For me, the DCEU stumbled with a few movies which just didn’t work for me (Batman Vs Superman, Suicide Squad, Justice League) but they’ve started to pull it back with a couple of decent movies, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. This movie, however, surpasses all of them and is easily my favourite DCEU movie thus far.
What makes this movie work is that it has a great sense of humour and a solid emotional core running through. There are big battles, monsters and superheroics along the way, but this is really a store about family and finding your place in the world. The hero and villain are given the same choice, but the hero prevails because he’s less selfish and receives support from others.
Our hero is fourteen year old Billy Baston (Asher Angel), who lives in the foster system having getting lost as a small child. Billy has been struggling with his placements, frequently running off as he attempts to track down his mother. After his most recent attempt he is sent to a group home and finds himself in a rundown and crowded house, run by two former foster kids, Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews, respectively). Billy is a little overwhelmed by the rest of the kids, and tries to keep himself to himself, however, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), a geeky boy around the same age, who is obsessed with superheroes attempts to befriend him.
After standing up to two of Freddy’s bullies, Billy legs it and is transported magically to the cave that is home of Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), a wizard. Shazam chooses Billy as his champion and he is transformed into a fully grown superhero played by Zachary Levi. While he now has superstrength, flight and other powers, he remains Billy inside his new body and alongside Freddy relishes his new abilities, becoming a viral sensation as they test his abilities and skip school.
However, trouble looms in the form of Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who as a child was offered the chance to become Shazam’s champion but failed to resist temptation and was judged not to be pure of heart. Sivana has obsessively attempted to track down Shazam, and when he does, he unleashes the monstrous Seven Deadly Sins, who take up residence within his body and who render him equally powerful to Billy. The sins want him to steal Billy’s powers, enabling them to grow even more powerful and wreak havoc.
Can Billy step up as a hero? Can he find his real mother, and if he does, what will he find? Can Silvana be stopped?
There’s a lot of humour mined from the “kid in an adult’s body” plot device and there’s a lovely nod to Big. Like the Hanks classic this film shows that while this originally seems like a dream and lots of fun there are soon more serious consequences, and the superpowers just heighten this. Billy goofs off with his powers, blundering through his first attempts at heroism and enjoying the fun side of it. This causes conflict with Freddy, who while supportive also wants to exploit his new powers and is somewhat jealous and overzealous about it all.
From there on it’s all about Billy having to learn responsibility and courage, as well as addressing how he has been acting. Part of this is related to his new foster family and his feelings of abandonment and insecurities following losing his mother and ending up in foster care. This is why Silvana is a a great choice as villain, because he seems a dark mirror of Billy. Growing up in a cold and distant family where he never felt good enough, the rejection from Shazam has twisted him into an obsessive maniac, determined to get what he felt was unfairly denied him and gain powers to elevate himself.
Now superpowered, Silvana wreaks havoc and is blind to the fact that the Sins may be using him. His powers allow him to indulge all his darker impulses, to give into his lust for power and revenge, and Billy is shown to struggle to resist his less noble temptations now that he is Earth’s Mightiest Mortal. Billy, however, has the help of Freddy and his new family, and has an inner decency that pushes him to do better.
Zachary Levi is a delight as the adult Billy, looking every inch the hero but never losing the confused, scared and overwhelmed teenager within. He carries himself in such a way that makes him look awkward and unsure, and his attempts to swagger and show off remind you of every teenage boy who tries to look cool. There are plenty of laughs wrung from the disconnect, and his youthful glee at his powers.
Levi is superb, and the the cast around him are great. All the young actors do great work, especially Angel and Glazer, who have great chemistry and capture the slowly developing friendship between Billy and Freddy. Glazer’s Freddy, a snarky, geeky outsider is really funny and steals several scenes.
Mark Strong can do a decent villain in his sleep, and he’s on exceptional form here, capturing the rage and bitterness of Silvana wonderfully, and also conveying the brutal glee he takes in his new powers, a dark reflection of how Billy enjoys his own powers.
The Seven Deadly Sins, his monstrous associates are impressive foes and the climactic smackdown includes Billy pulling some clever moves and tricks out of his hat, and had a nice twist. It sets up a wonderfully satisfying battle which sees Billy use his wits, heart and powers to tip the scales and realise his destiny as a hero.
The superheroics have a real fun, smashmouth style to them, with airborne brawls and some nice send ups of genre conventions, but what gives it the edge is the human story. I genuinely cared about Billy and Freddy, and the way it sets up their new family was done in a fun and sensitive way, successfully avoiding becoming too cheesy. Their growing friendship and Billy’s shift in outlook give the movie a really warm heart and that’s what the DCEU has missed in a lot of it’s movies.
This movie is a whole lot of fun, with wonderful characters, a tongue firmly in it’s cheek and an involving and entertaining story. I came out with a big, dumb grin on my face and a good feeling I carried for the rest of the day. An utter gem of a movie.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.