×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

5 best and 5 worst things in Shazam!

For over a decade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has dominated the box office and pop culture as a whole. And this year is shaping up to be no different, with the one-two punch of Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame poised to further cement's Marvel's position as the world's biggest entertainment brand.

But sandwiched in between those mega-blockbusters is another superhero film from DC, who rather surprisingly became the superhero movie underdogs in the years following Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. Yes, it's Shazam!, and perhaps the biggest surprise of all is the fact that it's… actually kind of awesome. How awesome? Well, here's a spoiler-filled look at the five best and five worst things about Shazam!

Best: It's fun and funny

The films of the DC Extended Universe have a well-earned reputation for being dark, grim, gritty, and basically not much fun to watch. There's a lot of angst and moral ambivalence and very little in the way of actual heroism. Instead, they seem to feature angry people who clearly aren't getting enough fiber in their diet.

So maybe the biggest surprise about Shazam! is that it's not just funny, it's also fun from start to finish. Director David F. Sandberg mostly does a great job keeping the tone upbeat and energetic as teen Billy Batson discovers his incredible new powers. It's true that Aquaman also dared to have at least a little tiny bit of fun along the way, but Billy's exuberance at being a superhero is something we haven't really seen before, and is a welcome change compared to the DCEU's usual dark and violent fare. 

Worst: It's too dark and violent

On the other hand, while Shazam! is mostly family friendly fun, once in awhile it just sort of forgets itself and veers off into the realm of horror. Of course, this makes some sense, considering that Sandberg is best known for directing the acclaimed horror hits Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation.

Still, the tonal shifts are jarring. One minute, Billy and his foster brother Freddy Freeman are clowning around doing the floss, and then the next minute, the evil Dr. Sivana is summoning a horde of demons to literally eat people's heads off. For a film that centers on family, and which has aspirations towards being a feel-good film for all ages, these abrupt detours into terror are particularly out of place. Worse, they are also unnecessary. Luckily, it doesn't happen often, but even a couple of times is a couple of times too many. 

Best: The cast is fantastic

Across the board, the stars of Shazam! deliver, and then some. Zachary Levi, as the superheroic adult form of young Billy, maintains a level of boyish wonder while using his adult physicality to great comedic effect.

He also has terrific rapport with Jack Dylan Grazer as Billy's foster brother Freddy Freeman (more about him later). Levi and Grazer light up the screen every time they share it together (no pun intended… okay, you got us, we intended the pun). The fact that the up-and-coming Grazer doesn't completely walk away with the movie is testament to Levi's own charm.

And Grazer similarly has excellent chemistry with Asher Angel, who plays the younger, more mortal version of Billy. It's hard enough for most movies to find even one star that's right for the part — just look at Batfleck. Shazam! somehow nailed the casting for its thee biggest roles, and the movie is much better for it. 

Worst: Except for the bad guys

Still, not every role comes off as well as it could have, and one area where the movie really falls short is its bad guys.

That's not actually a knock on actor Mark Strong, who plays the lead villain, Dr. Thad Sivana. Strong has a long history of playing baddies in films, and he's very good at being very bad. But unfortunately, while all the stuff with Billy and Freddy feels fresh and new, the scenes with Dr. Sivana feel like they were cobbled together from a list of boring supervillain cliches. If they had written something interesting for Strong, he could have done it, but they didn't.

And his demon minions are even more boring, as they're a bunch of CGI demons with character designs that were already tired when Diablo II came out. The only cool thing Shazam! did with villains was to tease Mr. Mind in the mid-credits scene. We just wish he had been the lead villain of this one too — at least that wouldn't have been just more of the same. 

Best: It's comfortable with itself

The introduction of Mr. Mind, a superintelligent worm with aspirations of becoming a world-conquering despot, showed off one of the best things about Shazam!: the fact that it's not ashamed of what it is.

Fans can tell when movies based on comic books are ashamed to admit it. When the filmmakers don't respect the source material, the result is always bad, and always disappointing. Just look at films like Jonah Hex, or even Man of Steel, where director Zack Snyder clearly didn't believe the concept of a pure hero like Superman was relevant. The impulse to make comic book movies "more serious" just because the filmmakers want to be taken seriously is never a good thing.

