‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new movie Shazam is a real delight. It does have the special effects so dear to the hearts of those who enjoy superhero films, but it really is a charming film about family and acceptance. The movie it resembles most is the wonderful Big film starring Tom Hanks.
It begins by showing a family in a car back in 1974. A young boy is being verbally abused by his father and older brother when suddenly, he is brought to a wizard’s cave where he is tested and found wanting. Suddenly back in the car, his family tells him he is not good enough.
The film then focuses on young Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a 14-year-old who constantly runs away from foster homes in search of his “real” mother. Finally, he is sent to a group home in Philadelphia, where he meets a group of other youngsters. Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), partially disabled, immediately chooses him as his best friend and starts telling him about superheroes.
The following day, Freddy is attacked by bullies, Billy interferes and hops a subway, which somehow brings him to the same cave the first boy was at. Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) had him hold the staff and say “shazam,” and he is instantly transformed into a grown man (Zachary Levi), at least in terms of body. He is not ready to really be a superhero and works with Freddy to figure out his powers, some of which come on gradually. And he behaves like a typical 14-year-old.
The first boy, now grown, is Doctor Sivana (Mark Strong), desperate to get back to the cave. He goes there to destroy Wizard Shazam and ends up releasing the seven deadly sins (CGI monsters) on the world. There is plenty of fighting. Can young Billy, surrounded by his new friends, rise to the occasion? Well, you know the good guys will win.
What really moves this film is its focus on family. The adults at the group home, (Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans) show love and affection for all the children in their care. Although their screen time is brief, they make a great impression. Their home is a place of acceptance for some very different children, each of whom is memorable. Beautiful Mary (Grace Fulton) is brilliant, accepted at CalTech, but not wanting to leave the only home where she has found love. Big Pedro (Jovan Armand) is painfully shy. Eugene (Ian Chen) plays with computers all day, losing himself within the action but willing to help the others. Little Darla (Faithe Herman) is absolutely adorable, a real hugger, determined to love the new kid and wanting to be loved. And, of course, Freddy. Grazer is brilliant in the role. What makes the movie really come alive is that each of these is more than a simple caricature. The young actors, the most interesting combination of child actors I’ve recently seen, are able to use their screen time to become individuals.
Strong is properly villainous, going far over the line, to really chew at the scenery, and the CGI monsters are quite impressive. That allows the superheroes to do what they do best.
The real breakout performer, however, is Levi. Just as Tom Hanks embodied Josh in Big, Levi seems to really be a young boy. Somehow he is gawky and foolish, doing dumb things, a typical early teen.
There is a quick homage to the earlier movie, a nice salute. But watching both versions of Billy/Shazam learning what love and family really is about, helps this film rise above the norm.
This film is one that kids can certainly see and adults can also enjoy. This is a DC Comics film, one of the recent wave that has demonstrated that they too can make enjoyable superhero movies like their competitor Marvel. With Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and this film made, we now can hope that we will have more entertaining superhero films.
This is a fun movie, one to catch even at today’s prices.