Hey, what if a movie about a guy that puts on a brightly colored SCUBA suit and goes out to fight crime was light-hearted, fun and kinda stupid in a good way? It seems like the obvious way every superhero movie should be approached, but for whatever reason it’s been an idea lost on the brass at DC Comics and Warner Brothers.
Shazam is the story of Billy Batson, a teenager who is transported to a magical realm, where a wizard grants him the ability to transform into the universe’s most powerful being simply by shouting the word “shazam!”
On its face, it is a dumb idea for a movie. But by leaning into the goofiness and not forcing a gritty and somber tone on what is really a youthful romp, what we get is a movie that is less Dark Knight and more Goonies and maybe only the second good movie DC has produced since it started playing catch up to Marvel.
Now, there is a familiar DC trope that simply won’t die..which is odd because the trope is the complete lack of respect or interest in a life that doesn’t belong to a super-powered being. In Batman vs. Superman this played out with countless buildings crashing down in the city of Metropolis and no one mentioning the loss of innocent lives. In Shazam it comes in the form of local bullies hitting a disabled kid with their car on purpose. And then it comes over and over again in countless other people getting hit by cars, buses flying off bridges, etc.
This film’s take on Billy Batson casts him as a street-wise foster kid. He has run away from countless homes in search of his real mother. It nicely parallels Billy’s journey to Shazam’s search to find his new place in the world as its protector. The scenes of Billy and his foster brother, Freddie, trying to figure out what powers Shazam has are funny and truly sweet as we start to see Billy finally understand what it means to have someone “on his side.”
A running theme of these trials is Shazam reciting the mantra “I believe I can fly” and then failing spectacularly. It kind of makes you wonder if there was a joke about the song in the original script that was scrapped after “Surviving R. Kelly” dropped.
Shazam isn’t without its problems. I think that decision makers at DC and Warner Brothers got nervous with the idea of a PG-rated entry into the DC cinematic universe, which may sound silly, but it is the only explanation for the number of times the “S” word is used in what is an otherwise pretty family-friendly script. I took my 9 and 7 year olds along to the screening, and I was a little put off by it. I wasn’t clutching pearls so to speak. It just feels lazy and very stereotypically DC.
So speaking of kids, parents, be aware that there are a couple of intense and kinda scary moments in Shazam. There is nothing about any of the trailers on TV that would make you think this is a monster movie, but at least for part of the runtime, Shazam is a monster movie.
Overall, I am definitely recommending you go see Shazam and take your kids. You can always have a chat about the language later. Later this month we get Avengers: Endgame, which will be a superhero movie that might not be appropriate for them. Right now let them enjoy a story about a dumb kid being given awesome super powers and using them to do dumb kid things.