by Hunter Johnson
DC has always had a rough time in their cinematic side of things. Nearly all of the thirty films released by the company over the last four decades — with the exception of less than 10 Superman and Batman films — has been critically panned as unsuccessful attempts at filmmaking.
This all changed in 2017 when “Wonder Woman” was released, becoming the first non-Superman, non-Batman DC film to receive worldwide acclaim. The next year, “Aquaman” released, and while it wasn’t quite as lauded as “Wonder Woman,” the world was glad to receive yet another fun-loving superhero film from the commonly dour DC.
Now, as a continuation of DC’s change toward optimism, “Shazam!” has arrived, and it may possibly be the funniest and most enjoyable ride that DC has created.
Directed by David F. Sandberg, this is the second DC film in a row to be directed by a horror aficionado, following James Wan’s vision of “Aquaman.” The interesting thing is that neither of these films are horror. They are both very light-hearted family films. Perhaps this means DC has found out that the key to making fun adventure comedies is apparently hiring whoever has made the latest horror flick.
“Shazam!” tells the story of a foster kid named Billy Batson who gets chosen by a wizard to receive the powers of Shazam, giving him super strength, flight and the ability to control electricity and lightning.
The movie is bonkers. The film features a young teenage boy who’s able to turn himself into a grown, superpowered man just by saying the word “Shazam,” and the film leans into the ridiculousness of that premise.
The majority of the film is spent with Billy and his best friend simply experimenting with his new powers. Billy’s friend records him performing impossible feats, and as any teenager would do, he immediately starts posting those videos onto YouTube, making Billy an internet sensation.
This film understands what it would be like to have crazy superpowers as a young teenager, especially when the characters live in a world that already has superheroes like Batman and Superman for him to emulate.
“Shazam!” makes the audience care about Billy both when he’s a kid and when he’s a grown man. Audiences completely believe he’s the same person, despite being portrayed by two different actors. The film is smart in keeping Billy’s teenager form present even after he gets his powers.
Asher Angel and Zachary Levi portray the teenage and superhero forms of Billy Batson, respectively. And they are both equally the stars of this film. Neither is given the majority of screen time and neither should be. It’s extremely important for the audience to care about Billy for who he actually is, but it’s also very important for the audience to receive the fun superhero action that is promised in this kind of film.
While Levi and Angel both share the role of the protagonist, the actor with the most screen time of anyone is Jack Dylan Grazer as Billy’s best friend, Freddy. Grazer is spot-on in this role as a disabled comic-book reader and is absolutely hilarious to watch on screen. He’s got all the wit in the world, and the audience constantly feels both sympathetic and empathetic to this struggling teenager.
This film may be funny and heartwarming, but in the end, none of it works without these three main stars being as good as they are. “Shazam!” doesn’t particularly tell jokes as much as it puts its stars in difficult or hilarious circumstances that they then have to respond to, and all three of them are perfect in these roles. The same film could easily have been a boring trudge if the actors didn’t have the wit and childlike mischief that is required. Fortunately, Levi, Angel and Grazer bring full commitment, making “Shazam!” a fantastic time at the theater.
Hunter Johnson is a sophomore theatre major and an arts and entertainment writer for Cedars. He spends his time acting on stage, reading and watching Star Wars, and occasionally doing homework.