This past weekend, Warner Brothers released their latest DC Comics venture, a character they based off Captain Marvel. Yes, you read that correctly.
Back in the early comic-book days of the 1940s, DC Comics created the first original Captain Marvel. In the ’70s, Marvel Comics decided to create a different character with the same name, so when DC revived the series, they changed the hero’s name to Shazam.
And while the film might not be a Marvel Studios production, it was nothing less than triumphant.
“Shazam!” follows a young Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a foster kid on the run who finally gets placed at a group home in Philadelphia, where he meets the Vazquez family: Victor (Cooper Andrews), Rosa (Marta Milans), Darla (Faithe Herman), Mary (Grace Fulton), Eugene (Ian Chen) and Pedro (Jovan Armand).
Batson quickly befriends his new roommate, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), and the duo becomes inseparable, especially when Batson “finds” a new part of himself. After a weird encounter on the subway, the teenage runaway receives a signal from the Wizard, the magical, power-granting guardian of the Rock of Eternity, and discovers that every time he says “shazam” he turns into an older, more muscular and powerful version of himself (Zachary Levi).
By day, Batson is just an ordinary high school student, but by night, he turns into the resilient, crime-fighting Shazam.
Both Angel and Levi give excellent performances as Batson. Considering Levi’s past roles in the action-dramedy “Chuck” and playing Fandral in “Thor: Ragnorak,” he was the perfect person to play Shazam. Levi added a touch of nerdiness, fortitude and softness to the character that helped Batson’s personality remain consistent no matter what year he was in.
Along with Levi, Mark Strong gave an equally convincing performance as the film’s villain, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, better known as Mr. Mind in the comics. Sivana’s main goal is to take Batson’s power, the same power that the Wizard declined to give him many years ago. The backstory of Dr. Sivana adds the classic villain dynamic to the story, but for spoiler reasons, I won’t give away too many details.
I will say, however, compared to other superhero films, “Shazam!” doesn’t feel cheesy. Some of the lines are corny, but with this film, all the main characters are children and teenagers, so it’s natural that not everything coming out of their mouth will be extremely eloquent. Still, the film was able to get its message across and touch upon some of the common themes superhero movies explore.
Toward the beginning of the David Sandberg-directed project, Batson considers himself a “lone wolf.” He does as he pleases because he doesn’t feel that he owes anybody an explanation; nobody has ever been there for him, after all. The young troublemaker begins the film overconfident, but, eventually, he softens up to Freeman and the rest of the Vazquez family.
Batson again goes through somewhat of an identity crisis once he fully understands Shazam’s abilities. He returns to being an outsider before he realizes that he shouldn’t give up on being there for the people who gave him a chance. The ending fight really ties in the guiding theme of family and being there for others; it also features surprise guests Ross Butler and Adam Brody.
Although “Shazam!” didn’t have much as much grit as “The Dark Knight,” both films do have one thing in common — a good story. “The Dark Knight” had themes of justice, identity and duty, while “Shazam!” highlights identity, family and bravery.
Special effects in both “The Dark Knight” and “Shazam!” were pretty average, but their absence gave the film more room to craft a well-written story. Screenwriter Henry Gayden knew that he wanted to address more sensitive topics — like children feeling unwanted or getting bullied — but he used humor and comedy to make the subjects more bearable and less cringey, which was refreshing considering the genre.
Indeed, nowadays film studios treat superhero legacies as epic tales studded with complex characters and intricate villains, but “Shazam!” breaks that stereotype. Instead, the writers chose to root the movie in familial values and conflicts of self-identity, relatable concepts that just happened to have a superhero in their midst.
Compared to “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman,” “Shazam!” hasn’t made nearly as much in terms of opening weekend box-office numbers: “Wonder Woman” grossed $100 million in its opening weekend and “Aquaman” made $67 million, while “Shazam!” only made $53 million.
Despite the average opening-weekend turnout, it’s possible that “Shazam!” could improve in movie earnings, especially because reviews of the film have been overwhelmingly positive.
Fans, too, have been raving over the feel-good flick, a kind of movie that DC hasn’t produced in a long time — maybe ever. So, regardless of grossing, “Shazam!” is another film that has been added onto the list of successes for Warner Brothers.
Now, Warner Brothers has decided to give “Shazam!” a sequel, which could potentially come out as early as next year. The sequel is said to feature Dwayne Johnson as the Shazam’s villain — Black Adam. But in the meantime, Warner Brothers and DC have some other movies coming out: “Joker” in October, “Birds of Prey” in February and “Cyborg” for next April.
DC is making a comeback, and with the way that things have been going, it seems like they won’t be stopping anytime soon.