By Mario Ricciardi
Remember the Captain Marvel etymology lesson a few weeks back? As it turns out, there’s a bit of a legal conflict with the name Captain Marvel, and DC Comics can’t really use it at all. So, in the movie “Shazam,” our title character never gets called Captain Marvel, even though that’s his name in the comic books. He doesn’t exactly get called Shazam either, which would have been my next guess. He’s pretty much just Zachary Levi in a bright red costume.
According to that writing-math I just did, we’ve got our first superhero film to feature a superhero without a superhero name. Since there’s so many superhero movies out there, a first for just about anything is an accomplishment. So, there you go “Shazam,” you just earned your first penguin. Apart from this lack of a name, the other unique thing about “Shazam” is its central theme.
In my opinion, no other mainstream Marvel or DC superhero movie has told a story that turns the idea of “good” into something wholeheartedly translatable to its audience. Yes, “Captain America” is about not giving up, “Thor” is about not letting your emotions control you and “Batman v. Superman” is pretty much about not judging a book by its cover, but those lessons are merely decoration to the larger story at hand in those movies. “Shazam” uses its morality to not only tell the story but also create a parable.
Billy Batson is a 14-year-old foster child who is constantly on the run, constantly looking for his real mom. The latest home to take him in belongs to five other foster children. Batson, at first, resents the new smiling faces, but when the chance to step up and protect them reveals itself, Batson does so. Exposing Batson’s pure heart, he is granted powers like Superman at the mention of the word “shazam.” The catch is that Billy takes on the appearance of a buff 30-year-old in a red suit when he powers up.
What follows is a story that puts family first. Even the bad guy, Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivana, serves as an example of the negative effects family can have on a person. Using the bond of family as the cornerstone for “Shazam” holds the film together. Without it, “Shazam” is just an above average origin film with the occasional comedic high note.
“Shazam” is bright and funny, but doesn’t hit enough high notes to keep it from dragging. There are more low-hanging jump scares than clever twists, and the film ultimately doesn’t give the audience anything to marvel over (no pun intended). What “Shazam” does get right is building off of moral ground. By showing that past the corniness of moral relativism, things come down to either good or evil, and there is far more to gain from doing good for the sake of family.
??? (3/5 Penguins)