'Shazam' Is the Superhero Movie I Needed this Year
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I've never considered myself a movie critic, as I only write about movies I enjoy, and I'm not looking for that flawless piece of modern cinema. It doesn't exist.
For example, there are already has plenty of reviews out there for Shazam that will do a worthy job weighing the pros and cons, as well as picking apart everything from continuity problems to lacking that intellectually dark, edgy, twisted, and often depressing turn many, superhero movies now possess.
I'm just going to tell you where Shazam absolutely nailed it in creating a fun and thoughtful superhero movie experience for my entire family. When I was anticipating seeing Shazam, there were three criteria I personally wanted it to meet: it had to be fun, it had to stick somewhat to the 2014 Geoff Johns and Gary Frank Shazam New 52 story, and star Zachary Levi's best moments weren't used up in the trailers.
It met all three with flying colors.
First, it was more than fun. It was joyous! There were some darker and sad moments, but they were surrounded by mounds of energy, laugh-out-loud verbal and visual bits, as well as nostalgic reasons to simply smile, and times to cheer on the hero like you're at a sporting event. In an era where every superhero movie has be tragic and made more for mature audiences than families, I am thankful for director David Sandberg letting the sun shine on Billy Baston and Shazam.
Second, it stayed true to the nature of the comic so much, there were scenes that looked they could have been copied directly from Frank's illustrations. The big ending twist, which I won't spoil for those who haven't seen the film, was so well cast, well costumed, and well choreographed, it couldn't have been more faithful to the story. There's a re-packaged version of the comic, with a movie tie-in cover (Shazam! Origins), and if you didn't know this was written five years ago, you would think it was done for the movie.
Third, Levi, who I've liked as an actor since his title role in Chuck, was so enthusiastic as Shazam!, he alone could have carried the film. He didn't need to, because the entire supporting cast carried their weigh, both the young actors and the adults. I try to avoid any "behind-the-scene" footage of actors, but I'm going to wager they were having a ball putting this thing together. The chemistry of the entire cast was electric, and Levi was the ultimate conductor to bounce it off. I knew someday Eugene from Tangled would get those super powers in his hands.
Just these three reasons alone would have made me love the film, but here are a couple of other reasons that just added to the my appreciation of this movie:
• The shout-out to superheroes, without making it about the actors who currently play them. This was a perfect way to let us know Shazam is part of the DC Universe, but its own story. Celebrity cameos are fun, seeing these DC favorites from the point of view of kids and teens. I too, have a collector Batarang (albeit the Christian Bale era).
• The little tributes to some of the popular movies of my own youth. Before the movie was released, people were comparing it to 1988's Big. That wasn't lost on the filmmakers who give us a little Big style Easter egg, as well as another scene that reminded me of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, a nod to the wisdom of the Jedi, and most awesomely, the Rocky references. Really, though, how could they not do this in a movie set in Philadelphia?
Bonus, for those who appreciate the job Sandberg, did with the film, there's an Easter egg referencing his 2006 Swedish animated short, Vad tyst det blev... if you can find it. The actual short film is not family-friendly, by the way, for those curious about it.
• The reminder of the importance of good adoptive and foster families. I've known people who are foster parents, and it is not something for the faint of heart. The stories and situations behind some of these children and teens will break you in two. We do get to see the effects of bad parenting can come from both the wealthy and the poor. Yet, no matter what situation a kid comes from, a good foster family can help them realize every child has value, and every one of them is worthy of love. A clever close-up of The Vasquezes' bumper sticker was a nice touch.
• Not shying away from showing a family who prays. Billy's foster family was not only one of faith, but faith in each other. Oh no, no, no, no...don't you roll your eyes me on this one. This was a very important thing to me and my family. Whatever we have going on in our lives, no matter how chaotic, we try to eat dinner together at the table and say a prayer before every meal. This aspect is something that is not celebrated enough in today's movies that aren't "preaching to the choir" faith-based films, that can admittedly be a little saccharine. It was beautifully done, not overdone, and didn't detract from the superhero vibe in the least.
• The soundtrack choices were solid from start to finish. Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" to Survivor's "Eye of The Tiger," made some well timed appearances, and I'm hoping The Ramones' version of the Tom Waits hit "I Don't Want to Grow Up" will become a favorite of another generation. The animation in the end credits of the movie even reminded me of the 1990s original video, and I can't help but wonder if that was intentional, or just a cool coincidence.
There is one warning I have towards parents of younger kids is there are a couple of pretty creepy images, thanks to the Seven Deadly Sins. As far as sheer visuals, I'm going to put them on the scare meter right between the gargoyle dogs in Ghostbusters and the goblins in The Hobbit. If that's too intense for some youngsters, I don't want this to ruin the movie for everyone. If they aren't really freaked by these images, this is a good reminder that sin is ugly. Sin is nasty, and it gloms onto everyone. We can shake it off, we can contain it and keep it away, but it always there. Be wary.
Finally, there's one very personal reason I absolutely loved this movie: I got so see it with my family on my birthday week. I'm turning 50 this week. Despite the fact I have to remind myself it doesn't really mean anything, it still carries a melancholy reminder of time relentlessly marching towards some unknown abyss. Starting off the week seeing this film with my family was a way to stop time for a bit and let different generations enjoy something together. My husband and I remember watching the incredibly cheesy Shazam!/Isis Hour as kids, and were so happy to finally see this hero get a worthy representation. My daughters are nine and 16, and both of them laughed at and appreciated the same things. We took my dad, who will be 80 this year, thought it was a hoot. When you find yourself trying to make both the generation before and after you happy, this type of wide appeal is greatly appreciated in a film.
It is obvious from the time the first trailers and images from the film were released, a main appeal to younger audiences is that shared desire to be all grown up, big and strong, with the ability to change the things you don't like and finally be taken seriously. Or so we think, until we get there. Billy Baston figured out that isn't necessarily the case. When we do get there, even those of us who are happy with our lives, our world and our family, often wish we could be young again. We want to do it again, so we would know not to take it all for granted.
Shazam is the movie that will finally make us feel like a hero, no matter what year we were born. My hope is that everyone who sees Shazam gets a mighty lightning bolt of that spirit Mr. Levi and his fellow cast members are charged with, and keep that wide-eyed, life-loving zeal of the film going when they leave the theatre.
I know I intend to.
Header Image © Warner Bros. Pictures