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Some Quick and Mixed Thoughts on ‘Shazam!’

Last night my wife and I saw DC’s new hero film “Shazam!”, and I have some brief reactions.
| Apr 5, 2019 | No comments |

Last night my wife and I saw Shazam!

I’m pitching a longer article/review for another site. But for now, I have some brief(?) reactions.

Some may sound negative. I like this movie. But, especially compared with the previous DC films, it will take a little more work than I expected to reset my expectations (again). Such constant resetting will become more necessary for me, because DC’s movies are becoming even more director-driven. They’re sharing the same “universe” in name only.

  • The film is genuinely funny in many ways. But it’s more character-driven humor than “banter,” or “trope subversion,” and such.
  • I loved the cast, especially Zachary Levi as the titular World’s Mightiest Mortal.
  • Yes, the story is set in the DC film universe as established in Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Justice League, and Aquaman.
  • But several of the other films, even Aquaman, have scope and grandeur that clash with Shazam!
  • Earlier DC films established that civilian bystanders don’t always “hit their marks” in reacting happily to superheroes.1 In fact, superheroes have previously polarized the world’s religions, governments, and military powers. All that’s gone here. Superheroes in town are just a bit shinier than the costumed folks in Times Square. And civilians all “hit their marks.” Civilians are either rescued by heroes or stand around applauding heroes. Honestly, it’s a little awkward and cliched.
  • It’s also a bit regressive. We’ve already seen, from both Marvel and DC films, some slightly more realistic story turns about how the world would actually react to real-world superheroes.
  • One hero’s strange “cameo” yields more questions that cancel out the potential for a happy-fan-moment.
  • Sometimes the film’s ambition stretches at the budget. Parts of the movie look almost homemade.
  • Billy’s foster brother, Freddie, exhibits an understandably juvenile “fandom” of real-world superheroes. He objects when Billy Batson, in hero form, doesn’t act as a hero should. But the question of what a hero should do, or what Shazam’s ultimate mission should be, is not explored.
  • For DC fans, this Shazam does not actually inherit the “wisdom of Solomon.” The film references that superpower, then kinda forgets it.
  • Parts of the film actively seemed to mock the other DC heroes. A child drops a Batman and Superman action figure to watch two other characters fight. End-credits silly animations show Shazam!‘s characters easily surpassing and mocking Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash. It all seemed very Teen Titans GO! I am not fond of this impulse. DC should show confidence in all its heroes.
  • I loved Billy Batson’s foster family. We can rejoice to see such a positive portrayal of a loving, flawed yet normal group.
  • Some moments were downright horrifying, especially with the Seven Deadly Sins. Parents, take caution.
  • The film does not develop a potentially strong theme about a teen who must grow up quickly into a mature hero.
  • I’d love to see more from these characters. But sequels would need to arrive in a hurry, lest the child and teen cast members age out of their roles.
  • One can hope that a sequel helps Shazam grow up, not just as a character, but as a franchise.
  1. The phrase “hit their marks” comes from my friend Austin Gunderson’s review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Austin notes, “In Batman v Superman, (director Zack Snyder) continues to play the story straight, as if a godlike alien had actually just saved the real world. What’s the result of this approach? The townsfolk don’t trip over themselves to hit their marks. Many of them don’t like the idea of living under a deity who can’t be controlled. Some of them don’t accept his word that he won’t abuse his power. A few of them actually push back.”
E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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