Shazam is the latest DC superhero to land himself a standalone movie and continues to highlight the fact that these self contained DC offerings really do seem to be a lot better than their rushed ensemble movie output. It also shows how much better they can be when straying from the traditional dark DC gloom and deciding to inject a bit more humour and fun into it all. Aquaman recently showed just how much of a box office success that formula can be, Wonder Woman before it to a certain extent, and although Shazam does certainly have some dark themes and moments, it’s ultimately a lot more fun than either of those.
Shazam does take its time in introducing our superhero though, not to mention our super-villain, and the result is a much more grounded and believable movie. We begin with young boy Thaddeus Sivana, travelling by car with his elder brother and father. It’s the first of a number of dark scenes involving the Sivana family, really helping us to get a better understanding and appreciation of the man he later becomes and the motivation that drives him. We then head to present day Philadelphia, where 15 year old Billy Batson is using whatever means possible, legal or otherwise, to try and locate the birth mother he became separated from as a young boy while at a crowded funfair. Since then, Billy has been in the foster care system, and now finds himself in the care of Victor and Rosa – former foster kids themselves – who now run a home for a small group of foster children. Billy is sharing a room with Freddy, a disabled boy with an interest in superheroes and the proud owner of some pretty cool superhero memorabilia, including a batarang from Batman and a genuine bullet, flattened from having bounced off the man of steel himself! The foster home is a pretty close knit group and Billy initially struggles to fit into this large new ready made family.
And then one day, while on the run after standing up to a couple of older kids who were bullying Freddy, Billy finds himself transported to a dark mysterious cave where he inherits the powers of aged wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsoul). The wizard is the last Shazam, currently protecting the world from an invasion of the Seven Deadly Sins, but now so weak that he must transfer his powers to someone who is true of heart. Absorbing his power, Billy becomes a grown up superhero (Zachari Levy), but by saying the word ‘Shazam’ he is able to alternate between his teen body and that of the mighty superhero whenever he wants.
Once he manages to convince Freddy that he is in fact Billy and not some crazy guy in a suit, they have a lot of fun trying to work out which powers Shazam actually has and how to best make use of them. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know that this is where a lot of the fun lies within the movie and it’s definitely very entertaining. But Billy eventually begins having a little too much fun for Freddy’s liking, and when all he is doing is skipping school to go shoot off lightning bolts for a gathered crowd, Freddy becomes frustrated that he is wasting his gift. With great power comes great responsibility and all that. Meanwhile, young Thaddeus Sivana has now become Dr Sivana (Mark Strong), acquiring some pretty impressive powers of his own and forging his own dark path in a scene which really pushes the 12A age rating for the movie. All his life, Sivana has been seeking the power that Billy has now acquired, so when this larger than life hero shows up, goofing around and not really taking that power seriously, Dr Sivana goes after Shazam to try and take the power for himself.
From there, the rest of the movie is pretty much a cat and mouse chase between Sivana and Shazam across the city, up in the sky and down on the streets as they smash through shopping malls and buildings before culminating in a fairground showdown. It’s actually a lot more fun than it sounds, although the whole movie could probably benefit from having about 10-15 minutes cut from it. Also, the dark threat introduced so shockingly earlier on in the movie suddenly doesn’t become so shocking or menacing towards the end. It’s indicative of the tone of the movie as a whole really, trying to remain rooted in the traditional DC gloom, but striving for family friendly box office success. These are all very minor negatives for me though – overall Shazam is a lot of fun and very lighthearted, with a lot to say about the importance of family. And the Boardman family had an absolute blast watching it!