It’s always a little weird to take a step back and look “where we are now” since the superhero movie revolution started back in the previous decade. I mean, there’s now a Shazam movie. That’s kind of crazy! What was once a Fawcett Comics, let’s say, maybe, “re-imagining” of Superman – it’s actually kind of funny how closely the early comics version resembled each other; DC would eventually sue, then purchase the rights to Captain Marvel/Shazam – has his own 2019 movie. And, let’s be honest here, this is a superhero with a kind of weird and confusing origin story. And I swear if anyone tries to tell me that Shazam has been their lifelong favorite superhero, unless that person is at least 80, I will not believe this person. (Look, I like Shazam. He’s fine. I used to watch the cartoon. Freddy Freeman turning into Captain Marvel Jr. was my favorite. I just have a hard time believing people love Shazam. But, whatever.)
And, in 2019, because of a copyright snafu with Marvel Comics, his actual character name, Captain Marvel, can’t even be spoken during the movie! Could you imagine this in any other instance? “Okay, we are going to make a Superman movie, but we can’t say Superman. We can only call him by his catchphrase. So the name of our movie will be Up, Up, and Away.” But, since it is 2019, none of these things have stopped this movie from being made. And, the craziest thing of all is … this movie is pretty good! What a world.
The trick of Shazam! is that the movie kind of realizes it’s about a dopey character, so they lean heavily into the dopiness. Throughout the course of the movie, it’s a running punchline that the title character doesn’t even have a superhero name. And he can’t even identify himself as Shazam because that triggers the lightning bolt transformation. For those who don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, Shazam* is actually Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a surly teen who is given superpowers by an old wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou, who is somehow in both movies released in the last month based on a character named Captain Marvel) that allow him to summon a lightning bolt that turns him into (Captain Marvel) Shazam, a grown man pushing 40 (Zachary Levi) with superpowers.
(It’s so weird referring to a character I’ve always known as Captain Marvel as “Shazam.” Yes, the comics have marketed themselves as Shazam for a few years now, but, in the story, the character is still referred to as Captain Marvel. That’s not the case here. It becomes even more confusing with the extended family. What will Captain Marvel Jr. be called now?
Billy was orphaned at a young age, so he’s been jumping from foster family to foster family. At his latest home, around the same time he meets the wizard, is where he meets his new “brothers and sisters,” which includes the aforementioned Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), and also Mary Bromfield (Grace Fulton), who at some point become Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel. (Only there’s no way they can be called that, so who knows what their actual superhero titles will be.) Anyway, as someone who enjoyed Freddy Freeman in the cartoons, this is a great Freddy Freeman movie.
So, yes, with Shazam!, we get a movie like Vice Versa or Like Father, Like Son, only Billy gets to completely control when he’s a kid and when he’s adult. (Yes, I know I didn’t mention Big, but this movie wants us to reference Big so desperately, I just refuse to do it except in this parenthetical.) Though a complaint I have about those movies I just mentioned also plagues Shazam!: Where the actual kid, when he’s a kid, is pretty cool and calm, but when the adult is playing the kid, he’s just a big dumb dope. I get it’s a tough thing to pull off. The kid version has to be smart; the adult version can’t be “cool.” But these are not the same characters. But, also, whatever! This is a Shazam! movie!
After Shazam! ended I said out loud, “What a fun time at the movies.” You know, isn’t that all we need sometimes? A reason to leave the house and also not regret leaving the house? That is a tough combination to pull off. And the power of Shazam! is that it’s not the type of movie you just HAVE to see in a theater because of it’s effects, or anything like that. It’s just one of those movies that feels like a communal event. In the end, it’s about family. It’s just a nice movie to watch with other human beings.
What a thing, these current DC movies. A movie like Justice League, which has all the “big name” characters, is atrocious. Yet movies like Aquaman and Shazam!, lower grade characters, but have some personality to them, are enjoyable. And now Shazam!, of all things – a 1940s Superman clone that, now, can’t even use his own name – sits atop the recent DC movie heap alongside Wonder Woman. But, hey, as it turns out, Shazam! is a “fun time at the movies.” Who would have guessed?
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