REVIEW: ‘Shazam!’ is a moving foster care story wrapped in a superhero flick
The DC Comics film ‘Shazam!’ opens this weekend, telling the story of an insecure young teen boy who learns how to be a superhero by trial and error.
Billy Batson is a 14-year-old foster kid searching for his identity in life. And to discover that, he’s going to find his biological mom.
“I’ve got a mom… She’s out there. I know it,” he tells a social worker.
But so far, all he’s finding is trouble—with his foster parents, with the police, with the system.
He’s run away from all six foster homes that have taken him in, causing so many problems that they don’t want him back. Now he’s moving in with number seven. The names of his new parents are Victor and Rosa Vasquez, a couple who began their own lives as foster kids. They have a big home and a big heart for at-risk kids. Billy, in fact, will be the sixth foster child in their house.
He likes his new home. He likes his new siblings, too. He even likes his parents.
Yet his search for his biological lineage soon takes a backseat to a supernatural event. Billy is riding home from school when he’s transported to another dimension, in the presence of a wizard known as Shazam. This wizard is looking for a replacement who is “strong in spirit” and “pure in heart.” You know—a “truly good person.”
“I’m not one,” Billy responds. “I don’t know if anyone is, really.”
Yet that doesn’t matter. Billy is Shazam’s only hope, and within seconds, he is given the powers of a modern superhero—complete with a muscular frame, tights and a cape. He becomes “Shazam,” a 20-something common man of steel who can fly, run faster than a bullet and—yes—leap tall buildings, too.
The DC Comics film Shazam! (PG-13) opens this weekend, telling the story of an insecure young teen boy who learns how to be a superhero by trial and error. To gain his strength, he only needs to say one magic word (You guessed it: “shazam”).
It stars Asher Angel as Billy Batson, Zachary Levi (Thor: The Dark World) as Billy’s alter-ego Shazam, and Jack Dylan Grazer (Beautiful Boy) as Billy’s brother and good friend, Freddy.
The movie follows two angles: Billy’s crash course on how to be a superhero (at first, he uses his powers for selfish reasons), and the evil Thaddeus Sivana’s hunting of Billy in hopes of stealing his powers.
Shazam! is as funny as it is original, as we watch our superhero learn how to fly, jump and fight—just like an immature 14-year-old boy would. Each step is accompanied by wonderful wide-eyed giddiness, with Shazam and Freddy (who is filming him for YouTube videos) laughing in disbelief at their stroke of fortune.
The film has plenty of PG-13 content, but it also tackles some heady questions, too, such as: What is family? What is home? How are we shaped by our parents’ decisions?
Overall, Shazam! is a fun ride, even if it may not be for small kids.
Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!
(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)
Moderate: The film has its share of superhero punching and fighting, but its inclusion of demonic, ogre-like creatures is what will trouble some parents the most (not to mention give children nightmares). The creatures are Sivana’s sidekicks and accompany him wherever he goes. The most disturbing moment involves them killing two of Sivana’s family members (one is tossed out a window, the other eaten). We also see a creature bite off someone’s head. Earlier in the film, we see a truck crash into a car, nearly killing one person. Bullies beat up a tween boy outside school.
Moderate. OMG (11), s–t (5), a– (3), h–l (3), misuse of “God” (2), d–k (1), JC (1). The film includes a handful of inappropriate references to the male anatomy
Other Positive Elements
Shazam and Freddy show mercy to the bullies.
The film’s positive portrayal of the foster care system is commendable.
Other Stuff You Might Want To Know
Twice, Shazam and his friends end up outside a strip club known as “The Booty Club.” We never see inside the building, but the film would have been more family-friendly without either scene.
Shazam and Freddy also buy and drink beer. They hate it—Shazam says it tastes like “vomit”—and they eat candy and chips instead.
We see Billy’s brother bullied for being adopted.
The film’s ads and promotional materials tell us that “we all have a superhero inside.” Perhaps that’s true on some level, but it’s not the movie’s major theme.
The film’s theme is this: Families matter. A home does, too.
Sivana hates his father because of how he was treated and ridiculed as a child. Billy has positive feelings for his biological mother but has never met her; he got lost in a crowd at a young age and was never found. Both instances, though, show how the verbal abuse or absence of a parent can impact a child for life.
Shazam! provides positive (even Bible-based) answers on the film’s two questions: What is family? and What is home? The film comes down squarely on the side of love—that is, Billy’s love for his foster parents and their love for him. Faith is never discussed, but we do see them pray before meals.
It may have been the first time I shed a tear during a superhero flick.
Wizards, demons and mythical gods form the film’s backdrop. Shazam the wizard tells Billy he will be as powerful as Atlas, Zeus and others. Sivana’s powers come from seven demons, each of which represents one of the seven deadly sins.
Xbox, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Zaxby’s, Watz, Stewart Haas Racing.
The plot. The family-centric story. If you’re curious, it ends with a cliffhanger, guaranteeing a sequel.
Shazam! seems to be partially aimed at children and tweens. If so, some of the content (the scary creatures, the strip club, the language) should have been excluded.
1. What caused Billy finally to accept his new parents?
2. For children: How should you treat your friends who are adopted?
3. Do we all have a “superhero inside”?
4. Did you like the film’s foster care message?
Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material.