Hiding in the margins of “Shazam!” is a different story. It follows a pretty standard comic book narrative–unlikely hero is gifted with superhuman powers–but take a closer look at the periphery and you’ll see that this story has a little more to offer.
It starts with the origin story, as any decent superhero story should. The problem is, it’s not the right one, but more on that later. For now, let’s focus on Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who has been in and out of foster homes most of his life. His habit of running away in his search for his birth mother makes him hard to place, which is how he ends up with the Vasquez’s. Both former foster kids, they’ve taken in five foster children already. Despite his vastly improved living situation, Batson seems poised to run again until something miraculous happens.
After seriously holding his own in a fight defending his new foster-brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Billy is magically transported via subway to the cavern/lair/mountain getaway(?) of Shazam. Following a lot of backstory (that you really don’t need) he ends up with the powers of Shazam and a couple of other gods. Or to put it another way, he turns into Zachary Levi…I mean Shazam!
Going into the film, you expect to have a good time. I mean how could you not when there’s an exclamation point in the title. And you will have fun, but the story sometimes gets lost in all the details. Everyone has a story in any film, you can’t tell all of them, but “Shazam!” tries to. At times it feels like the film is more focused on the baddy, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), than it does on its hero. Which is a shame since Billy has a much better story.
As it is, “Shazam!” is a really strong effort from a DC Universe that has struggled (with one exception). As it is, the film is a fun flick with some standout performances. It’s just really hard not to see its potential to do more. There could be more about the Vasquez’s and their family of foster kids. There could be a larger conversation about the foster system. Basically, there could be more.
In the end, “Shazam!” succeeds mostly because of Zachary Levi’s endearing performance as the nearly 15-year-old, man-child superhero. I realize that sounds like a backhanded compliment, but I promise it’s not. He has a sweet sincerity in his performance that at times feels as if it is holding the whole film together. I’d also like to give a shout out to Asher Angel as Billy Batson and Jack Dylan Grazer as the coolest sidekick ever, Freddy Freeman.
Now I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether this particular brand of superhero is your style. It’s a good start for what could turn into an even stronger franchise if given the chance.
…just for fun: