Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a young orphan searching for his mother, but unfortunately, his efforts have all been in vain and only land him in trouble time after time. He’s eventually placed in a group home with five other foster children, one of whom is a superhero enthusiast named Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). Despite Freddy’s efforts to befriend him, Billy has little interest in the foster family. But when Freddy is attacked by two bullies, Billy intervenes and fights them off. His actions do not go unnoticed as Billy is suddenly transported into a mystical realm by a strange wizard (Djimon Hounsou).
The wizard explains that his life is ending and that his powers can only be bestowed on a champion who is pure of heart, one who will protect the Earth from dark forces that seek to destroy it. Upon receiving the wizard’s gift, Billy is transformed into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi). While Billy works with his foster brother Freeman to try and understand his new abilities, he’s soon targeted by Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), a mad magic-user who is willing to do whatever it takes to steal the new hero’s powers—even if it means unleashing the demons that embody the seven deadly sins upon Billy’s city. The film also features John Glover.
“Shazam!” feels like “Big,” crossed with “Harry Potter,” crossed with “Ghostbusters,” crossed with “Superman.” A young man is put into the body of an adult, gifted with magical abilities, pitted against dark magical forces, all under the guise of a superhero movie. It’s insane, ludicrous, and I loved every second of it! The only thing more insane than this film though is the character’s history.
Shazam was created by C. C. Beck and Bill Parker back in 1939, just one year after the release of the first Superman Comic Book. Which makes Shazam one of the first superheroes during the beginning of the Golden Age of Comic Books. However, the character’s history is about to get a bit convoluted. The original Shazam was called Captain Marvel, not to be confused or associated with Marvel’s female heroine Captain Marvel—who just recently came to theaters in March. So yes, both DC and Marvel have a superhero named Captain Marvel.
The rabbit hole goes even deeper, however, when you learn that Captain Marvel, or Shazam as I’ll just call him, wasn’t even originally owned by DC Comics; he was owned by Fawcett Publications. Shazam was Fawcett’s biggest seller, to the point where they managed to outsell Superman. As you can imagine, DC Comics didn’t take too kindly to this, and sued Fawcett in 1951 for copyright infringement—saying that their star character Shazam was a copy of Superman. To make a long legal story short, Fawcett Publications were forced to cease publishing Shazam in 1953 after DC won the case. Then, nineteen years later, Shazam—along with Fawcett’s other intellectual properties—was sold to DC Comics.
Getting back to the present, “Shazam!” is an awesome ride. It’s a combination of action and magic, with great special effects, which makes the whole thing a fun watch. However, the film is more than just battles and enchantment, it also has a good sense of humor. It knows how to be silly, but it’s also not afraid to poke fun at itself, due in no small part to the cast. The children and adults work well off each other, and it never felt like a joke is dragging or becoming annoying. In fact, there were more than a few scenes where the audience and I were laughing hysterically at its clever jokes.
Overall, this is a fun film that outperformed my expectations. However, I have to play devil’s advocate and lament that “Shazam!” has one issue that needs addressing. I’ve seen and reviewed enough films from both Marvel and DC that I’ve come to learn that both franchises have their own definition of what constitutes as too dark. While Marvel films will sometimes possess a dark moment or two, they never go too far that it gets uncomfortable. This is due in part to the fact that they’re owned by Disney—with the exception of the ones produced by Fox Studios or Sony. As for DC films though, they’re created and produced by Warner Bros. Entertainment, a studio that is under no such constraints like Marvel.
Where am I going with this? Well, the point I’m trying to make is that “Shazam!” really stretches the limits of the PG-13 rating. If you’ve seen the advertising for the film, you may have noticed that the marketing focused more on the kids’ parts or superhero parts. They never really marketed the villain and his purpose in the plot. I can see why they didn’t because some of his scenes get a bit dark for a PG-13 film. There’s one violent scene that, if they had just added blood, would’ve turned this movie into an R-rating easily. Even the design of the demons seemed a bit much for kids. They look like something straight out of a “DOOM” videogame.
Despite this, “Shazam!” is still rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material. I’m not trying to come off as a worrisome, nitpicker, who’s against dark and creepy moments in films. In fact, I applaud the creativity in this film and I’m glad that they tried to work within the rating system without shirking their ideas. Even with its dark moments, the film is still fun, hilarious, and action-packed. It’s just a movie where parental supervision is highly advised. The final score for “Shazam!” is an 8.5 out of 10.