Erica Flores

Shazam! Finally, DC superheroes can be fun and happy.

Shazam! takes place in the same universe as other movies adapted from DC Comics, but writer Henry Gayden (Earth to eco) and director David F. Sandberg (Turn off the lights) They seem determined to turn the universe around. Or at the very least, they want to blow a raspberry into the bleak and gloomy world established by Zack Snyder’s trilogy of Iron Man, Batman V. SupermanY League of Justice, in addition to his accompanying neck-tattoo-sports piece. Suicide squad. The first starring vehicle on the big screen for one of the oldest superheroes out there, a boy who can become a super-powerful adult with the help of a magic word. Shazam! it would be hard to turn into a grim and gritty DC story.

And that’s because it’s too deeply based on childhood fantasy. Hold on, Billy Batson (played as a teenager by Asher Angel, and in his superhero form by Throw Star Zachary Levi) is a normal kid with a difficult story. Next up, he’s a burly, caped hero capable of flying through the air and shooting bolts of electricity from his finger. You can barely convey the joy you feel for your new abilities. It’s almost as if superhero stories are at heart about wish fulfillment. It’s almost as if they are allowed to be fun.

It’s certainly easier for some superhero stories to tap into this kind of lighthearted power trip than others. Created by artist CC Beck and writer Bill Parker, Batson first appeared in the second issue of Whiz Comics, which hit newsstands in late 1939 as part of the flood of comic books inspired by the success of Superman. In the original comic, a wizard grants Batson the ability to become the Captain Marvel hero by saying the word “Shazam,” an acronym for “Samson, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, and Mercury,” whose powers contribute to his power. Over time, Captain Marvel gathered a supporting cast that included other child heroes and a talking tiger, as well as nemeses like the diabolical Dr. Sivana and Mister Mind, an alien worm who ran the Monster Society of Evil.

Fawcett Comics directed the adventures of Captain Marvel directly to readers even younger than those who devour rival superhero stories, and it became a hit, surpassing even Superman by a good stretch of the 1940s. But the interest in superheroes It faded by the end of the decade, and a copyright infringement lawsuit launched by the company now known as DC Comics proved to be an enemy that even Captain Marvel was unable to defeat. His adventures temporarily ended. But by the early 1970s, Captain Marvel and his extended family had been sucked into the DC Comics universe. It has stayed there ever since, although it has been modified as “Shazam” to avoid confusion with that other Captain Marvel, who also just debuted on the big screen.

Photo: Warner Bros. Photos

In Gayden and Sandberg’s movie, however, Billy’s superhero alter ego remains nameless, even at the end of the story. Billy and his friend Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) continue to scour the naming possibilities, which are mostly hideous (“Thundercrack,” for example, is quickly rejected), which serves as a thematically appropriate joke. Shazam! is the story of a boy trying to figure out what kind of hero he wants to be and, by extension, what kind of man he should become. He gets a lot into the process.

With or without the name, the spirit of Captain Marvel’s ancient adventures lies at the heart of Shazam!, even in the midst of a lot of barely PG-13 violence and a couple of strip club jokes. That’s part of what makes it such a lighthearted alternative to the sadness of past DC movies, a tone the company seems to be eager to shed, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s take on the cosmos. Whether played by Angel or Levi, Billy is just a kid. It’s fun to watch him enjoy his new powers, and a little scary to realize how little control he has over them. And where Batson’s early comic book adventures gave him a big city to treat as a playground, Shazam! does the same with Philadelphia. His pleasure in bouncing around the city is contagious, although he always seems to be on the verge of accidentally leveling a city block.

His joy is so much more exciting to watch because joy doesn’t come naturally to Billy, who has more people against him than most teenagers. She spent much of her childhood running from foster parent after foster parent in search of the mother she hasn’t seen since he walked away from her at a carnival at age three. Shortly after the movie begins, he lands in what he hopes to be another temporary living situation: a group home in Philadelphia overseen by a married couple (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews) who used to be foster children.

They are also caring for Freddy (who developed a gift for pranks as a defense mechanism against those who bully him for using a crutch), Mary (Grace Fulton), an exaggerated college student, Darla (Faithe Herman), lover of hugs, and a bunch of other kids It’s a chaotic yet loving environment that instantly hugs Billy, literally, in Darla’s case. Billy can’t wait to run away. He’s been looking for a house for so long, he can’t recognize it when he sees it, with or without superpowers.

That feeling begins to change after his fateful encounter with a wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou, under a large amount of facial hair). Confused by the new superhero abilities that Shazam grants him, Billy recruits Freddy to help him explore his own possibilities. After a poky start, Shazam! he sets off as the two of them try to figure out what he can and can’t do with his newfound powers, whether that’s flying or buying beer without an ID.

Photo: Steve Wilkie / Warner Bros. Photos

Gayden and Sandberg attempt a difficult balancing act with Shazam! They have to fulfill many of the obligations of superhero movies, from featuring an evil arch nemesis to designing a climactic showdown. Mark Strong – A high-frequency screen returning to superhero movies for the first time since playing Sinestro in 2011. Green Lantern – turns him into a haunting Dr. Sivana, a man who receives the powers of the Seven Deadly Sins. He’s never quite as clown as the Sivana from the comics, but his uncompromising malevolence makes him an excellent complement to the big-screen version of Batson, whose goofy plays nicely with the scowl of his nemesis. But even when the filmmakers let their project seem a little scary, they also have to find a way to stay true to the fun and friendly spirit of the original comics.

It wouldn’t be impossible for the filmmakers to put a dark spin on this material. By Alan Moore Man of miracles I found a definitive way to make the idea of ​​Billy Batson a nightmare and an obsession. If Gayden and Sandberg really wanted a movie more in line with the Snyderverse entries, they could have. But Shazam! Super speeds in the opposite direction, while nodding to the other movies in his franchise. Billy’s world is full of Batman and Superman merchandise, but his adventures seem to take place far from the world where he lives. Gotham and Metropolis get superhero icons that rarely smile. Philly gets a goofball, and that turns out to be a lot more fun.

Sandberg builds on the horror skills he developed through movies like Annabelle: Creation. Sivana’s allies include manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins that wouldn’t look out of place in a much more graphic film. And even though Sandberg retains the gloomy image of previous DCEU movies, he uses that dark palette to make Billy’s bright red suit and glowing lightning chest badge stand out even more. If Batman marks criminals in Batman V. Superman has a polar opposite moment, it is the identity of Batson’s nameless hero, who smiles and dances to the “Eye of the Tiger” atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as he shoots lightning from his hands, to the delight of the tourists surrounding it. This is the rare superhero movie that gets more whimsical as it progresses, up to and including the final fight, a battle royale that takes place primarily at a Philadelphia Christmas carnival.

But capricious is not the same as frivolous. Both Angel and Levi play Billy as a child who has never had the support he needs, and the film suggests that there is no easy solution to his trauma, even if they are both in a supportive environment, and can suddenly jump buildings. high in a single section. (Or in Billy’s case, almost jump a tall building in a single boundary.)

That is the subtext that rests below Shazam!The broad humor, the funny spirit and the terrifying monsters. The movie suggests that wish fulfillment will only come to people so far, and power alone cannot change what is damaged within. Captain Marvel (or Shazam, or Thundercrack, or whatever it’s called) is one of the simplest superheroes ever created, but Shazam! you both get what makes simplicity so appealing, and you understand the complications caused by the common desire to grow up too fast and take on powers you don’t know how to control.