Shazam! Retrospective Movie Review& Analysis

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By Adam David Collings. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Shazam! is the last of the DC Extended Universe movies that I'll be looking at in the current batch. If you've been following this podcast, you'll know I tend to prefer the serious movies. Man of Steel, Batman V Superman etc. So you might be suprised to learn that I really like this movie. Why? For similar reasons that I also like the MCU Spiderman movies. The humour is believable in-universe and comes naturally out of the characters, specifically, it's natural kid reactions to the world around them. The stakes are much lower than the average superhero movie, but given the child protagonist, they still feel like very high stakes. There's something that just works nicely about it all.

So let's dig in and geek out over Shazam!

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Transcript

Welcome to Nerd Heaven

I’m Adam David Collings, the author of Jewel of The Stars

And I am a Nerd.

This is Episode 36 of the podcast.

Today, we’re talking about Shazam.

Before we go on, I just want to give a quick shout out to Scott from Florida who gave me my very first review on Apple Podcasts, my very first review anywhere so thank you very much, Mate. That made my day. And if you are enjoying the podcast, please consider giving a quick review wherever you do listen. I know that both Apple Podcasts and Stitcher have a review system. Probably a number of other places as well. So, yeah, that would definitely be helpful.

The description on IMDB reads

A newly fostered young boy in search of his mother instead finds unexpected superpowers and soon gains a powerful enemy.

This movie was written by Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke

It was directed by David F. Sandberg

And it first released on the 2nd of April 2019.

The movie begins with a reasonable dark opening.

It’s great because it gives us a lot of sympathy for Thad.

And it was a brilliant move to bring in John Glover, AKA Lional Luthor from Smalville to play his father. He’s great at playing a lousy father. It was a joy to see him in that cameo.

So Thad is disrespected and misunderstood by both his father and his older brother. And then he’s pulled into this magical place where he meets a wizard.

He’s seen something in Thad. But Thad needs to prove himself.

But the seven deadly sins are manipulative, and they know just what buttons to press.

And just like all of us, in the face of sin, he falls short. He is not sufficiently pure of heart.

The wizard is looking for absolute moral perfection. Well, he’s not gonna find that in the human race.

I like this because we really see ourselves reflected in Thad. And it makes him yet more relatable to us. We’re really feeling for this little boy.

If things hadn’t come to a head, do you think the wizard would ever have been successful in his search? Do you think he ever would have found someone worthy? Someone sufficiently pure of heart? Personally, I don’t think he would. I think it was an impossible quest. Obviously, I’m speaking from my own beliefs and theology.

So he’s back in the car. He’s distraught. He came so close to finally having some power in his life. And it’s been snatched away from him. And that distraction causes the death of his father.

And in his pain, and despair, the sins reach out to him.

Oh, I feel so sorry for this kid.

So then we cut to present day.

Our first introduction to Billy Batson demonstrates just how unworthy he is.

But he’s not just a delinquent for the sake of being delinquent. He’s trying to find his mother. A quest we can all have sympathy for.

I like how the kid is unable to convince the radio room that he’s an adult. He says “walkie talkie” .This movie allows kids to be kids. Some movies overly empower kids. Makes them stronger, smarter, or more world-aware than they should be. Now, this is a useful trope in kid’s entertainment, but for adults, Kid empowerment just doesn’t ring true. So I like how this movie allows the kids to be kids.

In a way, the whole point of this movie is the opposite. Oh, the kids get the empowerment fantasy, and which of us didn’t have a fantasy like that when we were kids, but it actually de-powers the adult version of Billy, because inside that big strong body is the mind of a kid. It’s good stuff.

So as he stares at the house, hoping that maybe this is the one. Maybe this will be his mother, we get the flashback to the day he got lost.

And we feel the same heart-broken confusion that Billy felt. How was he never reunited with his Mum? I mean, any mother would move heaven and earth to find their child. Right?

Finally, he’ll get some answers.

But one look at the skin tone of the woman and it’s obvious she’s not the right Racheal Batson.

It was cleverly done.

So he’s introduced to his new foster parents, Victor and Rosa. And I really like them. They really have created a loving family environment for these kids. Fostering is not something I’m personally connected with, and have no real experience with, so I have no idea what it feels like to be in Billy’s situation, sitting in a car with strangers who are trying to act like parents. It must be awkward for both parties. But I just find these characters really heart-warming.

All the kids in this house are nicely developed with fun personalities, or lack of personality in the case of Pedro. I find myself liking all of these characters.

