SHAZAM! – At the height of his career in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Captain Marvel was the most popular superhero, outselling his best-known competitor Superman. Then a long judicial battle on whether the red-clad comic book character was just a plagiarized version of Clark Kent’s alter ego, ended with a victory for the owners of Superman. Fawcett—the publisher of Captain Marvel– had to cease publication of its superhero. Ironically, with the concentration of ownership in the comic book industry which resulted in the acquisition of Fawcett by DC Comics, in the 1970s the rights to the character ended up in the hands of the same company that had sued the original Captain Marvel. However, because of the trademark had been sold to another company, the revived comic book character changed his name to Shazam, which in fact was the name of the Wizard who had granted extraordinary powers to Billy Batson.
Now, after all those years of absence from the big screen (there were just a few serials in the 1940s) the “big red cheese” as his archenemy Dr. Sivana used to call him, is back, courtesy of DC and Warner Bros. and as the first blockbuster of the spring-summer season, they expect big turnouts at the theatres.
The film is directed by David F. Sandberg and written by Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke, who based the plot on the original story created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck in 1940. However, the movie takes a departure from the original story in the characterization of Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who from being a boy radio broadcaster in the comic strip, here is just a high-school student living in a foster home (in the original story he also was an orphan).
The film first introduces Shazam’s archenemy: Sivana, who as a boy would fail in his attempt to get the Wizard’s superpowers. What the film does best is to transmit the sense of humour, at times self-deprecating, that displays the main character. Indeed, when Billy Batson is summoned to the hideout of Shazam the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) he is at first scared, but then he doesn’t know what to do with his powers, which he doesn’t yet know either, indeed Shazam the superhero (Zachary Levi) is an adult with the mischievous personality of a 14-year-old boy, the actual age of Billy. This is an aspect of Shazam’s nature that makes for an interesting display of juvenile behaviour with irritating elements of adolescent irresponsibility. For instance when failing to meet his pal Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) at the school lunch hour despite the importance of that occasion. Behaviour that is compensated with a gradual and consistent awareness of the importance of the use of his superpowers to fight evil personified by Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong).
“Shazam!” is a movie that should please a broad spectrum of viewers: young spectators because of the –perhaps excessive– resort to scenes of action and combat with all the usual special effects, and older viewers (like myself) because of the meticulous treatment of Billy Batson’s background. There is also some elements of nostalgia in enjoying the adventures of a character that –unlike Superman who claims a kind of science-based origin– is just pure magic, and unapologetic for that.
Running time: 140 min.