Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Written by: Henry Gayden
Starring: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer
The idea of superheroes has always been an aspirational goal for its readers, and increasingly so, its viewers now. It allows the person to see themselves with the opportunity to have superhuman abilities and do some good in the process. At its best, superheroes teach its viewers about morals and doing the right thing, especially when wielding an uncanny amount of power. That child-like glorification of these powers becomes the focal point of this story and that joy makes this film an enjoyable experience for everyone.
Billy Baden (Asher Angel) has continually searched for his mother but must live with a foster family with five other kids around his age. Billy makes sure to defend his new foster brother from some bullies, which has him summoned into a strange room where a wizard tests his integrity of carrying on the name of Shazam. Once given the ability, he turns into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) and quickly learns the responsibility and weight that comes with the newly acquired powers.
This film’s premise is very high-concept and can easily be pitched to those who may be unaware of this particular superhero. The story of Big but with superpowers. It’s about a kid given the opportunity to be an adult, or superhuman in this case, and express his child-like sensibilities to the world. While the themes in Big prove to be richer, this film takes the idea and manufactures a story that works. It has plenty of good comedy as Billy discovers his newfound powers as being Shazam. There are instances where Billy and his foster brother, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), try to discover everything Billy can do when he turns into his superhuman self. That involves flying, electric powers, and even seeing if he can take a bullet, which becomes a great sequence. That relationship contains the heart of the story as they both grow and learn from the experiences these new powers provide them.
All of this story takes place within the larger DC Extended Universe, which includes Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman, and Justice League. There are references made to the characters of those films, but this story stands on its own, which proved to be the best way for the film to succeed. Additionally, being tangentially connected to the universe boosts its depth because other heroes already exist that the kids in the story have an attached to. Whether having some sort of Batman memorabilia or looking up to Superman, it tracks well with the wonderment these kids in the foster home have for their heroes.
With that being said, the idea of striving to be superheroes leads to the film’s biggest flaw in my eyes. Each of the kids in Billy’s foster home has some deficiency that they see within themselves, whether it be physically disabled, overweight, or too quiet. What the film does with these kids seems like a good idea on paper but the way it comes off in its execution seems a bit jarring. Obviously, revealing what that would be a spoiler for anyone who reads this review, but nonetheless, it takes away from who their individuality for the purpose of trying to reach some perfect status.
Just as the film relies on the relationship between Billy and Freddy, this film needed a strong performance from Zachary Levi and he delivered. He needed to be able to portray a kid within a superpowered body and he achieved it. Being a fan of his since his work in Chuck, I was very intrigued if he could pull off such a role, especially when Tom Hanks did such a tremendous job in Big. Levi was able to bring forward that wonder and amazement of his abilities and that provides much of the comedy, as well as the emotionally connective tissue.
As with many superhero flicks, a large battle sequence of super-strong individuals punching each other and breaking their environment in the process takes place. This film, in particular, had sequences that became rather boring. When establishing the power of this character and anyone else that might have superhuman powers, any threat feels hollow and I found myself just waiting for the big set pieces to end so the story could get back to what worked, which were the relationships between all of the kids and the foster family.
By all accounts, this film turns out to be quite fine and I’m overall positive on it because this is one of the only comic book films that truly show the wonderment of having powers. It allows kids the ability to see what they would do if given all of this power and the abilities to save others. Unfortunately, what prevents this film from being anything special comes back to falling into the same trappings that many comic book films do with its over-reliance on over-animated sequences of explosions and strong punching. A perfectly adequate film and properly good entry into a cinematic universe that seems to be in flux at the moment.