Why so serious? That’s the iconic line Joker uttered in The Dark Knight and something I often think about when watching a DC superhero movie. Unlike the Marvel cinematic universe, which embraces comedy, DC films have been mostly dark and gritty. All that said, now that Zack Snyder has parted ways with Warner Bros things are starting to lighten up. The “tide” began to turn with surprise box office hit “Aquaman” and Shazam continues the trend with a family friendly adventure that is packed with gags.
Billy Batson is a fourteen-year old troublemaker who has spent much of his young life bouncing between foster homes. He refuses to settle down with adoptive parents, as he still harbours hopes of locating the birth mom who vanished without a trace many moons ago. One fateful day Billy is summoned to a magical lair by a dying wizard named Shazam. The ancient sorcerer has chosen the young lad to be the one who will inherit his powers. Now, whenever Batson utters said caster’s moniker, he becomes a musclebound hero who possesses the abilities of Superman. Oh, and he can also fire off bolts of electricity that are capable of recharging mobiles.
The movie explores what would happen if a child suddenly acquired extraordinary gifts. Billy dabbles with crime fighting, but once his feats make the local news he turns into a celebrity who charges citizens for selfies. His fun is soon cut short though, when a villain named Thaddeus Sivana shows up in town. Thaddeus was once tested for the Shazam powers, but failed the trial and was deemed not worthy of them. Angered, over being spurned, he formed a pact with seven demons who have imbued him with mystical might. Sivana is capably played by Mark Strong, who is no stranger to DC flicks. Back in 2011 he was cast as Sinestro in the awful Green Lantern.
Shazam’s script focuses on the importance of family. At the start of the film Billy is a lone wolf who cares only about himself. The kindness bestowed by his current foster family changes that attitude however. In time he begins to appreciate the new brothers and sisters he now boards with. As someone who has little patience for annoying child actors, I am pleased to report that the kids who play the siblings are a likable bunch. Jack Dylan Grazer stands out in particular. He plays a superhero fanatic named Freddy, who uses his knowledge of costumed vigilantes to mentor Billy in the early scenes. I enjoyed the quips exchanged between the two, whenever the pair were on screen together.
One thing that has hindered past DC films was the burden of simultaneously telling a story whilst also laying the groundwork down for a Justice League feature. Thankfully Shazam is not saddled with that pressure. It’s a standalone piece that dedicates its 132 minute running time solely on Shazam’s origin. That’s not to say that the movie disavows the universe it is set in. Over the course of the film we get a few Batman/Superman references and the end credits close things off nicely with a fun animation featuring other Justice League characters. Speaking of end credits, be sure to stick around till the very end, as there are two snippets during the finale that tease a potential sequel.
FINAL RATING 4/5: The real Captain Marvel is the best DC film since Wonder Woman.