The DC Extended Universe has had a couple of bona-fide hits in the past couple years with Aquaman and Wonder Woman. Now with Shazam! hitting theaters this weekend, DC is surely hoping to continue that trend with a fun new superhero film. I caught an advance showing a couple of weeks ago – read on to see what Shazam! is all about. Note: There are no spoilers in this article beyond what has already been shown or referenced in trailers, ads, and merchandise. Nothing mentioned in the details below will spoil a major plot point.
1. What should I know going in?
Shazam is a superhero in the DC pantheon with some powers similar to Superman: flight, super-strength and super-speed, and an ability to manipulate electricity. His powers are magic-based: a wizard grants teenage orphan Billy Batson the ability to transform into a superhero by simply saying the wizard’s name: “Shazam!” When transformed, he is granted the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury (hence the name Shazam, an acronym). The movie itself is an origin story, and it does a good job of explaining how Billy Batson becomes Shazam, as well as the origin of Dr. Sivana, the film’s main villain. You don’t have to have any background with the characters or the comics before going to see it.
There are a few references to other DC characters throughout the film, but you don’t need to have seen any of the other DC superhero films in preparation for Shazam!; this film stands on its own.
2. Is it any good?
I had a great time at Shazam!. Shazam!‘s lighthearted tone is refreshing for a DCEU movie, in contrast to the more dour DC movies from a few years ago like Man of Steel or even Justice League. Zachary Levi is awesome in the title role, and brings a sense of wonder and amusement to the movie. The villain, Dr. Sivana (played by Mark Strong) is not very compelling, there are some obvious plot holes, and the script follows a pretty predictable sequence: down-on-his-luck guy (or kid, in this case) magically gains super powers, encounters a nefarious villain whose objective is to gain more power, and has to overcome his own inner struggles to face his nemesis. But the movie totally makes up for it with its charm and humor. It reminded me of a super-hero version of Big, where a kid suddenly finds himself in an adult body, and antics ensue (there’s even a subtle nod to Big in an action scene inside a toy store!).
Shazam! is funny! I was bursting with laughter throughout the movie, as were the folks who joined me. The story stays fairly faithful to the comic books (which I appreciate), and presents an extremely likable hero. The movie is at its best during the interplay between the eponymous hero and Freddie Freeman, a fellow orphan who becomes his best friend and pseudo-sidekick. There are so many great scenes with Shazam and Freddie: scenes where they try all of his powers, a hilarious scene at a convenience store where Shazam foils a robbery, and especially the scene where they visit a realtor’s office to search for a superhero lair. It’s so much fun!
3. Why the PG-13 Rating?
Shazam! gets a PG-13 rating because of some intense action sequences, and some brief rude humor and language. Some of the kids in the movie occasionally use curse words (they’re typical teenagers), and there are a couple scenes that involve bullying. There are several scenes of fantasy action and violence – it’s a comic book action movie, after all – that include fight scenes, chases and crashes, property damage, and even some deaths (some by disintegration). Kids are in peril in some of these action scenes, and a couple of the action sequences are particularly intense – more on that below.
4. Should I see it in 3D?
I saw it in 2D (I don’t prefer 3D movies overall) and I don’t feel like I missed anything. I feel like this big, bombastic superhero action film worked just fine on a “regular” screen. But, if 3D (or even IMAX) is your thing, absolutely go for it. You’ll probably have a great time seeing it on any screen you choose.
5. Should I take the kids?
There’s a lot in Shazam! that many kids will enjoy – a flamboyant superhero, a fun supporting cast of kid sidekicks, some crass humor and lots of funny moments. Shazam! truly represents what would likely happen if a normal kid suddenly became an adult with god-like powers: he would make a fool of himself testing out his powers, try to do adult things like buy beer, and show off for crowds on social media. I think many kids may see Shazam! and then be able to imagine what they would do themselves with superpowers, which should make the movie more enjoyable for them. There is also the group of kids at the foster home where Billy Batson, the main character, is staying who become his new family, and I think many kids will be able to identify in some way with one or several of those characters.
But a word of caution for some parents: there are a couple of intense scenes in this movie that may be too much for some kids. The opening scene in particular, which begins the origin story of the film’s villain, Dr. Sivana, features a car wreck that may be unnerving. And there is a particularly disturbing scene toward the middle part of the movie where Dr. Sivana takes revenge on some executives by unleashing in a boardroom some rather scary monsters based on the seven deadly sins. The violence in that boardroom scene was quite unexpected, and was rather out of character compared to the overall jovial tone of the rest of the movie. That scene alone makes me hesitant to let my 9-year-old daughter see the movie; the scariness of that scene could be potentially nightmare-inducing. If you have kids who are sensitive to violent imagery, maybe take them out of the theater at the point when Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivana enters the boardroom. The seven sin monsters do return later in the movie, but the scenes with the monsters at the film’s climax are nowhere near as intense as that one boardroom scene.
6. How’s the cast?
Wow, Shazam! was perfectly cast! Zachary Levi is great as the superhero; like Tom Hanks in Big, Levi is a fantastic embodiment of a man-child. He looks the part of a superhero, and plays it with such whimsy that the character quickly becomes endearing. Asher Angel, who plays Billy Batson when he’s not bouncing around as a superhero, does well with his character, a street-smart, cynical, yet caring teenager. Jack Dylan Grazer, as Freddie Freeman, works extremely well in his scenes with Levi’s Shazam. All of the young actors are great in their roles, in fact. But Faithe Herman, who plays Darla Dudley, another orphan at Billy Batson’s foster home, is particularly charming – she steals several scenes herself. Lastly, Mark Strong does menacing villains very well, and although there’s nothing particularly memorable about Dr. Sivana’s motivations or story arc, Strong portrays Sivana with chilling effect. Watch out for nice cameos by Djimon Hounsou, Meagan Good, and Adam Brody.
7. Is there a good place to break to the restroom?
If you’re with younger viewers who might be overwhelmed by the intensity of the seven sins monsters, take them at the point when Dr. Sivana enters the boardroom – they’ll miss one of the more frightening scenes, but you won’t miss much with regards to the plot.
Other than that, there’s not really a place that I’d recommend to break; the rest of the movie is so much fun. The only other alternative that might work would be during the montage where Shazam is testing his new powers with Freddie Freeman – you’ll know this is the scene when you hear Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” begin playing. The montage doesn’t really do much to move the plot along – but beware that you’ll miss a lot of fun sight gags and hilarious moments if you leave during this scene.
8. Should I stay through the credits?
Yes, of course. It’s pretty much standard these days that a comic book movie will have at least one stinger scene in the credits; in Shazam!, there is both a mid-credits scene and a post-credits sequence. The mid-credits scene sets up a potential sequel – though viewers who aren’t familiar with the Shazam! comics may be confused by what happens. The post-credits scene is pure cheese, and so much fun, taking a jab at another popular DC superhero movie. Stick around for it.
9. Where does it rank among other DC superhero movies?
In my opinion, Shazam! rivals Wonder Woman for the best DCEU movie. They’re different films tonally, but both of them play to their strengths and are very charming movies; they’re the best of the group. Next for me is Aquaman. And then it’s a toss-up among Justice League, Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman, and Man of Steel for best (or worst?) of the rest.
There you have it. I’m so glad that the DCEU movies are trending toward more light-hearted and fun super-hero films that stand on their own. Shazam! has become one of my favorite comic-based movies; I’ll be seeing it again.