Shazam! is hard to hate. Not that there’s much to dislike as one of the most fun films you’ll see at the theater this year. Which is why breaking the film down to its faults (and there are some) just doesn’t feel like time well spent, ya know?
The film is first and foremost about family. Billy Batson’s (Asher Angel) foster family is a diverse, loving, and understanding group. In fact, this is the part that Shazam! nails. It might get a little too sentimental at times, but the film celebrates family at every moment, giving the film a lot more to lose than it would if it was just all about Billy.
After getting separated from his mother at a young age, Billy Batson moves from foster home to foster home, getting into trouble while he searches for his mother. He lands with the Vazquez family, led by two former foster kids themselves, Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor (Cooper Andrews.) The other foster kids in their care are Mary (Grace Fulton), Darla (Faithe Herman), Eugene (Ian Chen), Pedro (Jovan Armand) and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). They’re all excited to welcome Billy into the family, but Billy’s more interested in figuring out his new escape plan.
Meanwhile, The Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) is looking for his champion, the one worthy enough to take his magic and restore their brothers and sisters to their rightful thrones (one guess as to how many thrones there are?) Perhaps it’s because he’s desperate once Thad (Mark Strong) releases the seven deadly sins just scenes before, but its Billy The Wizard Shazam passes his magic onto, eventually giving us Shazam! (Zachary Levi).
Levi embraces his inner child to turn adult Billy into someone who’s eager to leave his old life behind, but still has a lot of growing up to do. His quick friendship with Freddy happens over the bond of superheroes, but with each “Shazam!” it’s clear there’s a danger to wish fulfillment. As Freddy and Billy’s friendship strains over their superhero antics, Billy accuses Freddy of being jealous of his powers.
Who wouldn’t? Freddy, living with a disability, wishes he could fly and have super speed and strength. In this moment of levity, Shazam! gives a fault to Billy that The Wizard Shazam seems to have missed – Billy’s selfish. Sure, he can beat up Freddy’s bully’s, but he won’t embrace the friendship and love being extended to him in even the smallest doses.
But that’s the point, right? Even Billy himself tells The Wizard Shazam he doesn’t think anyone is worthy of his power. It’s learning to embrace those moments of friendship, love, and the fact that you can’t really go it alone that makes someone worthy.
Some of the action isn’t the most inspired (there’s a lot of punching and flying), but Billy’s ability to switch from his adult persona and being a kid is used pretty strategically throughout. There’s also incredible moments of comedy, the film landing pretty much every joke, visual gag, and superhero reference it could.
Strong’s Thad is a decent villain, an easy foil to Billy himself. Rejected by The Wizard Shazam when he was a kid, Thad spends the rest of his life searching for a way back to the castle. When he does, he releases the seven deadly sins to do his bidding, though it’s more like they’re controlling him. Visually cool, the seven deadly sins make for great punching bags, but Thad is more interesting as the grown up who’s still shouting “it’s unfair!” to the rest of the world. His motivations and his crappy childhood make him understandable, but when it comes to who’s worthy, it was never going to be Thad.
As part of the larger DCEU, Shazam! gets a nice stand alone story while also making this superhero universe expand. That’s in large part due o the kids, who have grown up knowing Superman and Batman exist. But the film also takes care to plant the seeds of its world building, making the promise of a return all the more enjoyable.