When Billy Batson says the word “Shazam!”, he turns into a super hero.
Shazam! starts with two back stories that define the main hero and villain of the film. The first story is about young Thaddeus Sivana (Ethan Pugiotto) being driven home in a storm by his industrialist father and older brother in December of 1974. Thaddeus is playing with a Magic 8 Ball. Somehow through strange symbols that appear in the display, he is magically transported to a huge cave, the Rock of Eternity, where he meets a wizard and sees seven statues representing the Deadly Sins. The wizard has been holding them in check for a long time but his strength is waning, and he is desperate to find a new champion to take his place. The new champion must be pure of heart. Sivana agrees to take the test, but fails it by trying to touch the eye of Envy. Transported back, Thaddeus has a fight with his brother leading to blows and causing his father to crash the car, crippling himself. As he grows into adulthood, Thaddeus is determined to find the wizard’s lair again and acquire the powers he saw there. The second story is about young Billy Batson (David Kohlsmith) living with his single mom in Philadelphia seven years back. The two are at a carnival and his mother tries to win a darts game to get him a toy tiger. As they leave the booth, Billy loses a small pendant ball and chases after it, getting separated from his mother. Lost, Billy is eventually picked up by the police who take him to a foster home. His mother is inexplicably gone from his life, and as Billy (Austin Asher) gets older, his main goal in life is to find her again. Billy becomes very streetwise and continually moves from one foster home to another. As the present day story begins, Billy is able to lure and trap two police officers inside a pawn shop, which enables him to use their squad car computer to search for his mother. He garners a list of names, but soon he is again caught by the authorities. Eventually Billy is successful in his quest, but what he discovers is not what he expected. In the meantime, his social worker places him with the Vasquez family and their five other adoptees, along with a warning not to screw this placement up.
Freddie is amazed when he meets Shazam for the first time.
At the Vasquez home, things are different than Billy’s other experiences in the foster system. Everyone is close and supportive, as a family should be, and not negative about anyone’s personal issues or disabilities. Billy is immediately befriended by Freddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), who is only a year younger, very talkative, and forward to the point of being a pest. Freddie is crippled in one leg and must use a walking stick to get around. At school the next day, he and the other foster children show Billy around and things are going okay until after school, when two bullies, Brett and Burke Dreyer (Carson MacCormac and Evan Marsh), attack Freddie and knock him down. At first Billy is hesitant to do anything, as the code of the street would have it, but then realizes he needs to get involved, taking Freddie’s walking stick and knocking down the bullies with it to everyone’s delight. The bullies chase after him so Billy runs away and escapes into a subway car. The car is strangely deserted and on the video displays he sees the same symbols that Thaddeus did years before. Billy is transported to the Rock of Eternity, enters, and meets the wizard. Billy first believes this is a all a joke, but after the wizard yells at him and shows him some of his powers, he takes it seriously and passes the test of purity. The wizard warns him of an evil person who has killed people and set loose the seven deadly sins, then demands that he exclaim the word Shazam! (Shazam is an anagram made up from the names of the various gods from whom he takes his powers — Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury.) Finally Billy says the word and transforms into the superhero Shazam. The wizard disappears and Shazam/Billy returns to Philadelphia and the foster home where he meets up with Freddie outside, afraid to come inside in his new persona.
Billy finds himself inside a deserted subway car that takes him to the Rock of Eternity.
Freddie is now thrilled that there is someone with special powers in his life and Billy also wants to learn all about these new powers that were suddenly thrust upon him. They go to a convenience store and stop a couple of armed robbers, challenging them to shoot, and laughing when the bullets fall harmlessly to the ground. Billy discovers that he can revert to back to plain Billy by saying the word Shazam again. Freddie posts some videos of Shazam’s superpowers which go viral. The next day, Freddie and Billy are able to skip school by getting Shazam to check them out. They test all his possible powers to see which ones Shazam possesses. They have a great time doing that and a whole list of things you can do with power and money, as Shazam is able to easily coax some out of an ATM. Of course, all this happiness and fun can’t last for long. At Sivana Industries, Thaddeus has been using the resources of his father’s high tech business to track down access to the wizard’s lair. He is the person who has unleashed the powers of the Seven Deadly Sins, which now reside inside his eyeball. In a vicious power play and confrontation, he enters a board room where his brother and father are meeting, killing everyone. When he sees the videos of Shazam, he knows that this is his true enemy, and sets off to attack him and take away his super powers. As expected, the balance of the film revolves around the struggles of Shazam/Billy Batson versus Thaddeus Sivana.
Billy with his fellow foster brothers and sisters.
Shazam! represents a new important direction for the DC comic franchise movies, a film that is much more light-hearted than recent films like their Batman series. There still is plenty of action and special effects, but not all of it is violence and fighting. It’s enjoyable to see a superhero film that does have some comedy in it and is not played totally as an end of the world storyline. Give some credit to director David F. Sandberg and the writing team led by Henry Gayden for this. The film is well cast, with newcomers Austin Asher and Jack Dylan Glazer in the principal teenager roles, and Zachary Levi as Shazam. Austin Asher is quite charismatic as Billy Batson, and we should expect to see him in future franchise films. There is a nice element of inclusiveness in the storyline as Billy Batson’s new family team brings in some faces and personalities not normally seen in this genre. As usual, the final struggles and battles drag out a little too long — how many times can one be thrown into buildings, vehicles, and waterways without a discernable scratch and no seeming physical impact before all belief is suspended? It’s definitely a comic book, but at least this time the comic book has a lot of humor.
Billy takes a running leap off of a rooftop and shouts Shazam!
The camera shows a close up of Billy’s black high top chucks.
Austin Asher in his role as Billy Batson, wears black high top chucks throughout the bulk of the film, as does David Kohlsmith in his brief appearance as very young Billy. (For that matter, Zachary Levi wore black high tops in his television series Chuck, so he makes a great adult version of Billy.) It’s great to see chucks in another franchise film as we did in the Amazing Spider-Man 2, and they are very appropriate footwear for Billy to be wearing on the streets of Philadelphia like they were for Peter Parker on the streets of New York. The best scenes with Billy are when he is doing things with Freddy, like fighting off bullies.
Even as a very young boy, Billy wore black high top chucks.
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