By Michael Omoruan
The latest installment in the DC Cinematic Universe is here and it brings out the inner kid in all of us. Though a superhero film on the surface, at its core “Shazam!” is about family and finding one when you least expect it. There are very few movies being made currently about adopted children, let alone a superhero movie. The film has just the right amount of realism in it, even with magic wielding characters.
Released on April 5, “Shazam!” tells the story of a foster kid named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who has recently been adopted by the loving Vasquez couple. His first thought of the couple and the other children they have taken in is that they are just another family that he wants to escape. However, after befriending Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Batson starts to grow attached to his new home.
After fending off some bullies that start beating up Freddy, Billy tries to lose them. When he does, he soon meets an old and withered man named Shazam the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou). The wizard has been looking for so-called “champions” to take on his role for ages and believes he has found one in Batson. After much-expected hesitation and questioning, he finally succumbs to his demands when he is asked to speak his name. When he does, the power of mythological gods who make up his name, such as Achilles and Mercury are imbued in him before he becomes his adult self, played by Zachary Levi. The film’s plot is reminiscent of 1988’s “Big,” starring Tom Hanks and even makes a quick reference to it during a fight scene.
Angel as Batson plays the role of a foster kid well, especially when his character hesitates to hang out with or acknowledge the kids he meets at the Vasquez residence. When Batson becomes Shazam, Levi’s attempts to recreate or mimic Angel’s acting choices and lines are believable. He nails the comedic scenes very well, which makes sense given his background in shows like NBC’s “Chuck” and movies like Disney’s “Tangled.” It feels very much like what a kid given powers in the modern day and age would do. The serious scenes are effectively moving, such as when Freddy feels that Billy has let the powers he’s been granted go to his head.
Sandberg knocks it out of the park once again. After helming horror films like “Lights Out” (2016) and “Annabelle: Creation” (2017), “Shazam!” marks his first foray into superhero films. An increasing trend has begun that more and more well-known horror directors are being given the reigns to direct big-budget superhero films. Notable examples are James Gun’s “Guardian of the Galaxy” films, James Wan’s “Aquaman” (2018), and Scott Derrickson’s “Doctor Strange” (2016). Sandberg’s background in horror shines through in his lighting choices and use of dark imagery and cinematography when filming Mark Strong’s character, Doctor Sivana. Sivana’s powers are similar to that of Shazam’s, but also include the ability to conjure huge beasts that represent each of the seven deadly sins.
Once offered the same abilities as Batson by Shazam the Wizard, Sivana was unable to resist the temptation of stone gargoyle-looking creatures and is cast out. Sivana grows up to become obsessed with returning to the Wizard, interviewing potential champions to find out how to return to him. After returning to him, he embraces his role as a villain and starts exacting revenge on those who mocked him. The film touches on the theme of embracing family through Billy’s journey to find his biological parents. The acting chops of the main cast and the screenplay, written by Henry Gayden, are executed near perfectly.
Shah Mazhar, a mathematics major at Queens College, said, “I felt like a kid watching it and it was super comic accurate.” Daniel Encarnacion, a computer science major at Lehman, said, “I really enjoyed it. I thought it was well rounded, lighthearted, and funny but also had some deeper moments as well. Honestly it was the best movie DC has done. In my opinion, it was better than Captain Marvel because Zachary Levi was able to be a more endearing character.
Grossing $125 million domestically and over $200 million in foreign box offices, it comes as no surprise that audiences everywhere are falling in love with this film. If you dig superhero films or are just a sucker for heartfelt family films, check this one out at your local theater.