I still think this is the best version of this narrative we will ever get.
David Sandberg’s (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation) new superhero comedy Shazam! (talk about artistic range, am I right?) stars Asher Angel as Billy Batson, an orphaned 14-year-old who, after being placed in his newest foster home, is transported to the lair of a wizard who bestows upon him his powers in order to protect the world against the Seven Deadly Sins. Billy is thus transformed into the hero we would come to know as Shazam, played by Zachary Levi.
Shazam! starts by introducing the child that will go on to serve as the film’s main antagonist, Thaddeus Sivana, who was called upon by the wizard Shazam to inherit his powers but failed. Decades later, the now-adult Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) returns to the lair of the wizard Shazam to reclaim the power he sought as a child.
Within the opening 20 minutes, Sivana obtains the magical McGuffin and wreaks havoc on those who wronged him as a child, primarily his emotionally abusive father and older brother, but they’re not terribly important. Sivana gets his revenge, and his attention is immediately redirected toward the only other person in the world as powerful as he is (In the DC universe, where Superman is real? Sure, let’s go with that.). And of course, that's Shazam.
During this time, Batson tests out his newfound abilities as a superhero (and ability to transform into an adult at will) with his foster-brother and best friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Graser). The training sequences allow for a glimpse of how regular kids would react if one of them obtained superhero powers. But it’s the snappy dialogue between Billy and Freddy that makes for the film’s most enjoyable feature.
They become a family through their time together, each discovering what Billy is capable of as Shazam, even when that gets in the way of their friendship. And Freddy makes it known that he, the comic-book aficionado, “would kill” to have what Billy was given, but he knows that he ultimately can’t let that get in the way of the familial bond they've forged.
That being said, this family narrative is not perfect. The rest of Billy and Freddy’s foster family seem to be there simply to convey the power of a nontraditional family. The development of most of these characters fails to go beyond their introduction, which makes it difficult to really care about them as characters.
Oh yeah, and Sivana’s there! Remember him? So he and his gaggle of generic-looking Doom spawns catch up to Shazam, and to quote Uncle from Jackie Chan Adventures: “Magic must defeat magic.” And had this conflict been established earlier in the film’s overall runtime, it would have made the experience more interesting; but this movie had no right to be two hours long.
As soon as the film veers into the final fight between Billy and Thaddeus, every sequential development following their initial confrontation feels tacked-on for the purposes of prolonging the conflict. “I’ll strike where you’re most vulnerable!” “No, let’s settle this in the lair!” “We have to escape the lair!” “We have to hide ourselves!” It keeps going and going until it decides it wants to stop.
I was very disappointed with Shazam’s overall execution. As it tries to hammer in the importance of family, it doesn’t make time to allow the family to grow, instead relying on Freddy until it remembers the other toys it has to play with. Can you still have fun with this movie? Absolutely! Shazam! is a perfectly serviceable, enjoyable experience for the family. FAMILY.