It seems like there’s a new superhero movie to watch every other week. That’s not such a bad problem to have, but it can be hard to keep up with. Who has the coolest superpowers? Which one has the best jokes? And, at the end of the day, which films are really worth your time?
DC Comics’ latest entry into the canon ― “Shazam!” ― joins the genre like a bolt of lightning. After decades of searching for someone worthy to take his powers, an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) bestows them on wayward teen Billy Batson (Asher Angel) in a last-ditch effort for humanity. Unfortunately, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who was deemed unworthy of the wizard’s powers as a child because he was too easily swayed by the promises from the spirits of the seven deadly sins, has found his way back to the wizard. He takes hold of the seven deadly sins’ evil power, which was contained all along in a nearby orb that … becomes his eye? Hey, whatever you need to make your average actor look like an evil supervillain. Now Dr. Thad can manifest his seven deadly sins, who appear as monsters, in a spooky cloud of smoke — which spells trouble for anyone who crosses his path.
Meanwhile, Billy is just enjoying his ability to turn into a superhero with a buff adult bod at will. He starts hanging with his new foster brother, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), who’s a dead ringer for a pubescent Seth Cohen. Together, they test out his powers, thwart petty crimes and have Billy-as-superhero pose for selfies. He can’t really settle on a good name for himself — Power Boy? Thunder Crack? — but that’s a problem for later. First, he has to deal with a diabolical genius — ol’ Thad — hellbent on taking his powers. Jeez, can’t a guy just enjoy his weird adult superhero self without having to fight off a perma-sneering bald dude? The answer, “Shazam!” tells us, is no, but luckily that setup offers plenty of laughs and thrilling feats of super-strength along the way.
Is DC’s newest superhero offering worth sitting your thunder crack in a theater seat for two hours? HuffPost’s Jill Capewell and Bill Bradley discuss.
Bill: Jill, let’s just first make it clear: We’re not here to talk about “Kazaam,” a real movie from the ’90s that starred Shaq as a genie, or “Shazaam,” a fake movie from the ’90s that people think starred Sinbad as a genie.
Jill: You know, I can’t believe we made it through this whole movie without a single Sinbad shoutout. Or the fact that everyone has this collective memory that never existed. But let’s get back on track — Bill, while you’re basically a pro at this superhero stuff, I am a total noob. At the risk of getting tomatoes hurled at me by our readers, I will admit I haven’t seen a single DC film up to this point (I heard “Aquaman” was good!). But as someone going into this with totally fresh eyes, I had a lot of fun watching it. “Shazam!” has all the classic elements you look for (I imagine) in a superhero film: long-held grudges, magic, sad origin stories, an evil villain and an unwitting everyman being given amazing powers of strength and speed. And the film seemed to be OK with poking fun at itself and winking at the superhero genre often. As someone way more well-versed in this than me, what did you think of that aspect of the film? Is this something you see often in DC?
Bill: I just hope my stupid adult hands can accurately type out how much I liked this movie. From all the nicknames Shazam gets — I’m looking at you, Thunder Crack — to the numerous times it’s basically “Big” if Tom Hanks had superpowers, it was just an all-around fun time. Some of the previous DC superhero movies just took themselves waaay too seriously, often being so dark the only sign of light was the sad, red glow of the theater exits. “Shazam!” ignores that past aesthetic and just makes a ridiculous movie about a kid who turns into a super-powered Zachary Levi. And I’m all for it. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a great time at the movies. What were some of the highlights for you, especially as someone who doesn’t really watch superhero movies?
Jill: So our main character Billy, a teen who’s bounced around foster homes since losing his mom in a crowd as a toddler, receives superpowers from a mysterious elder wizard in a not-really-explained place. All he has to do is say “Shazam!” — which, honestly, seems really fun to say over and over — and he turns into a grown-up man with a lightning bolt on his chest and sick muscles. My favorite part was watching him and his new foster brother, Freddy, who’s a total superhero junkie, test out his new powers to see which supermoves he’s actually got, since his fresh cape unfortunately didn’t have a user’s manual hidden inside. It’s just pure fun. They test out flying, invisibility — all the classic stuff. And, as the kids do these days, Billy and Freddy upload their exploits on YouTube, which felt logical. In fact, Billy goes through a phase where he uses his viral fame to spend the day just taking selfies with fans and showing off his lightning hands. What’d you think about Billy’s reaction to his newfound powers?
Bill: I once tried playing piano in front of a Kmart for money when I was a kid, and they didn’t want me there because they said I was soliciting. If I had lightning coming out of my hands, I bet it’d be a different story, so I approve. Learning about the powers were some of my favorite moments. But also Billy’s powers seem to cause a lot of his own problems. In fact, if he didn’t have his powers, would the villain, Mark Strong’s Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, even have been an issue?
Jill: Dude, that’s a great question. I sort of wondered what Thad’s deal was — I mean, I understand he had a rough childhood thanks to his jerky dad and brother, but I didn’t quite get his motivation for acquiring all the power he seems to want. He seems fixated on getting Shazam to pass the superhero powers to him, but it’s unclear what exactly he wants to do with all those powers. Take over Philly? General world domination? His badness provides some primo opportunities for Shazam/Billy to be the good guy, but most of the terrors inflicted on the good people of Philadelphia are either a result of Shazam himself, or Thad’s quest to get those darn powers. I mean, that was a perfectly nice Christmas festival they barge into! What else do you think could be improved upon in the film?
Bill: Wow, it would’ve been so great if his only motivation was taking over Philly. Like, way to set your sights high, bruh. One thing I didn’t get was the whole seven deadly sins connection. In the movie, Dr. Sivana gets his abilities from an all-powerful eye that apparently contains the seven deadly sins … but they’re all just like gorilla monsters that look modeled out of Play-Doh? Plus, releasing them into the world had very little impact overall. They didn’t affect human nature or anything, they just ate a couple people? But that being said, the performances were pretty solid. What were your favorites?
Jill: I really dug Zachary Levi as Shazam. I thought he pulled off the whole I’m-a-teen-trapped-in-an-adult-body well, and was just generally fun to watch as a superhero. Who did you like?
Bill: Billy’s foster family is great, especially Jack Dylan Grazer as superhero fanboy Freddy Freeman and Faithe Herman as younger sister Darla Dudley. I also want to give a special mention to Mark Strong. Sure, I didn’t totally get his motivations as the villain, but I really liked him in “Kingsman,” so I hope he gets to take over Philadelphia or whatever he’s doing.
Jill: You know, Bill, I agree about Billy’s foster family. They were really sweet, though overall I would have liked to see Billy’s relationship with them develop more — especially because of how important they remain throughout the film. But these are just my small wishes. In general, I found the movie well-paced and just a really fun, giddy ride. It asks the ultimate escapist question — what would you do if you had superpowers? And when you’ve got a premise like that, it’s hard to do wrong. If you’re looking for art house sophistication, I’d turn elsewhere, but otherwise “Shazam!” is a solid bet.
Bill: Yeah, I agree. If you go to “Shazam!” looking for art house sophistication, I think you need to re-examine some other things in your life. Also, if you’re looking for a ’90s movie called “Shazaam” with Sinbad as a genie, well, that doesn’t actually even exist. But for people looking to laugh at how the superhero name Thunder Crack sounds too much like a butt — and who isn’t? — this is pretty super.
This has been “Should You Watch It?” a weekly examination of movies and TV worth ― or not worth! ― your time.