen services librarian who reads way too many comics. He can be found gobbling pancakes at the nearest diner with Jessica Cruz, Forsythe Jones III, Jane Foster, and Hellboy. He reviews media for the public here and graphic novels for librarians at No Flying, No Tights.

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