Sunday, April 07, 2019

Shazam! (2019)

Within the various comic-book universes, there seem to be a few well-known characters.  Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman have seen a great many incarnations.  I have to admit that there are those, like Shazam!, that I’m not as familiar with.  In fact, I might not have heard the name at all if not for a line of trading cards produced almost 25 years ago.  It makes me wonder if there’s some push to release superhero movies.  Given that there might be another Justice League movie, it’s possible that this is one of the movies setting up that narrative.  (It was mentioned that there were several extra seats.)

Shazam! is the origin story of the title character.  The Wizard Shazam is looking for a successor, as he’s nearing death.  The movie starts with Shazam pulling a young Thaddeus Sivana out of his reality to The Rock of Eternity so that Shazam might test the purity of Thaddeus’s heart.  Thaddeus fails and is sent back to Earth.  Cut to the present day, and Thaddeus is now a doctor.  He hasn’t stopped looking for a way back.  When he finds it, he takes the power of The Seven Deadly Sins as his own.

Meanwhile, we learn that Billy Batson is a troubled kid.  He lures a police car to a fake robbery so that he might find information on a woman who might be his long-lost mother.  He’s been through many foster homes, as he tends to run away and/or get in trouble with the police.  His latest escapade lands him in the foster home of Rosa and Victor Vasquez, where he meets Freddy Freeman, one of the Vasquezes’ other foster children.  The two become reluctant friends after Billy comes to Freddy’s defense.  After escaping to bullies, Billy finds himself on The Rock of Eternity, being asked to say Shazam and take with him the dying wizard’s powers.

Those that grew up in the 1980s may remember a TV show called The Greatest American Hero.  During the three seasons of the show, teacher Ralph Hinkley is given a superhero’s suit by aliens.  The running gag is that Ralph has difficulty landing and doesn’t know what kinds of powers the suit has.  (He lost the instruction manual.)  Shazam! initially takes a similar approach.  Billy and Freddy have do idea what the suit does.  Initially, they’re not even sure how to get rid of the suit.  They do manage to help some people, like stopping two would-be robbers.

The movie plays out very realistically for me.  It takes a while for the novelty of the superpowers to wear off.  Billy is caught up in being popular and powerful and Freddy is just a little resentful.  Billy could be using his newfound abilities to help, yet is trying to make a few dollars off of them.

It’s not until Dr. Sivana confronts Billy that it comes into focus.  You see, Sivana wants Billy’s powers.  You might ask why this is if Sivana has similar powers.  Billy is the only real threat Sivana might face.  (The only thing holding Billy back is his inexperience.)

I’d say that Shazam! is what I’d expect of an origin story.  The first part of the movie deals with the learning curve.  This is followed by the call to action, where everything comes into focus for the main character.  Because of the release of the movie, I have been learning a lot about the character.  Comparisons were also made to Superman.  Lawsuits ended that until DC bought the rights from Fawcett Comics, allowing the character to come back.  By the time that happened, Marvel Comics had already begun publishing their own Captain Marvel, leading DC to call the character Shazam!.  I find it interesting that this movie was released just four weeks after the Captain Marvel movie.  (it’s also notable that Djimon Hounsou appears in both.)

I will say that the movie is enjoyable.  As I said, it’s easy to relate with Billy Batson.  I think that’s probably close to how I would deal with being given those powers.  The comparisons to Big aren’t undeserved, especially considering that Billy finds one of those big walk-on keyboards.  I will say that there does seem to be a fair amount of product placement for other DC properties.  I mean, even Aquaman gets a nod in the post-credits scene.

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