Freddy turns out to be a big Superhero fanboy. Which I can understand. In the world they live in, where superheroes are real, people would be fascinated by them. They’d want to own a replica batarang, or a genuine bullet that had been fired at Superman. Plus, it ingratiates him with us, because we’re DC superhero fans just like him.

So that’s it. Billy has run out of addresses. So in despair, he throws the notebook away. He’s just gonna have to try to make it work with these people. I think he can actually see that this is a great family, and he could do well to be a part of it. But it’s still not his family.

He still has this need to find his mother. To understand what happened.

And of course he does.

We catch up with Thad, as an adult. He’s investigating people who have had the same childhood experience he did with the wizard. The scientist working for him thinks it’s all a case of mass hysteria she’s investigating. But this latest case has revealed to him the sequence of symbols that will lead him back to the wizard.

The moment when the scientist touches the symbols and burns to ash is dark, but isn’t played as horrific as it really is.

Thad has become super hardened.

And so he releases the seven deadly sins, wanting to claim their power.

But sin is always manipulative. He’s become their slave. A vessel for them to inhabit.

There seems to be a wide age range in this school. You’ve got young kids like darla all the way up to teenagers old enough to drive. Although, admittedly, Americans seem to be allowed to drive a lot younger than here in Australia.

It’s really telling of the character of these kids when they knock a kid over, and their greatest concern is the mark on their car. I know they’re antagonists, but even the biggest jerk would surely feel a little guilt or worry if they literally just hit someone with their car.

To not do so would seem to suggest a very serious psychological condition.

Billy doesn’t stand up for Feddy until they make a crack about him not having a mother. That hits too close to home.

Helping others doesn’t come naturally to Billy. He’s a loner. By definition, his life has been all about looking after his own interests. Because he’s always felt alone.

So he hides in the train and is transported to the wizard.

I really like his movie, but the wizard stuff is the one bit I have an issue with.

As is usual, I tend to compare stuff to Man of Steel, because, to me, that’s the pinnacle of DC movies.

Can I mentally accept that this wizard exists in the same universe as Man of Steel?

It’s a hard mental stretch. It really is. It all feels so cheesy and kinda silly.

Billy’s reactions are pretty natural.

The wizard’s name is Shazam of all things. I mean, they might as well have called him Abra-cadabra. How can you take that seriously? And even in a comedic movie, you still need to be able to take the core concept seriously. Unless it’s an outright parody, like The Naked Gun. Then nothing matters. The movie only exists for the comedy. But this isn’t The Naked Gun. This is a proper story set in the DC universe.

Of course, this is all straight from the comic. They didn’t just make this stuff up. But what do you do when the source material in the comic is fundamentally cheesy? How do you make it work?

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not sure I can think of a way to make it work much better than they did here.

If I were writing this, I’d probably have to make some changes from the source material.

Like, maybe Billy Had to come up with his own word, so he said “Shazam” as a bit of a joke. I know. Blasphemous.

But there’s still interesting stuff going on here. Billy, like Thad, thinks that the Wizard’s quest for a perfect person, pure of heart, is an impossible quest.

But the wizard no longer has a choice. The sins have escaped. He needs a champion. Any champion. So he lowers his standards and he takes the very next kid he tests. It’s gonna be Billy.

Interesting development.

So he transforms into …. Well, let’s just call him Shazam. Because what can you do?

The powers he receives are:

The wisdom of Solomon

The strength of Hercules

The stamina of atlas

The power of zeus

The courage of cilles

And the speed of mercury.

Notice how so many of DC’s characters are connected to greek mythology?

Apart from Solomon, of course, who was a Israelite King.

And, that’s the one power I’m not sure he actually demonstrates in this movie. He makes a whole lot of unwise choices in his superhero adult form.

Now, we’ll watch and see how his wisdom might grow through the course of the movie, but if the wisdom of solomon really is part of his power set, shouldn’t it begin to manifest as soon as he transforms, like his other powers?

But then, it does take him a while to learn to fly.

When he wakes up, he runs out of the train and bumps his head on the top of the doorway. That was a really nice touch. Because, of course, he’s a lot taller than he was a few minutes ago.

So Billy goes to the only person he can think of. Freddy. He’s really into superheroes.

And just a little note, I can’t quite believe that the term “caped crusader” exists in universe in the same world in which Batman V Superman took place. I mean, do we really need to reference all the old cheesy sayings?

But the whole thing with these two kids geeking out and trying to figure out what powers he has feels pretty natural.

