In 2019, Shazam! was finally released, which starred Zachary Levi (Thor: The Dark World, Tangled) as the title hero, Mark Strong (1917, Cruella), and Djimon Hounsou (Aquaman, Blood Diamond), the film follows 14-year-old Billy Batson, a troubled foster kid who has problems staying in one home. Batson stumbles upon some mysterious magic that allows him to transform into the adult superhero Shazam. He has fun testing out his newfound abilities until the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana tries to get his hands on Shazam’s magical abilities.
The Zachary Levi vehicle entered the theater market with high critical praise, with many citing the fun, goofy nature of the film as the highlight of the overall movie. Shazam! scored a strong 90% on rotten tomatoes; however, it managed to make a low box office number for DC, only garnering $366 million worldwide. Though far from a flop, considering the fact that the Shazam! the character has been around since 1974, it’s still disappointing. So, what happened? Why didn’t audiences flock to the latest superhero offering? As previously stated, Shazam! is far from a flop, but it’s clear that many audiences weren’t interested in the DC film despite the high rotten tomatoes rating.
Is Shazam! a case of a little too late? Despite being around since the 1970s in the comic books, Shazam! isn’t a well-known property like Batman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Superman. Diving deep into the film, Shazam! is a fun popcorn flick, nothing more. When I say popcorn flick, this isn’t in the league of X-Men: The Last Stand or Spiderman 3, as Shazam! is genuinely a really good movie. However, there isn’t much substance to its pedestrian storyline. At the end of the day, it’s an origin story that you’ve seen a thousand times before. Random kid gets some mysterious superpower. Check. Superpowered kid tests out/have fun with their powers. Check. Supervillain of the day wants to kill the new hero. Check. The hero fails to truly understand his powers until the last minute. Check. You know the drill of the origin superhero film.
I know that I’m being a bit harsh with Shazam! but the issue stemming from the comic book hero is that it did come out ten years too late. Here’s the thing, there’s nothing wrong with a great popcorn movie. Not every superhero movie needs to come up with complex themes and intricate storytelling like The Dark Knight, Spiderman 2, or Avengers: Endgame. In fact, the first Avengers movie is considered popcorn fluff; It was a light-hearted affair that featured your generic villain wanting to take over the world. However, the first Avengers film came out in 2012. Since then, more heroes have entered the market. We’re currently living in the age of superheroes. There have been over 50 superhero films that have been released since X-Men in 2000. Hell, there’s more to come, with Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings currently and theaters, and Venom and The Eternals waiting in the wings. As you can imagine, it’s a crowded area thus it’s hard to be original when it comes to the origin stories.
Deadpool managed to break that glass ceiling by finding a way to differentiate itself from the rest of the pact. When you take away the 4th wall breaking and ultra-violence, the “Merc with the mouth” is a generic origin film. However, Ryan Reynolds and the filmmakers found a clever way to re-introduce the superhero into the world that made it feel fresh and new. Unfortunately, Shazam! doesn’t do that. The DC film checks off the right boxes: crafting interesting characters, a coherent storyline, and serviceable action, though with the lack of mainstream appeal then the movie was fighting an uphill battle the moment it was greenlit. Still, if you haven’t checked out Shazam! then I highly recommend seeing it. It’s predictable, yes, but it’s too darn fun of a movie to pass up. The cast does an excellent job with the roles they’re given, namely Asher Angel and Zachary Levi. The film moves briskly despite its 2 hours and 12-minute runtime and there’s never a bad moment throughout the movie. Though, that does depend on where you stand in regards to the headless Superman cameo.
All-in-all, Shazam! did come out ten years too late; however, the franchise has a chance to differentiate itself when its sequel is released in 2023. Still, this is a great movie that you should check out if you haven’t yet.