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Shazam! ••••

The Authors

Reel Heroes & Villains
Greg Smith & Scott T. Allison
Reel Heroes Volume 1

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Starring: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel
Director: David F. Sandberg
Screenplay: Henry Gayden, Henry Gayden
Action/Adventure/Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 132 minutes
Release Date: April 5, 2019

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Scott, is this a Gomer Pyle reunion movie – because he always said “Shazam“.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Golly, Greg, that’s one Pyle of doo-doo you just laid on me. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to young Billy Batson (Asher Angel). He’s a 16-year old foster child in search of the mother who lost him 12 years earlier. After running away from his latest foster parents and getting in trouble with the police, he’s given one more chance to fit in with a group foster home. One day while riding home on the subway, the train speeds up and all the other passengers disappear. When the doors open, he’s met with an old wizard who tells Billy he’s the chosen one. When Billy says the man’s name – he’s transformed into the adult superhero – SHAZAM (Zachary Levi).


Billy’s best friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is the only one who knows that Billy has transformed into an adult superhero. They both begin experimenting with Billy’s powers, discovering his super speed, super strength, and super flying ability. At first Billy uses his powers to panhandle on the streets. Meanwhile, supervillain Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) wants to be the chosen one and encounters Billy on the street. The two fight and Billy is beaten and must retreat. Sivana enlists the aid of the Seven Deadly Sins and pursues Billy again.


Scott, this is a classic, by the numbers, hero’s journey. Our young hero, Billy, is an orphan looking for his mom. He has an inciting incident where a mentor passes on a special gift, he must learn how to use these gifts, then defeat a villain and learn the underlying message. This could have been a boring, formulaic, routine film. But it wasn’t.

Like 1988’s Big, Billy (as Shazam) has to learn how to manage an adult world but with the naivete of a child. In addition, he has to discover how his super powers work, what their limits are, and ultimately, how to put them to good use.

Billy has a couple of character flaws (or as I call them – missing inner qualities). First, he has a deep inner pain of being abandoned. He’s a loaner and has a jaded opinion of the concept of family. Also, he becomes corrupted by his super powers. He starts showing off in town squares – throwing off lightning bolts in return for tips from passersby. It’s not until he nearly kills a busload of people with his powers that he realizes that “with great power comes great responsibility.”

By the end of the story, Billy sheds his selfish behaviors. He accepts the responsibility of being “super” and also integrates with the rest of his new family.

Shazam! is an thoroughly entertaining film that combines the classic superhero origin story with humor. I was a fan of the original 1970s Shazam TV show which was incredibly cheesy, and very low budget. This incarnation of Shazam is fully updated and engaging. Finally, the ending where Billy endows his 5 other foster siblings (who happen to be a rainbow of ethnicities and gender types) with superpowers delivers the message that everyone can be “super.”


Greg, I agree with you that Shazam! is a real treat of a movie, a true delight and a fun, playful romp for moviegoers. This film is especially appealing for anyone interested in heroes, the hero’s journey, and heroic transformation. As you mention, Greg, fans of classic movies will appreciate the homage this film pays to the 1988 movie Big starring Tom Hanks. Both these boy-enlarging stories feature a kid being thrown unexpectedly into adulthood, and both include a crucial boy-sidekick who plays a pivotal role in helping the enlarged boy achieve his heroic aims.

One of the highlights of Shazam is ironically its lowlight, namely, the villain Thaddeus Sivana. I truly enjoyed witnessing the rise and fall of Sivana, along with the rise and fall of his Seven Deadly Sin henchmen. From an entertainment perspective, these eight characters represent evil at its finest. Sivana has just the right blend of intelligence and charisma to make us love to hate him.

More than anything, Shazam! is one of the most playfully lighthearted superhero movies we’ve seen. DC Films continues on its roll of great movies and — I never thought I’d say this — is threatening to surpass Marvel films in quality. The fact that we get a great message by film’s end is an especially great treat. Greg, you mention that the message focuses on everyone’s potential for heroism, which is a classic, ancient theme in heroic storytelling.


Shazam is a nice upgrade to the original comic and tv incarnations. I enjoyed the humor and lighthearted storytelling. I think that Zachary Levi is the new Brendan Fraser. He’s good looking, tall, talented, and has great comic timing. Like Tom Hanks before him, he tapped into his inner child and delivered a believable performance. The story was a bit simplistic – perhaps more suited to a G or PG audience. I give Shazam! 4 out of 5 Reels.

As we both discussed, the hero’s journey with its requisite transformation is played out particularly well. Billy is not a bad kid, but he is terribly hurt by being abandoned. This gets him in trouble and closes him off to other relationships. Once the villain attacks his foster family he becomes invested in their well-being and leaves behind his selfish self and thinks instead of others. Seeing as how Batman and Superman DC movies are dealing with more adult themes, seeing Shazam return to more classic hero patterns is welcome. I give Billy Batson and Shazam! 5 Heroes out of 5.

Finally, the messages that family matters, and that everyone can be “super” is just right for this film. I give it 4 out of 5 Message points.

Movie: Message: Heroes:


Shazam! is a real (or should I say “reel”) sleeper of a movie, one of 2019’s most enjoyable offerings. This film checks all the boxes for superhero movie excellence. The film’s hero Billy is an “everyman”, or rather “everyboy”, an ordinary kid with a good heart who is suddenly endowed with superpowers and must learn how to use them wisely. I’m impressed with how the filmmakers here struck such a terrific balance by delivering a strong dramatic story while sprinkling it with light comic touches. I give this film 4 Reels out of 5.

Our hero Billy most certainly traverses the classic hero’s journey. He’s a foster kid who is thrown into a dangerous, unfamiliar world where he encounters villains but also helpers to assist him. Billy discovers his true self, his true calling to help people, and even better, he helps his fellow foster kids discover their own secret super-identities, too. Billy deserves 4 Hero points out of 5.

I agree with you, Greg, that the message is a strong one. We’re all capable of heroism and need only follow our calling to become the heroes that we’re all designed to become. This message merits 4 out of 5 Message points.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

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