After a lot of misfires, DC Comics seems to be getting the hang of the superhero movie.
After the hyper realism of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Warner Brothers, the owners of DC Comics, decided to reboot everything and take Marvel’s fledgling comic book universe head on. It didn’t go well.
Not that any of the movies, from “Superman: Man of Steel” to “The Justice League,” were super horrible (though some may argue with that assessment), but there was just the sense of missed opportunities.
Then “Wonder Woman” came along a couple of years ago, and while it still had a lot of the problems associated with DC Comics movies, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman was such an engaging, charming lead, the movie was deemed a success both critically and financially.
And last December “Aquaman” hit theaters and DC’s lamest hero was rescued from the watery depths by Jason Momoa’s laid back, “Dude, how’s it going?” performance.
Now we have “Shazam,” an all but forgotten DC superhero who was once sued out of existence by, ironically, DC Comics. Shazam was owned by another company at the time and DC thought he bore way too much resemblance to Superman. The company that owned him was forced out of business and DC took over ownership of Shazam and forgot about him for awhile.
During the time he was forgotten, Marvel Comics took the opportunity to name one of their characters Captain Marvel. See, Shazam is not the hero. He was the wizard that gave Billy Batson his powers. The superheroes name was Captain Marvel. But Marvel just released their own Captain Marvel movie and that could have led to several problems.
So, one of the jokes running through “Shazam” is what to call him. It’s a little wink to the character’s history and I enjoyed it though most people probably didn’t get the idea behind the long list of joke names.
“Shazam” is an origin story and it sticks pretty close to what writers came up with in the 1940s, though in a modern Philadelphia. Billy Batson is an orphan, bouncing from one foster home to the next, until he ends up in a pretty decent place, but he still can’t be happy.
One day he’s running from bullies and jumps on a subway train to get away. While on that train he’s summoned by the wizard who is looking for a successor. The main job of people with the Shazam powers is to guard the world from the seven deadly sins. They are encased in rock and if they get released, it’s lights out for mankind.
After getting the powers, we get a lot of Billy wowing his fellow orphan, Freddie, with his displays of power. While shouting Shazam transforms the 14 year old Billy into a grown man, Freddie is a connoisseur of superheroes and quickly buys into what is happening and doing his best to help his friend reach full superhero status.
This involves a lot of small time crimes (convenience story robbery, muggings), but there is a big baddie out there in the form of Dr. Sivana, a super smart scientist who was rejected for the wizards power’s as a kid because he wasn’t pure of heart enough.
Yeah, if you superimpose Superman and Lex Luthor over the two main characters here, you can see DC kind of having a point way back when.
Some have said DC got it right with Shazam because it mimics a Marvel movie with the humor. They’re not completely wrong. There are a lot of laughs in this movie, but there’s also violence against orphaned kids and Sivana is brutal in ways that might even give Thanos pause.
In a lot of ways it’s also a standalone movie. There are references to the bigger DC universe, but neither Batman or Superman make unexpected cameos. Zachary Levi plays Shazam while Asher Angel is Billy Batson. Levi, who was on the TV show “Chuck” and appeared in a season of “Heroes,” should get some kind of award for perfectly channeling his 14 year old self. He really appears to be a kid trapped in a man’s body. And it is extremely funny at times.
Angel manages to mix pathos and humor as being a teenage boy is inherently funny, but he’s also an orphan whose mom abandoned him when he was five. And now he’s sharing a bedroom with Freddy, who happens to be crippled. So, it’s no surprise that when he settles into having the Shazam powers, he sees it as a way to make money.
There was talk for years that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would play Black Adam, a major Shazam villain, but he’s nowhere to be seen, though he is listed as an executive producer, so maybe since this one was a success he might pop up in the next one.
And there will be a next one. While DC can’t seem to figure out what to do with Superman and Batman, they hit it out of the park with “Shazam.” And you can’t let it end with just one movie.