(This review will be SPOILER-FREE for the first portion; I’ll warn ya before I start talking about who dies)
In Shazam!, young Billy Batson receives the same powers that Tom Hanks gets in Big, and ushers in one of the more fun entries into Warner Brothers’ dark and mostly serious DCEU (Detective Comics Expanded Universe). Well maybe not exactly the same; Tom Hanks couldn’t fly, shoot lightning, or return back to his boyhood self after uttering the name SHAZAM! (At least not in the version of Big that I saw).
Back in 2013, Warner Brothers’ sought to replicate what Disney had done with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with its own freshman entry, Zack Snyder’s, Man of Steel. Steel was met with middling to not so great reviews, setting the unfortunate norm for many entries into the DCEU cinematic universe. Some stand-out entries have shown signs of a ship slowly being steered towards a better course: 2017’s Wonder Woman, featuring a plot that makes sense, a powerful performance from Gal Gadot, and a mediocre final villain showdown (can’t win ‘em all). Then there’s 2018’s Aquaman, featuring a plot that makes sense enough, but regardless is a VERY entertaining spectacle. So now onto 2019’s Shazam!, which is (in my opinion) the strongest film in DC’s cinematic universe thus far.
Shazam! brings the fun. Zachary Levi’s performance as an adult who is (literally) a child at heart is a joy to watch. He carries this film on his red and white caped shoulders. His chemistry with his foster brother and plucky young sidekick, Freddy Freeman, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, is great and sells this bizarre superhero origin story. That’s what the plot of this movie is at the end of the day, an origin story, although it doesn’t feel too bogged down by that fact. Batman and Superman are mentioned often in this film; we see action figures, apparel, and “real world” memorabilia from the Caped Crusader’s escapades. This helps sell the casual nature of the film. Billy/Shazam isn’t the first of his kind. He has other examples in the world to emulate and with Freddy as his superhero aficionado, the otherwise mundane origin tropes become self-aware and fun to watch.