DC’s latest electrifies a well-worn genre


Warner Bros Pictures/TNS

Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) watches Shazam (Zachary Levi) do his "Lightning from my hands" routine, which will have you humming "Eye of the Tiger" the rest of the day. (Warner Bros. Pictures/TNS)

Sean Bull, Broadcast Manager

I want to start this review by warning you to not take too much of what I say to heart. It’s never beneficial to go into a movie with high expectations. The more you expect, the harder it is for the movie to live up to the hype. The last thing I want to do is ruin someone else’s first watch, so I’m urging now, don’t get too excited just yet.

With the disclaimer out of the way, I’m going to come right out and say it: “Shazam!” is the best superhero movie of this decade.

This is not hyperbole, or recency bias. At press time, I’ve had two full weeks to mull it over, and there’s no movie, Marvel or DC, that tops it as a whole package.

From start to finish, the film is solid in its plot, characterization, and pacing. Most importantly, it hits all the emotional beats just right. Past comic book adaptations have certainly dealt with powerful themes, but it can often feel like those elements get tossed aside when the third act rolls around and it’s time for people to punch each other. “Shazam!” sidesteps that trap. The protagonist’s choice to finally face the villain only builds upon the lessons he’s learned through the movie.

The film’s virtues don’t end with a tightly-written character arc. Certainly, good writing isn’t what sets it apart among superheroes, that’s becoming more common as more people try their hand at the genre. Instead, Shazam’s secret weapon is joy.

In a genre built on fantasy, I’m prepared to spend a lot of time suspending my disbelief. In “Ant Man,” there’s a scene where an old man carries the full mass of a tank within his pocket, and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

However, what I can’t abide are mischaracterizations of basic human nature. There’s a falsehood that this genre has fed us over and over: that if granted superpowers, average people would somehow see them as a burden.

Yes, with great power comes great blah blah blah… Hold that thought, I’m going to go literally catch a bus with my newfound flight and super strength. In telling the story of a child superhero, “Shazam” is free to treat its concept with every bit of childlike wonder it deserves.

It’s refreshing to have a hero who doesn’t spout detached quips, or radiate existential angst. Billy Batson gets time to truly revel in his superpowers, as would we all, were we in his golden shoes.

Those earnest moments don’t mean the rest of the emotions are cut for time. “Shazam!” is chock-full of jokes, and if anything, they work better because they feel consistent with the straighter scenes. The darker scenes also do not disappoint. Casual fans like me might assume that Shazam is basically the same thing as Superman, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This hero’s powers originate from magic, and thus his greatest enemies are literal demons. This gives the opportunity to put some truly horrifying images to screen, and for a PG-13 family film, “Shazam!” doesn’t pull its punches.

What’s truly impressive about all this is that it was accomplished within a single movie. After “Justice League” flopped in 2017, no one seems to know exactly how connected new DC movies are supposed to be. “Shazam!” doesn’t care about that. Superhero names get dropped, and familiar logos grace the screen, that’s quite enough to leave the door open for future team ups and crossovers.

I await the 22nd installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe eagerly, but for more casual fans, “Shazam!” will be far more approachable. The Avengers are great if you’re caught up, but this film proves that superheroes can still be great without hours of related movies to build them up.

With that said, Warner Brothers’ newest cinematic superpower won’t remain franchise-less for long. A sequel is already confirmed, and the same team is coming back to make it happen. Now all we can do is wait. In a couple years, we’ll see whether “Shazam!” was a fluke, or if DC can make this kind of lightning strike twice.