Review by Tony B Kim
**Minor spoilers ahead**
When Shazam was announced to be in development, it was hard to know how to feel about it. The DC Extended Universe was (still is?) in tumultuous time with the mixed reviews of Batman v Superman and the critical and financial flop of Justice League. I've always been a fan of DC's Captain Marvel, especially since I was such a Superman freak. But like the rest of fandom, it was tough to speculated on how exactly would the 'Big Red Cheese' exist in the grim, cold world of DC. Sure Wonder Woman introduced some well needed warmth and passion but Shazam would definitely be either a bold or desperate attempt to regain the superhero film fan base. However, even as a fan of Zachary Levi (Chuck), I was still pretty skeptical that a comedic reality could be birthed from the ashes of the Snyderverse. While not game changing, Aquaman was a solid 'check' in the win column but DC's 'one step forward, two steps back' history, still made me pretty anxious about this next installment.
To my relief, I was pleasantly surprised by Shazam!. I found it fun and lighthearted adventure that did a good job to introduce a new hero as well as a new unexplored corner of the DCEU. It all hinged on the (padded) shoulders of Zachary Levi. Basically reprising his beloved role of Chuck, Levi brings a wit and boyish charm to a superhero like we've never seen. While not really a grown up version of Asher Angel's Billy Batson, it was close enough approximation to suspend disbelief. Billy Batson and Shazam's chemistry with Jack Dylan Grazer's Freddie is undeniable and is at the emotional core of this film. While a little cliche and predictable, the theme of family is the nucleus of Batson's journey as a survivor of the foster care system. This dynamic duo, aided by a great cast of siblings, Shazam! is a fantastic wish fulfillment experience for any boy between the ages of 8-16. Billed as the superhero version of Tom Hank's BIG, Shazam! strikes a good balance between comedy and drama.
I do have a couple of gripes- gripes that are not too unfamiliar with the superhero genre. First, while I absolutely adore Mark Strong, I did feel pretty disappointed with his villainous character of Dr Sivana. A considerable amount of screen time is dedicated to his early years and quest to become all powerful- but the ultimate result is yet another flat antagonist lacking nuance or a motivation we can sympathize with. The all too common trope of wanting to become 'all powerful' rarely leads to a satisfying character arc and Sivana is no exception. As fans, we all just want to see Black Adam and we got the smallest of tease in a brief exposition moment. Strong is awesome but I thought Sivana was pretty forgettable.
My other complaint is Hollywood's treatment of foster kids in the system. As an advocate for the foster care system, the shuffling of kids around with no real trauma or pain is a trope we've seen too often in film. There is a lot of 'bow tying' by the end of this story and I think important opportunities were missed. Batson never really learned how his pain and abandonment could be used to serve his super powered alter ego. 'Loss' was never really dealt with on an emotional level, just swept under the rug. Believe me, from first hand experience and from the stories of many foster parents, just providing good parents, siblings and a home doesn't make the pain go away. I think this could have been an unexpected way to connect with audiences about helping kids deal with trauma and loss. Instead it opted for a safer and predictable route. Not a travesty by any means but a big missed opportunity.
I did like the subtle pokes at the DCEU. It was fun to think about the potential of being able to directly reference Superman, Batman and the rest. The end credits stinger with the Man of Steel's neck down cameo was both awesome and frustrating. The fact that a universe can't even fully feature one of its own main characters is head scratching- but it did give us something, which is better than nothing. Overall, Shazam! was a solid addition to the DCEU. Like Aquaman, it is not a game changer but it certainly opens up a lot of possibilities.
Let us know what you thought of Shazam! You can follow Tony on Twitter @Crazy4ComicCon
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