The Long Road Back to the Big Screen
For many of the heroes who show up on the big screen in this century do so for the first time. Others, like Batman, Superman, and Shazam, it is a return. For Captain Marvel--the character's real and original name--it has been 78 years since Shazam was a movie serial. Many critics and film historians consider that 1941 Republic serial to be a high-water mark of the genre, and I'll admit, I'm curious.
But now, we're in 2019 and the big-budget, color glorious film starring Zachary Levi as the Big Red Cheese is on the silver screen. And it is so good.
A New Story for a New Century
Most of us long-time fans know Billy Batson's origins from the 1940s when he was a radio reporter. In the last decade, Geoff Johns revamped the story for a modern audience, and it is this version we see on screen.
Billy, a sullen teenager, constantly searches for his mother, who lost him at a carnival when he was a toddler. He's street-wise, able to take care of himself, but still longs to find his mother and reform his family.
His latest failure lands him in a foster home with five other foster children. One of which is Freddie, a nerdy kid in love with the DCEU superheroes, but must use a crutch to get around. After Billy stands up for Freddie against a couple of bullies, he escapes in a subway train to a magical place where the aged wizard, Shazam, seeks to pass on his powers to young Billy. All the boy has to do is say the the wizard's name and he's transformed into an adult superhero.
Instant Chemistry Between Grazer and Levi
If the first part of the film set the foundation of all the characters, it's the interplay between Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer that really shine. Grazer, who I first noticed in the short-lived show "Me, Myself, and I" and the movie, "It, Chapter One," plays Freddie as the motor-mouthed nerd who know all things superhero related, excels in this role. He brings the manic excitement of a teenager thrilled his foster brother is an adult superhero, but then can swing the other way, giving Freddie the pathos and sadness of his life's predicament. Levi is a wonderful choice for Shazam. His enthusiasm at finding his newfound grown-up self is off-set by Levi's ability to make you believe he really is still a teenager. They make a great pair, and the humor and camaraderie between them had everyone in the theater rolling with laughter. They did what just about every teenaged boys would do: figure out the powers of the new hero, buy beer, and film most of it for YouTube.
Enter the Super-villain
When it comes to Shazam's rogue's gallery, he's got a few from which to choose. With Black Adam--basically the reverse Shazam--off the table (Dawayne Johnson is playing that character in his own movie), that left the other main villain: Dr. Sivana. In the comics, Sivana is a short mad scientist. In the film, he's portrayed by tall, menacing Mark Strong. Like everything else in this movie, a good choice. Strong brings a haughty disdain to the reality Billy is a mere boy. When he was a boy, Sivana was offered the power. He was seduced and chose poorly. He's now spent a lifetime tracking down the portal back to Shazam and his power.
But Shazam is completely out of his element. Billy has no idea how to fight Sivana.
But his family does.
The Foster Family Unites
In a movie with an underlying story about the power of family, it is inevitable the rest of Billy's foster siblings comes to help. There's little they can do against the magic of Sivana--he's powered by the seven deadly sins--but they try. They divert, the flee, they think on their feet, and they distract. But by showing Billy they have his back, they also show him the power of family.
Now, there's a few spoilers I simply must write about, but if you don't want to know until you've seen the movie--and believe me, you need to experience this movie fresh--just know this:
There is so much happiness, charm, and heart in SHAZAM! Hilariously funny with a real whiz-bang vibe about it. But there is one moment that brought me—and others in the audience who applauded—so much joy it actually got me emotional. Didn’t think I’d ever see it it. And I did. SHAZAM knocks it out of the park!
The Movie's Real Superpower
Oh, and that superpower the movie delivers in spades? The power to feel young! This show did that and despite how good Wonder Woman and Aquaman were, this is the first DC movie to do so.
Now...onto the Spoilers...
Okay, so I didn't think I'd ever see a live-action Shazam film. And I didn't think it would be so good.
But I never, in my wildest dreams, would have imagined I'd ever see the Entire Marvel Family in a movie!
So, late in the film, Sivana compels Shazam to grasp the wizard's staff in order to pass the power into the bad guy. But Shazam turns the tables. His family instead runs up and grips the staff. They say "Shazam" in unison.
And there, on screen, are the entire Marvel family. The audience actually applauded. I joined in, and, truth be told, my eyes welled up with tears of joy. Goosebumps, too. I was overjoyed with what was on screen. And the adult actors, like Levi, channel their inner teenager and bring the joy to being a super hero.
It was so unexpected and so wonderful!
The Next Bad Guy
You know what else was great about this film? Director David F. Sandberg and writer Henry Gayden both realized Shazam's third-most famous villain...is a worm. Granted, Mister Mind is an alien worm, a telepathic worm, but still a worm.
I knew Sandberg and Gayden were on the right track with the fun of Shazam when I notice Mister Mind off to the side of an early scene. That he shows up in the mid-credits sequence, communicating with the imprisoned Dr. Sivana means that a worm might be the main villain in Shazam 2.
I'm a DC fan first and Marvel second. I barely knew the Guardians of the Galaxy when the show dropped in 2014, but I was stunned there was a talking raccoon and a talking tree in the movie. As a DC fan, I dreamed of them realizing they have eighty years of characters they can use and develop. And if Marvel could make you feel sorry for a CGI raccoon, then DC could certainly do something with their most esoteric characters.
With Mister Mind, perhaps we now have the first step.
Please, DC, take that step. And keep going.