Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

‘Shazam’ Puts Light-Hearted Twist on the Superhero Genre

With the success of Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy, superhero films in the DC cinematic universe have become dark, entangled and conflicted. This tone has been effective in some iterations. However, recent box office and critical blunders like the first “Justice League” movie have left the franchise’s directors and producers desperate for new approaches. “Shazam!” directed by David Sandberg, stands in stark contrast to these films, instead taking on the superhero film genre with joyful abandon, leaving viewers laughing and uplifted.

The movie tells the story of Billy Batson, a foster child, played by Asher Angel, struggling to connect with his new foster family and trying to keep himself out of just enough trouble so that he can be free of the system as soon as he turns 18. After getting back at some bullies who attacked his adoptive brother, Billy finds himself called upon by a powerful magician who tells him that he sees both the good and potential in him to merit the power transfer. After receiving these powers, Billy becomes a superhero named Shazam, who takes on the form of an adult man, played by Zachary Levi, with a long list of powers.

“Shazam!” is a bold attempt at recapturing the jolly and clean-cut superhero look. The characters view superpowers as enjoyable and magical as comic fans would; the hero has a teenage sidekick who yearns for nothing more than to prove himself noble and heroic. Levi’s youthful portrayal of childlike wonder also helps the movie set a carefree, enjoyable tone.

By providing a few moments of smart, quirky and well-timed comedy, “Shazam!” skillfully overcomes the hints of seriousness and self-righteousness that dominate many other superhero films.

WARNER BROS | Shedding the usual self-importance that has dominated recent superhero movies, “Shazam” takes itself lightly, allowing for hilarity to ensue.

“Shazam!” borrows the successful elements from its DC Extended Universe predecessors “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman”: the former with a relatively innocent and noble lead that undergoes major personal growth, and the latter with old-fashioned CGI and action-fueled fun.

While the movie drifts away from a dark and gloomy superhero trend, it also offers much more than just a feel-good comedy. In speaking to issues like foster care, teenage pregnancy and the fragility of human character, the film also includes some hard-hitting moments. Screenwriter Henry Gayden seems to have put more thought into the emotions and personal trajectories of Billy as well as his archenemy — a scary yet charming villain played by Mark Strong, who has had his own traumatizing encounter with the magician that grants Billy his powers — than typical comic book fare.

“Shazam!” also has significantly more violence and gore than movies of its rating typically would, but the CGI and action sequences behind some of it are quite admirable and entertaining.

While audiences will be able to find much to like about the film and its intentions, some elements remain difficult to ponder. The plot is convoluted and confusing, going from very slow to developing too quickly. It also brings in some elements, especially near the end, that, despite being canon to the comic strip, make the plot development hard to follow and give off a pandering vibe.

While Levi perfectly executes the charming archetype of his character, a disconnect exists between him and the teenage version of Billy. Audience members are meant to think of the characters as the same person, since the film plays into the common trope of a young character suddenly becoming an older version of themselves who still maintains the same brain and personality.

Billy’s duality as a character is similar to Jennifer Garner’s subtle struggles to walk in heels in “13 going on 30” or Ryan Reynolds’ impressive body language suggesting he’s a broken, old man in “Self/less.” Unlike those portrayals, though, Shazam and Billy feel decidedly separate, especially since Levi does not take on the subtle details and characteristics that would make the trope believable.

“Shazam!” is an entertaining and charming superhero movie featuring an underappreciated character who shows a complex growing process that audiences will delight in following, despite spending a good portion of his time running from or facing setbacks against his arch nemesis.

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