That's why it's so great that Shazam! actually revels in its comic book origins. The creative time here doesn't mind being goofy, because they know that's fine as long as audiences are brought along for the ride. Mr. Mind is silly — but it's exactly the kind of silly we've been waiting for all along. 

Worst: It's a little too comfortable with itself

Shazam! is trying to do a lot of different things. It's got comedy, it's got action, and it's got a heart-warming family message at its gooey center. It's also a superhero fable, with an eye toward worldbuilding that connects it to other DCEU characters. And while it does most of those things pretty well, trying to do them all at once results is a moviegoing experience kind of like trying to eat a Chipotle burrito: it's just overstuffed.

And that overambition shows in the film's run time. For such a fun, breezy film, Shazam! isn't actually all that fast-paced. Instead, it runs a whopping 2 hours and 12 minutes, which is about a half-hour too long. Shazam! is good, but like they say, sometimes you can get too much of a good thing. A little restraint would have been better for the movie… and better for your bladder. 

Best: The Marvel Family

Like all good films, Shazam! is actually about something more than simple superhero fist fights. At the heart of the story is young Billy Batson and his quest to find his family. At first that takes the form of his search for his missing birth mother, but by the end of the movie, Billy realizes that the only family he needs has been right in front of him all along.

It's a great arc, made all the better by the performances of the actors who play his foster siblings, especially Faith Herman as the precocious Darla. Even better, the twist ending where all his siblings are granted the powers of the wizard Shazam is a great callback to the original comics, where Billy (as the hero Captain Marvel — we know, it's confusing) was always aided by the Marvel Family of heroes. Seeing Billy and his siblings come together to fight crime was a great surprise that delivered both the action and the feels at the same time. 

Worst: Action figures spoiled the Marvel Family twist

About the only thing that could have made the Marvel Family twist even better was if we hadn't already known it was coming. So who spoiled it for everyone? No, it wasn't paparazzi or some gossip website for once. Instead, it's the modern scourge of film fans everywhere: merchandise tie-ins.

Yes, these days it seems like you can't go to the toy store without accidentally learning the plot of next summer's biggest blockbusters. Thank goodness Citizen Kane and The Crying Game didn't have Happy Meal deals, or else their big twists would have been spoiled too.

In the case of Shazam!, the transformation of Billy's foster siblings into superheroes was spoiled when action figures of their adult hero forms were released long before the film's April release. Sigh. Hey, toy companies, next time could you please keep it zipped until after the movie is out?

Best: We can't get enough Freddy Freeman

Though the film is nominally about Billy Batson and his transformation into the hero known as Captain Sparklefingers — among other things — the real scene-stealer is Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman. Quick with a quip, Freddy brings the humor and wit to every scene he's in, while also providing more than a little heart as well.

Perhaps the best thing about Freddy, though, is that he's one of us. He's a fan of superheroes, and his enthusiasm is our enthusiasm. When he gets excited talking about Batman or Superman, that's us. When he gets recklessly enthusiastic testing Billy's new superpowers, well, it's hilariously dangerous, but it's also understandable.

Maybe you're not a kid anymore, but Freddy is that awestruck kid inside all of us — and bringing that kid out is one of the main reasons we go to superhero movies in the first place. 

Worst: there's nothing about Mary

For comic book fans, one of the coolest moments in the film is when we finally get to see Freddy Freeman gain superpowers and become a hero himself. In the comics, of course, Freddy has a long history as the wildly popular spinoff character Captain Marvel, Jr. How popular was he? Elvis Presley actually copied his famous hairstyle from Freddy. True story!

But there was another massively popular superhero who didn't get nearly as much screen time in Shazam!Mary Marvel. Back in the day, Mary Marvel was second in popularity only to Wonder Woman among female superheroes, appearing in three ongoing series simultaneously.

That's why it was so disappointing that we got almost no Mary. Sure, she's in the film… a little bit. But even when Billy's foster siblings all gain powers, she's almost lost in the crowd, as all the other kids get bigger hero moments in the spotlight. Mary is just… sort of there. Here's hoping that next time around, we get a lot more Mary, so she can break out the same way Freddy did.