SHAZAM! (2019) Runtime: 2 hrs 12 min Rating: PG-13 Studio: Warner Bros
Directed by: David S. Sandberg Screenwriters: Henry Gayden
I’ll be honest, Shazam or Captain Marvel, as he’s also known in the comics, was never one I cared to know. Billy Baston is a kid who transforms into an adult with powers by saying a magic word. Sounds kiddish, right? I just found him so whiney, or that his actual age showed too much as his adult self. That’s the beauty of the design of him, though, isn’t it? What kid hasn’t ever thought about being super? Made up what powers or abilities they would have. I’m an adult, and I still think about it!
This hero first came to be in 1939 as Captain Marvel from Fawcett comics (currently published by DC Comics). Years later, after being out of publication for a time, Marvel grabbed the available trademark for “Captain Marvel” in the early 1970s. Doing so meant the DC character could no longer be published under the name, so the comic book’s name was changed to SHAZAM! and the title of “Captain Marvel” within DC Comics stopped in 2012 when the superhero name officially became SHAZAM! as well.
A version of Billy Baston’s origin story has him living with his uncle. In the “new 52” version, he’s a foster kid. This works better for this character overall, I think. Asher Angel plays the role of Billy Baston, the teenager, while Zachary Levi plays the adult/hero version. Mark Strong plays the villain Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, who has been around since the original comics debut.
Unlike most hero origin stories where loss of some kind is close to the time they suit-up, Billy Baston’s is not. He’s minding his own business when he finds himself before “the Wizard,” played by Djimon Hounsou. I like Hounsou’s previous work; he has a nice range of projects under his belt. However, I cringed at his costume. It looked like a low-level, Halloween Express attempt at cosplay. Still, Billy comes before him via magic into this cave, the Rock of Eternity—the vibe is anything but kiddish.
The Wizard is one of seven who’s combined powers keep the seven deadly sins away. He is no longer strong enough to hold back what can be described as a version of Pandora’s box and needs someone new to take over. Enter Billy. Billy doesn’t know about Sivana or the sins, who look like unfinished concept renderings Constantine would fight. No, he seeks help from one of his foster siblings, a die-hard fan of comics, to help him figure out the alternate version of himself.
While the film attempts to merge teenagers and kids’ youthfulness with a conflict that means the end of the world, the conflict portion falls flat. However, there are jokes and laughs throughout the film that sort of make up for it.
Mixed in with those components to the film are Billy’s newest foster parents and the other kids who live with them. The family scenes seem so forced, like it’s normal for a new foster kid to get along so well so soon. Sivana grew up to be the very type of person he hated as a child, uncaring and unloving. That sentiment of not being cared about parallels most foster kids’ feelings, yet I don’t feel for Sivana. That the display of family and togetherness Billy’s new foster family portrays is the crucial difference between being good or evil. Sure…
This is meant as a movie for middle-school-aged kids and up. It’s not designed to be completely logical, just a light-hearted journey into the DCEU without the gritty, testosterone-filled displays currently at work.
For a movie about a kid, who becomes a super adult, who goes back to being a kid, there needs to be room to grow such a character. To start, kids are already figuring out who they are in the world. On top of that, Billy has to get used to being an adult hero without anyone else finding out he’s a kid in the adult’s body.
So, should this be on your watchlist? Yeah, go on and do it. It is a lighter super film than anything else out there currently. It can be a fun watch if you accept that it will take more than just this one film for Billy/SHAZAM! to be fully realized.
-a pen lady