Shazam! as a superhero origin story is simply magical! No, really, I mean his origin is magical…like Harry Potter’s. He’s not the strange visitor from another planet, no one gave him a lantern powered ring, and he wasn’t bitten by a radioactive anything. Billy Batson is an orphan, who wants nothing more in life than to find his real mom. Even if it means calling in an occasional false police report. Young Billy is a bit of a troublemaker.
Family is a theme that runs through the film. The stern father and sterner grandfather of the kid who turns into a super villain, the foster parents and foster kids that young 14 year old Billy finds himself living among. An exploration of what family really means.
Billy Batson made his first appearance in 1939 as the boy who uttered a magic word to turn himself into “Captain Marvel“. The magic word Shazam was an acronym for
The wisdom of Solomon
The Strength of Hercules
The stamina of Atlas
The power of Zeus
The invulnerability or courage of Achilles
And the speed of Mercury
We we have an admixture of magic and mythology here, too. And theology. Billy was supposed to acquire the wisdom of Solomon as he fought against the embodiment of the Seven Deadly Sins. The element of theology is downplayed in the movie. The foster kids give thanks before every meal, but it isn’t exactly clear who they’re thanking. Solomon’s wisdom is clearly non-existent, as the wizard picks a delinquent 14 year old boy to be his champion, whereas I might have picked a police detective or a Navy SEAL. The fourteen year old exhibited all the wisdom…of a fourteen year old!
In many ways, Shazam! is the movie you would have had in “Big“, if the Tom Hanks character had told the magic fortune teller “I want to be Superman!” There’s even a small homage to Big as Shazam, nee Captain Marvel, fights the villain in a toy store.
Zachary Levi does a yeoman’s job as the “Big” superhero, expressing childlike wonder at all the new and wonderful things he is able to do, yet reluctant when called upon to fight real evil. Shazam is a good solid popcorn movie, suitable for most children and some adults. It’s entertaining, without being preachy about anything (a rarity in today’s atmosphere). I don’t remember a single call to save the planet over global warming, or saving the whales or the rainforests.
It’s a comic book movie. No enduring truths. No stirring calls to action. Just sit your behind in the seat, or rent the Blu-ray, and absorb a little semi-mindless fantasy for an hour or so. I’d give it three out of five stars.
Mike A.K.A. Proof writes at Proof Positive
Photo by Chris Yarzab