It’s previously been very rare for me to see any movies on opening weekend, let alone going to see a movie during an early screening. And while this wasn’t an extraordinarily exclusive early screening, it’s one of the first times I’ve ever gotten to see a movie early. As far as the character goes, I’m not overly familiar with DC’s Captain Marvel aside from a vague history of how he got his name before Marvel existed, then had to change it to Shazam to avoid confusion. It’s also an odd coincidence that Marvel’s Captain Marvel and DC’s Captain Marvel were released within weeks of each other. Not only that, but they both feature Djimon Hounsou in a minor role. And after the negativity surrounding the early extra grim-dark entries in the DC Universe, they’ve gone much closer to the successful Marvel route to lighten things up quite a bit. And while it might be a little closer to standard, it still works and makes this one of the most fun DC films in a long time. And as I do with every new release, there will be spoilers so here’s your warning.
Aside from the lightheartedness that comes with making the hero be a fifteen year old kid, what really makes this film work is the heart behind the characters. Billy Batson isn’t just a random fifteen year old, he’s a foster kid that’s trying to find his mother. There are a few cliches here and there, but it’s still done very well. We have the foster kid who’s too cool for fostering and doesn’t want to connect with his fake family, but over time they end up growing on him until he considers them family. We also have the jokester annoying kid Freddy who happens to know everything about superheroes so that he can be the one who trains Billy when he becomes the titular hero.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t work. It takes the cliches and handles them as well as they could be. Freddy is a lot of fun, and making him slightly disabled gives an extra level of pathos to him, especially when Billy shows his true character the first time he saves Freddy from the bullies right before he becomes Shazam. The tenuous friendship between Billy and Freddy is really the heart of this movie. It’s not an immediate friendship relationship, there are ups and downs with both kids using the other for their own selfish purposes at different times. Freddy uses Billy after he gets powers in order to live out Freddy’s superhero fantasies while also being a bit of a prankster during their super power tests like when he secretly sets Billy on fire during a teleportation test. Meanwhile, Billy uses Freddy because he legitimately needs someone who knows something about superheroes so he can superhero himself, and eventually lets the power go to his head and becomes an egotistical asshole for a brief moment just before he faces his supervillain.
Speaking of supervillain, while Mark Strong was fun in the Kingsman movies, he plays the villain much better and does a great job here. It was also an interesting arc to have him be the potential Shazam who developed an inferiority complex due to his own failure. That and his emotionally abusive father and older brother. Having his power tied to the Seven Deadly Sins gave a gruesome edge to this otherwise fun and fluffy movie. There were some genuinely disturbing moments like when they were let loose on the board members of the big company. They looked great, though there could have been more to their personalities in terms of their actual sins. Oddly enough, there’s a LEGO straight to video movie that used the same sins during a scene and they actually had Sloth be the one sin who actually just sat around and didn’t really fight, like you would expect Sloth to do. But here, they are all great looking, but otherwise interchangeable characters with the one slight exception of Envy.
But what this movie really does is amp up the fun and comedy that’s been slowly working its way back into the DC movies after much of the criticism aimed at the Zack Snyder pseudo-trilogy. Having Shazam be essentially a fifteen year old in an adult’s body is enough fuel for the majority of this film, and it’s still able to amp things up a little bit when Shazam shares his power to turn all his foster brothers and sisters into the Marvel family. As he begins to superhero, he’s more interested in making money, taking selfies, posting videos, essentially becoming a celebrity rather than actually being a hero. And when he’s actually faced with his first pseudo-disaster, it’s one that he actually created himself with his carelessness. And when he faces the supervillain, he’s more interested in running away rather than fighting someone who is his equal. It’s accurate, it fits with the character, and it shows his failings before having him step up to his heroics at the end.
But even with all the comedy spread throughout this film, and there’s a lot of it, there’s still the heart that’s spread throughout the film. It’s not just thrown around willy nilly either, we get to see it evolve as time goes on. The foster parents are great even though they are extremely consistent. The kids themselves have their own personalities but help in their own ways. Billy tries to play off that he doesn’t care about his foster brothers and sisters, but we all know that it’s not true and it does slowly evolve like his friendship with Freddy that builds as they connect over the superhero stuff. The scene where he saves the oldest sister Mary is also handled very well to show that Billy does care about her, but doesn’t even truly realize it until that very moment. We also get a very realistic reveal when he finally meets his biological mother and finds out that he didn’t just lose her, but she used the circumstances to give him up and restart her own life. It doesn’t completely paint her as a soulless asshole either, she cares about Billy and about what she did to him, but she’s framed it in her own mind as the right decision and Billy doesn’t really do anything to change her mind on that front. Shazam works on plenty of different levels and while the villains could be developed better, Mark Strong’s performance helps make up for the sins’ lack of character as does their designs. And through it all, it revels in the pure fun and exhilaration about how it feels to be a kid with super powers. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.