The possibility of losing some of our most beloved superheroes in Marvel’s upcoming Avengers: Endgame is hovering over us like a dark cloud. However, the DC Extended Universe has swiftly swooped in to save the day, and shine some much-needed light with the introduction of their newest, larger-than-life caped crusader Billy Batson, aka Shazam.
In a world of over 7 billion people, it’s easy to feel invisible. It’s even easier if you’re Billy (Asher Angel), a 14-year-old foster kid who is stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of moving from county to county, home to home. With no father in the picture, Billy has spent his entire childhood searching for his mother, painstakingly tracking down every woman with his surname in the city. After his latest search gets him in trouble with the police, Billy is sent to a group foster home where he shares a room with Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), a superhero aficionado with a leg disability. Although Billy is initially reluctant to accept the foster kids as his new siblings, he sticks up for Freddy when he’s attacked by two school bullies. His retaliation on behalf of his foster brother makes him the bullies’ new target, and they chase after him into the subway but are too slow as the doors of the train close behind Billy. This turns out to be a most unusual subway ride, however, as it sends Billy to the lair of Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), an ancient wizard desperately seeking a successor to absorb his powers before he weakens to the point of no return. By speaking Shazam’s name, Billy transforms into a grown-up version of himself (played by Zachary Levi) with a multitude of superpowers and a flashy suit to boot.
Becoming Shazam gives Billy the visibility he has always wanted. He skips school to take selfies with adoring fans, and crowds of people flock to see him showcase his superpowers. But with great power comes great responsibility, and since he is technically still just a teenager, he doesn’t exactly jump in head first when danger comes his way. Simply by uttering his superhero name, he can return to his young self and slip away, becoming ‘invisible’ once again. These two sides of his personality are wholeheartedly laid bare through the performances of Angel and Levi. The former portraying a reserved, anguished Billy and the latter his older, more showboating self respectively. Equally noteworthy is Grazer’s performance as Freddy, who remains a constant in Billy’s life as he comes to terms with his newfound power and its implications, and the two develop an imperfect but heart-warming bond. The enthusiasm with which they test out and utilise Billy’s powers is infectious, made all the more joyous by Levi’s unfaltering childlike energy and Grazer’s comedic talents.
It isn’t all fun and games, though, as a deadly threat in the form of Mark Strong’s Dr. Thaddeus Sivana soon comes to challenge our hero. Growing up as an outcast and now imbued with his own ancient powers, Sivana is cut from a similar cloth to that of Billy, but his motives are born of pure envy and vengeance. His powers are rooted in instantly recognisable religion-based tradition, but are presented in a wholly innovative and unique way that turns the film’s light-hearted tone on its head at times.
As much as the film is about Billy finding himself, it is equally about him finding a family. With the search for his mother lingering in his mind, he resists growing close to his foster family but comes to realise that he is stronger with them than without them. His siblings, while mainly playing an important but secondary role, become pivotal in the most unexpected way, which tops the film off with a beautifully inspiring twist. In among the myriad of superhero films on our screens, Shazam! stands as tall and proud as the exclamation mark in its name. It is not polished to perfection, but it has so much heart and humour that it will make even the most cynical of moviegoers crack a smile.
by Holly Weaver
Holly Weaver is currently studying French and Spanish at the University of Leeds, and has spent her year abroad studying film in Montréal. An old soul, she is enraptured by pre-1960s cinema and some of her favourite films include Singin’ in the Rain, City Lights and The Crime of Monsieur Lange. Her life ambition is to dress like Phillip “Duckie” Dale from Pretty in Pink, her one true style icon. You can find her tweeting and letterboxd’ing at @drivermiller.