8 Things to Know Before You See Shazam!
If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t have hugely high expectations for Shazam. I expected it to be a cute film my kids would like with some cool special effects and a few witty throwaway lines that would be mildly amusing to my adult mind.
I was actually sort of stunned at how much I loved it.
Superheroes are sort of in their golden age right now, especially in the Marvel Universe. I grew up a child of the eighties with a crush on Superman and a well-loved set of Wonder Woman Underoos, so even though I’m not a huge superhero genre fan, I’ve always had a little soft spot for DC. I was low-key jazzed to check out Shazam and see if it would make a good bet for a family trip to Admiral Twin this weekend.
The thing about Shazam! is that in its synopsis it looks pretty formulaic. But the genius of this film is that the writing and themes elevate it above that formula, which is why it currently has a 93 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating.
If you’re thinking about taking the fam to see Shazam! this weekend, here are a few things you should know:
1. It’s a little dark.
The film opens with the villain’s–Dr. Sivana’s–origin story, and it’s really, really sad. I was viscerally moved by what happens to him. Sivana’s backstory serves as a foil for our hero Billy Batson’s origin story, which is equally jarring.
Both characters end up lost and alone for different spoiler-y reasons I won’t say. But don’t worry–the film doesn’t linger on the dark parts. Its primary occupation is what we do with our lives to make sense of that darkness.
2. It’s about trauma and healing.
Shazam! reminds me of Moana in how it addresses the theme of villainy’s relationship to trauma. In Moana, no one begins as a villain. Trauma causes a person to continue the destructive cycle of abuse, which spreads like a cancer, and only through healing can it end.
In the same way, Billy Batson and Dr. Sivana show two sides of coping with trauma, with one showing what happens when we’re able to heal and the other showing what happens when we are too clouded by pain to heal. The film argues that we have choices even in our pain, and whether we choose to reach out and connect with others or lean into our suffering determines our fate.
3. Family is the heart of the film.
Shazam! is at its heart a wholesome film about families and family bonds. I love, love, love the way this touches on our own family’s motto “Together or not at all.”
The typically DC superhero keeps their identity secret and lives a mostly lonely life. As a conversation between alliterative foster brothers Billy Batson and Freddy Freeman reminds us, superheroes keep their identities a secret to protect those they love.
But secrets can be painful and isolating, the movie tells us, and they can lead to suffering. The film reminds us we’re more powerful with our family behind us.
4. The message is something the world needs right now.
It’s pretty universally accepted that we’re living in dark times right now. The world is experiencing powerful growing pains, and it’s been fraught with deep division and suffering. Shazam! reminds us that we can laugh through the worst moments and overcome much more than we ever imagined if we don’t give into that darkness and instead turn to our support networks, accepting help when it’s offered.
In a world where public shaming and mob rage have come back into popularity, the film offers a message of compassion and forgiveness, arguing that people are all capable of growing and moving past their mistakes to reach their full potential if they focus on putting others before themselves.
5. The main characters are refreshingly diverse.
It’s not exactly my lane to comment on diversity in films, but I try to be cognizant of cinematic homogenization because I really want to raise kids that celebrate diversity. I also am kind of a wide-eyed dreamer who gets a little romantic about the idea of our differences making us a better team as a human race. That’s why I loved the family at the heart of this film.
First, hurray for the family and heroes all being foster children! If you’ve been following our blog for long, you may know that Noah is our ward and we are working toward adopting him. We celebrate him every day and love what he adds to our family. I am so excited about showing him kids–hero kids–with a similar background on the big screen that I just kind of want to squee.
Billy’s foster family in the film represents a heartwarmingly diverse array of genetics, bodies, hobbies, and minds. His family includes Latinx parents Victor and Rosa Vasquez (played by Samoan/Hungarian-Jewish actor Cooper Andrews and Spanish actor Marta Milans) and foster brother Pedro Peña (played by Mexican-Salvadorian Jovan Armand); Asian-American foster brother Eugene Choi (Ian Chen of Fresh Off the Boat); African-American foster sister and devoted vegan Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman); academically-minded big foster sister Mary Bromfield (Ghost Whisperer’s Grace Fulton); and disabled foster brother and resident geek Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). It’s really cool how different all the kids’ personalities are–from the sardonic superhero-obsessed kid to the academically struggling introvert with a big heart to the tech-minded gamer–and yet how much they care for each other in the story
6. It’s weirdly good at suspending disbelief about the Shazam switch.
After watching the previews, I honestly thought this would be frustrating to hang with, but the writing, editing, and adorable Chuck star Zachary Levi’s performance all came together to make Billy’s body-switching pretty seamless.
7. The young actors are impressive as heck.
It’s hard to say which of the kids in this film was more fun to watch, but I’d say it’s a pretty solid tie between Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy, Asher Angel as Billy, and Faithe Herman as Darla. Angel does an incredible job of conveying complex emotions, ambiguity, and character growth in his Billy, while Grazer’s Freddy struggles with adult-sized revelations about himself and the way he treats others. But the ten-year-old Miss Herman is so adorably scene-stealing in this film, I’d totally be down for a Darla-centric spin-off.
8. There’s definitely room for a sequel.
Without giving anything away, stick around for the mid-credits scene, which unequivocally sets up a sequel. People who aren’t super familiar with the DC comics may find the scene a bit of a head-scratcher with its enigmatic little psionic worm guy, but if we just go with it, I have a feeling it will be worth it for us in the next film. I would argue that Shazam! was really Billy/Shazam’s origin story, and a sequel would show the Shazam family (Marvel family in the comics) just beginning their hero adventures.
If you haven’t yet seen Shazam!, it’s playing this weekend at the Admiral Twin on a double feature with Captain Marvel as the second feature. Take the kids out to see it–you’ll be glad you did.
Hit me up in the comments with your hot takes, and have a beautiful week in the nebula.