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Why Shazam should be more popular than Superman

There’s a lot to like about the DC comics character Shazam who, for a while there, was the biggest superhero on the block in the 1940’s. In fact, he was even more popular than Superman at that time.

Shazam drinking a slurpee

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The original Captain Marvel

However, the early days were problematic for Shazam, who was actually known as Captain Marvel back then. For starters he wasn’t a DC character at that stage, he belonged to a company named Fawcett publications and the short version is that they were sued by Detective Comics (who later became DC) for copyright infringement because they thought the character was too similar to Superman. It was much more complicated than that but fast forward to 1972 and the rights to Captain Marvel were sold to DC who ended up having a few trademark issues with Marvel Comics who also had a Captain Marvel and they changed the name to Shazam!

What made Shazam bigger than Superman though? He was relatable. Where Superman was an alien super dude from outer space, Shazam was a kid, who with the help of a magic word, could transform into a superhero. Who reads comics? 14 year-old kids. It’s a winning formula and, if the reaction of audiences to DC’s latest superhero movie is anything to go by, it still applies today.

Meet the makers

Director David F. Sandberg—a relatively new kid on the block with a series of horror/thriller shorts and 2017’s feature length horror Annabelle: Creation to his name—gets his big break here as he upgrades from scary dolls to action figures with Shazam. He teams up with writers Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke whose previous works include Earth to Echo, Goosebumps and Shrek Forever After to name a few.

The story

Shazam is the story of 14 year-old foster kid, Billy Batson, who’s been running away from various foster homes in search of his mother who abandoned him when he was a toddler. When moving in with his newest foster family Billy meets Freddy, a kid who can’t walk with out the aid of a crutch, r by bullies at school and obsessed with superheroes. Billy also meets Shazam an ageing wizard who has been using his powers to hold back an evil force and is seeking a champion to pass the torch to. Billy shouts his name, and Shazam he’s a 14 year-old kid in and adult super hero’s body.

Why Shazam? Well it appears that the ancient wizard must be some kind of public servant because Shazam is an acronym for six ancient heroes, The wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles and speed of Mercury.

Billy has to come to terms with the responsibility bestowed upon him, finding his place in his new foster family and preventing the evil Doctor Thaddeus Sivana from using that evil force mentioned before to take his power. It’s a pretty standard super hero origin film—discover power, learn lesson about the whole responsibility thing, fight bad guy in a big battle at the end—but the point of difference is quite obviously a kid trapped in the adult hero’s body.

The cast

The casting is spot on for this one. Mark Strong does bad guys really well, possibly to the point of over-use, and while it isn’t much of a stretch for him plays a good Doctor Sivana. Zachary Levi is really great as Shazam, his performance is Tom Hanks in Big meets Superman and that’s not something the film shies away from, they even drop a nice little easter egg just to let us know they’re in on the joke. Asher Angel is decent as Billy Batson. Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews are really good as Victor and Rosa Vasquez, the compassionate foster parents. Djimon Hounsou hams it up and is way over the top as the Wizard Shazam. Grace Fulton, Faith Herman, Ian Chen and Jovan Armand are all solid supporting cast members as the foster brothers and sisters. The man of the match though is Jack Dylan Grazer (you might remember him from 2017’s IT). He is exceptional as Freddy Freeman, he is a super talented kid-actor and his entire performance is what keeps this movie from being over the top ridiculous. I found his character far easier to connect to than Billy’s.

The verdict

The special effects are good. The story focuses on some really nice themes about family and because it’s coming from a kid’s perspective, they’ve really captured the essence of what made some of those Spielberg movies from the 80’s so great. It also reminded me a bit of Last Action Hero, maybe it was the bad guys with the weird eye.

While the concept of Shazam is excellent, the overall story was not as original as I’d hoped for but it is great fun with some decent comedy and it has a few little tricks that keep it a cut above the standard super hero fare. The weakest part for me was the transition from Billy Batson to Shazam, while Zachary Levi does a good job of playing the man-child his impression of a kid was fairly generic and a little disconnected from Billy who was a much more serious character.

Until now Shazam has been a concept that I thought was fairly underrated living in the shadows of other DC stalwarts like Superman and Batman and it’s nice to see him brought to the fore in what is easily one of the best DC films to date.

DC are still light years behind Marvel in the movie department but Shazam leaps over the steaming piles of shit, like Suicide Squad and Justice league, in a single bound.

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