Billy's Magic Word: Shazam!
Billy Batson has spent a great deal of time trying to find his biological mother throughout Philadelphia. That search has been so consuming, he has found himself in trouble with both the police and his foster families. He's about to go on a more dangerous quest in Shazam!. Billy (Asher Angel) has been placed in a last-chance foster home with five other children and teens. After defending crippled foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) at school, Billy makes an unscheduled detour on his way home. The subway train he boards makes a stop at the Rock Of Eternity, where the original Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) has been looking to transfer his power to someone he deems worthy. He has concluded that Billy should have that power, and insists the teen take his staff and speak his name, making the transition final. Billy shares the details of the trip with Billy, then changes into an adult Shazam (Zachary Levi), a red-suited man with a yellow cape. Together, they try and learn all of the abilities that Shazam has. That includes the need for Shazam to revert to being Billy. Freddy films their experiments and posts them to the internet, making them instant sensations on Freddy's social network.
Those videos get the attention of Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who wants the power that Shazam has received. As a boy, the original Shazam had considered Sivana to be the next champion wizard, but was ultimately rejected. Sivana, however, did gain power when he stole the Eye Of Sin, and allied himself with the Seven Deadly Sins. The new Shazam, meanwhile, shows off his skills to a crowd of people, but nearly kills a busload of people when he loses control of his magic. After he saves the bus, Sivana confronts him, overpowers him, and demands to become the champion. Shazam escapes by running and reverting to his teen self, but Sivana learns about Billy and gets to him by kidnapping Freddy. While the boys try to keep this secret between them, their siblings learn about Billy, one by one. While Sivana continues the attack on Billy's new family, Billy tries to discover if Sivana has a weakness.
Shazam! is certainly not an original story by any means. The new Shazam himself has powers easily comparable to those possessed by Superman, though Superman remains an adult as Clark Kent. The movie story from Henry Gayden is also close to the story of Avengers: Infinity War, as two super forces battle for superior power. It is also not strong on characterization, save for its lead players. The resolution of Billy's search is the movie's low point, and puts a damper on both the family story and the action story. With that resolution, viewers might wonder why Shazam doesn't doesn't develop his powers the way Sivana has. The direction from David F. Sandberg is undistinguished, but still enjoyable because of the lead person and his adversary. Like Spider-Man, young Shazam has to learn that great power also includes great responsibility. Billy knows bullies, and recognizes Sivana is the biggest bully in the world. The young man likes showing off in costume, but Sivana makes him a different kind of showoff.
The movie is at its best when Levi and Strong, as the leads, make their plans and put them into motion. Levi perfectly captures a bring with an adult body and an adolescent mind as he learns the powers of Shazam. He loves the experiments that he and Freddy film, even when they don't go exactly as planned, including the one after the final credits. One of Levi's funniest moments comes when he's in a convenience store, and welcomes armed robbers to shoot him. He also adapts to his new home, and will do what it takes to protect that home from any intruder. While Shazam is a teen passing as an adult, Storng, as Sivana, has never become a full-fledged adult, in spite of his age. His own father and brother made life easy for him, and he sees the world as an adversary. When the original Shazam rejected him, Thaddeus acted like a child and took the one thing he could steal. When the power of the champion came to Billy, he made a second run at the power he'd coveted since he was Billy's age. The movie never explains, though, how Sivana bided his time and apparently kept evil in check for over 40 years. Angel and Grazer are enjoyable as Billy and Freddy, who learn that keeping a secret is easier said than done - especially in the age of the internet. Sandberg himself provides some voice-over work, including Mister Mind, who has a brief meeting with Sivana.
The character Shazam has been, from his beginning, criticized as derivative. The movie of the same name shows clear comparisons to other superhero movies, but Shazam! avoids cinematic kryptonite by being a generally good-natured film about a young man learning to care for the special abilities he has received. The DC Extended Universe may never produce the level of quality films that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has produced, but I certainly don't want this franchise to return to its uninspired origin of its Superman offerings.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Shazam! three stars. Billy, time to be a hero.