Shazam! is the movie Man of Steel wishes it was. That’s the best way I can put it. It’s funny that the original competitor of Superman, who outsold him in the forties, is now a greater selling point for DC’s movies than the man of tomorrow.
Man of Steel was meant to be a gritty, dark, grounded (blah, blah, blah…) retelling of Superman. Its main fault was its betrayal of the fundamentals of that character. Shazam! has no such problem. Like Man of Steel, Shazam! isn’t exactly what you expect from the character. If you’re familiar with Billy Batson then you’ll expect a character pure of heart, excited by the prospect of being a superhero. This is not that Billy Batson. Instead of throwing away the idea of Shazam!’s champion being pure of heart however, the movie flips it on its head. It doesn’t ignore the fundamentals of the character like Man of Steel, it embraces them. Just in a different, but still appropriate way.
Instead of a character who is pure of heart right off the bat, we see Billy Batson earn that title. He’s flawed as most characters are, but the movie spends enough time in its beginning letting us get to know the character that this doesn’t take away from his status as a hero. Instead of the subway and the wizard and “SHAZAM!” in the first five minutes, we see Billy Batson’s life. His hopes, his dreams, aspirations, all of it. You get him. Some may find this long and drawn out but it’s one of my favourite parts of the movie. Mainly because I’m not here for the powers, I’m here for the characters, and always have been. Billy Batson is not defined by the fact that he is superhero and that is why this movie is great.
Which brings me back to Man of Steel. In that film we were told that Superman was a good guy, or more specifically a symbol. An ideal. You could never really buy it though. It wasn’t there. In Shazam! it is. And that’s because there’s a journey, and change. The main thing about this film that you don’t get from many comic book movies these days (especially DC) is a well told story. With Shazam!, you get the feeling there’s a point to the story being told. Like a lightning bolt is going strike down from on high and impart some wisdom of Solomon on you. That’s the point where Shazam! becomes that ideal, that symbol, which Man of Steel got wrong. It’s a film that says to kids watching it that you can be a hero too. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, you can be better. You don’t even have to say the word or be pure of heart. You just have to try.
As a fan of Shazam! (or as I still call him, Captain Marvel), I’m not disappointed that this film is almost totally different to the character I’m used to. I’m glad that someone took the effort to make a film that captures the essence of this character and what he stands for. I came out of that film feeling like I did when I was 14, when I first met Captain Marvel. I felt that I could be Billy Batson. I just had to say the word…
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