Movie Review: 'Shazam'

An ordinary 14-year-old boy transforms into an extraordinary superhero.
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.
Shazam (Zachary Levi) and his foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer)  try to do some things they shouldn't do like buy beer at a convenience store.

"Shazam" is about an ordinary 14-year-old boy transforming into an extraordinary superhero. At first, it seems like the best thing that’s ever happened to him. His birth mother sadly abandoned him and he was sent to live with a foster family. Now, the boy that nobody wanted is able to do incredible supernatural things, but he quickly learns that his great powers come with great responsibility.

The Story

The movie begins with the villain’s backstory. It’s Christmas, and 10-year-old Thaddeus "Thad" Sivana (played by Eugene Pugiotto) is on his way to visit relatives with his father and older brother. They are all in the car, and Thad is playing with his Magic 8 Ball. Strange occultic symbols appear on the ball. Thad suddenly finds himself transported to a dark cave in the “Rock of Eternity” where he meets the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou).

The elderly Wizard Shazam is looking for someone to take his place, but that person needs to be pure of heart and able to resist temptation. For Thad to inherit the Wizard’s supernatural powers, he must first pass a test. Thad sees seven large gargoyle statues that contain the “Seven Deadly Sins,” or evil creatures that wish to wreak havoc upon mankind. They speak to Thad and tempt him to grab an orb called “The Eye” so that Thad may possess an even greater power. The Wizard then stops Thad and declares him unworthy of receiving these powers.

Flash forward, and Thad is back in the car with his dad and older brother. Thad is upset about what just happened, and starts screaming, which causes a car accident that injures his father. Thad’s father survives, but is crippled, and his older brother blames Thad for the accident.

Cut to the present in the suburbs of Philadelphia, a toddler named Billy Batson is abandoned by his mother at an amusement park. He grows up in foster care and often gets into trouble because he’s constantly running away and trying to find his birth mother.

When Billy (Asher Angel) turns 14, he is placed with the Vasquez family. Mr. and Mrs. Vasquez were once foster children themselves and are friendly and compassionate. The other children that live in the home are Mary (Grace Fulton) who’s getting ready to go to college; Eugene, the young computer techie (Ian Chen); a shy, chubby boy named Pedro (Jovan Armand); and Darla (Faithe Herman), the youngest of the children who loves hugging her foster brothers and sister. There is also Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) a disabled, nerdy superhero enthusiast who becomes Billy’s best friend.

Meanwhile, Thad (the villain from the opening backstory) is now a scientist determined to find the Wizard so he can get the power that was previously denied to him. When Thad (now played by Mark Strong) 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 Philadelphia, Billy adjusts to his new life with the Vasquez family. At school, he runs away from some bullies and is somehow transported to the Wizard Shazam’s cave. The Wizard is eager to find someone to take on the powers of Shazam, so he convinces Billy to say his name. That’s when 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.

The plot continues as Billy/Shazam (now played by Zachary Levi) learns to use his newfound superpowers, with the help of his disabled foster brother Freddy. It's an exciting time as Billy/Shazam learns to fly and leap over tall buildings. He quickly discovers, however, that an evil scientist is watching his every move and wants to steal his superhero powers.

What Parents Need to Know  

“Shazam” is a coming-of-age story with a lot of humor and jokes about a teenager having an adult superhero body. Billy Batson alternates between being an ordinary teenager and the caped-crusader Shazam. The filmmakers cleverly focus on the temptations teens face, and how they try to get away with things they shouldn't do. For instance, Billy/Shazam tries to buy beer with Freddy, but they spit it out because it tastes terrible. Billy (as an adult Shazam) also goes into a strip club, but the camera doesn’t go inside with him. We see him going in and coming out minutes later. 

The movie has strong emotional moments that really makes us care about the characters. There is a positive portrayal of a handicapped boy with Billy/Shazam’s foster brother Freddy. He is a geeky boy who has had a tough life, but he hasn’t lost his sense of humor. Freddy’s disability forces him to walk with a crutch. He gets bullied for it, but he just laughs it off and doesn’t really let it bother him. Freddy is also a superhero fanatic, and he helps Billy adjust to his newfound powers. 

There is an interesting dynamic with the foster family. Initially, the kids act out of their hurt and rejection for being orphaned. They are sarcastic and don’t want to be there. His little sister Darla breaks down their defenses with hugs and kind words, and disabled brother Freddy is so excited to discover his foster brother is a superhero. When the enemy threatens to harm their brother Billy — and steal his superpowers — all five siblings quickly ban together with fierce loyalty to defend their family. As a parent, this part of the plot really made me smile. It’s nice to see brothers and sisters getting along and working together.

Shazam” is a suspenseful and exciting movie, but it’s also dark and scary. The villain is a creepy bald guy with a glowing evil eye. He is decked out in black clothes, and levitates above the ground. The villain starts out as an innocent youngster and then he becomes demon-possessed with the Seven Deadly Sins. Most of the movie features him as an adult, as he uses his evil powers to electrocute people or throw them to the ground. As mentioned earlier, the villain wants Shazam’s powers and hunts him down, with the intention of killing him. The movie also features shadowy demons that might scare young children. (In one scene, the demons bite a man’s head off). 

If your school’s “Don’t talk to strangers” campaign frightens your child, then this villain will most certainly give them nightmares. There is some occultism in the movie, with Shazam having the same powers as pagan myths, such as Zeus and Hercules. There aren’t any seances or overt witchcraft, however, other than a magic 8-ball that the villain used as a boy and symbols he uses to find the Wizard.  

The Final Take

“Shazam” is an entertaining movie, but there’s a fair amount of foul language and disturbing scenes of the villain and his demons attacking people. The backstory of the main character and villain also is traumatic. Because I liked the positive portrayal of the foster family with siblings working together to defeat the villain, I left the theater with mixed feelings. There’s a lot to celebrate in this movie, but beware of letting sensitive and impressionable children watch.