"Hilarious, Delightful and Redemptive but Marred"
What You Need To Know:
SHAZAM! is very well written and directed. The action scenes are exciting, and the humor is very funny. There are also positive messages about family, being selfless and some Christian allusions as well. Sadly, there’s also some magic, paganism, lots of foul language, and other unsavory material, so strong caution is advised for SHAZAM!, despite its positive qualities.
SHAZAM! is a superhero movie based on the DC comic book character of a young boy who gets magical powers that transform him into a superhero with an adult body. SHAZAM! is a hilarious, heartwarming, family centric superhero movie that’s one of the better structured DC movies in years, but there are some issues parents must note!
The movie opens by setting up its villain. A young boy in 1974, Thaddeus, is driving in a car with his mean older brother and his father, who’s disappointed Thaddeus is so soft. While in the car, Thaddeus is all of sudden transported to a dark cave in another realm where he meets The Wizard Shazam. The Wizard explains he’s the last of the Council of Wizards who wield magic that keeps the seven demons of the seven deadly sins from wrecking havoc on the world. The Wizard is very old and needs someone to take his place, but the person needs to be pure of heart and able to resist temptation. Thaddeus quickly reveals he isn’t pure of heart, and the Wizard sends him back to the car where his brother and father were. When Thaddeus returns, he makes a ruckus about what he just saw, which causes a car accident that injures his father.
Skip to present time in Philadelphia. Billy Batson, a 14-year-old orphan, is constantly running away from foster homes and getting into trouble because he’ll stop at nothing until he can find his birth mother. Billy is placed with a new foster family, the Vasquez’s, the last couple willing to take him. The Vasquez’s are very kind and warm, because they were foster children themselves. The other children that live in the home are Mary, the oldest foster child who’s getting ready to go to college, the young computer tech genius Eugene, the quietest of the foster children, Pedro, and the sweet Darla, the youngest of the children who loves hugging each of her foster brothers and sisters. Billy’s new roommate is Freddy, a disabled boy Billy’s age who’s a superhero enthusiast and has a dark sense of humor.
Meanwhile, Thaddeus is now a scientist who’s dedicated his life to finding the Wizard so he can get the power that was denied him when he was a boy. When he finally finds a way to the other realm, he accesses the power of the seven deadly sins that consume him and make him extremely powerful.
Back in Philly, Billy is overwhelmed by all these new people who seem to care about him, but he has no plans to let anyone into his heart. One day while running away from some bullies that Billy stood up to, he’s transported to The Wizard Shazam’s cave. The Wizard is desperate for anyone even remotely pure to take on the powers of Shazam, so he convinces Billy to say his name. All of a sudden, Billy receives the power of SHAZAM, which stands for “the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury.” When Billy speaks his name Shazam, he’s transformed into a powerful superhero with an adult body.
Billy loves these new powers, but begins to use them selfishly. Will Billy/Shazam be destroyed by the seven deadly sins and Dr. Thaddeus? Can Billy decide to accept this wonderful new family he’s been given?
SHAZAM! is a surprise in many different ways. Unlike many of the other DC movies that are darker and grittier, SHAZAM! takes a childlike look at the superhero genre that’s fresh. Of course, there’s many gags of a child in an adult’s body, trying to get away with things he shouldn’t. Most of the time the situations are very funny, like when Billy as Shazam tries to buy beer with Freddy, but they spew it out because it tastes so terrible. Other times, the moments are inappropriate, like when he goes into a strip club in his superhero body. The camera doesn’t go inside the club with him. It just shows him going in and coming out minutes later.
The writing and direction is very good, with strong emotional moments that really make viewers care about the characters. The young cast of foster children, which include a few familiar faces from various TV shows, are absolutely terrific as well. Who really steals the show, however, is Zachary Levi of TANGLED and TV’s CHUCK as the superhero Shazam, and Jack Dylan Grazer as the very funny Freddy.
Positively, there are many strong Christian, biblical themes and messages strung throughout the story. The story’s center is all about family, with a strong emphasis on the blessings of foster families. As the movie progresses, Billy learns what it means to be a selfless hero as well, and to use his new powers for good. There are also multiple Christian allusions as well. For example, the main villains are demons of the seven deadly sins, pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, gluttony and lust, which have their roots as sins from the Bible. Resisting the temptation of sin is also a recurring message. The Vasquez foster family gives thanks before dinner, though they don’t end it with an amen, or any mention explicitly to God. The movie is also set around Christmas time, so there are a couple Christmas songs referencing Jesus, and a nativity scene appears in a front yard.
Negatively, SHAZAM! has a set of problems that parents need to know. There is magic in this movie that receives some attention. While the source of the magic isn’t explored, it’s clear that Shazam’s powers are the same as other pagan myths, such as Zeus and Hercules. That said, there aren’t any seances or overt witchcraft (other than a magic 8-ball that the villain used as a boy and symbols he uses to find the Wizard).
There’s also a fair amount of foul language for a movie that’s centered around children. There are 14 obscenities (mostly “h,” “a” and “s” words), more than a dozen OMGs, and a strong profanity using Jesus Christ’s name. The language count was significantly higher than the more adult skewed DC movie AQUAMAN. Much of the violence is lighter, but there are a few scenes that are on the disturbing side, especially when the seven deadly sin demons frightfully attack people. One man has his head bitten off.
While there’s much to celebrate in the movie, and it’s a very entertaining ride, there are too many objectionable elements for it to be appropriate for young children. Strong caution is advised for SHAZAM!.