Interesting thing, Freddy doesn’t actually ask “how did this happen?” That would be the first question out of my mouth.

Zachery Levi does a pretty good job of portraying a child in an adult’s body.

I love the interactions they have with the mugger and the pepper-spray woman. The humour works great because it all feels like natural dialog for a couple of kids trying to navigate this unusual situation.

And then that thought occurs to him. The thought that many a kid would have when suddenly transformed into an adult.

“I’d like to buy some of your finest beer, please.”

So do they really sell alcohol in petrol stations in America? Sorry, gas stations. Or is it just a corner store? Either way, the only place you get alcohol in Australia in a licensed bottle shop. So this feels pretty weird to me.

Anyway, I love how they try the beer and hate it. Then go back in and buy chips and soft drink.

So he goes home, Darla sees him, and he learns he can change back and forth by saying Shazam. I don’t have much to say about this, but it’s all good.

So Thad breaks into the board meeting of his father’s company, and surprise surprise, his father is actually alive. He survived the car crash.

But he lost the use of his legs.

His older brother is a board member.

So just picks him up and hurls him out the window to his death.

That was kind of intense.

The shock of the actors in this scene really sells the emotional reality of the situation. You don’t always expect that in a comedic movie. Very well done.

And then he releases the sins from his eye. One of them ites the head off a board member. It’s pretty intense stuff So Thad’s father definitely gets his comeuppance, for being such a bad father. But I think we can agree that it’s probably more than he deserves.

And the board members, what did they do?

For a minute, I thought Thad was going to let his father live, and suffer with all that he’d lost.

But no, he let’s greed, the sin most associated with the man, eat him.

WE notice that Thad had become significantly darker, more evil. Letting all that stuff into him and corrupting him even further. Brought out the worst parts of him, which were already pretty bad.

Meanwhile, Billy is also using his newfound powers to give some comeuppance to those who have wronged him.

So Billy and Feddy go off to do some more tests, after destroying their school books with lightning power.

Billy does a dance move on camera called a floss. I know it’s called that because my son used to do it. Kids seem to always be doing dance moves these days.

Anyway, it’s just a little moment to visually show the kid inside the adult body.

These guys feel like they’re acting believably in character though all of these comedic shenanigans. That’s what makes the humour in Shazam work.

If you’ve listened to a few of my DC podcasts, you know I like the serious movies. So you might have been surprised to learn that I really like this movie.

I like it for the same reasons I really like Spiderman homecoming and Spiderman Far from Home.

The humour is natural and believable for a child protagonist.

The kids act like kids. And the stakes are quite low. Especially in the first Spiderman. We’re not dealing with world-ending stakes like Superman or the Avengers would face. But given that these characters ARE kids, the lower stakes still feel like significant challenges for our heroes.

It works really well.

I like how they test a bunch of different powers, some of which he has, and some of which he doesn’t.

I’ll admit, I’m kinda jealous of their youTube numbers.

Anyway.

The montage that follows is entertaining.

One thought about the toilet scene. This is an example of a superhero movie kinda making fun of the genre. Billy has no idea how to get his pants down when in Shazam form. So he changes.

That actually makes sense in his case. The costume isn’t something you put on. It magically appears around you.

But, by extension, this is kind of making fun of other Superheros. For example, how does Superman use the toilet in his suit?

But in his case, we need to remember his suit is alien technology. I have no hesitation in believing that although there are no visible seams, his pants can separate from the top when needed.

I know I’m analysing this way more than the film-makers intend. It’s a joke.

But, I’ve mentioned before how some superhero movies draw attention to the silly aspects of their stories and make fun of it. Marvel does this a lot. But I tend to prefer the other approach, where the movie either makes the thing work, or just drops it altogether.

I like the real-estate scene, but I don’t have anything to say about it.

So the conflict begins between Billy and Freddy. I get why Freddy broke his own rule and bragged that the new Superhero would come to lunch the next day, without asking Billy first. He’s a kid who’s tired of being bullied. It’s a very kid thing to do.

I also get why he feels he’s as much a part of all this as Billy.

Billy did come to him for help, and they have been in this together from the start.

I also get that Billy would be feeling a bit used and unappreciated

It’s all believable teenage behaviour

There’s an ongoing joke throughout the movie where everyone keeps coming up with different names for Billy’s superhero form.

Remember, Shazam is technically the name of the wizard.

This, of course, is poking fun at the fact that the character used to be called Captain Marvel, before DC lost to Marvel in the legal dispute over that name.

So Billy decides to wag school, leaving Freddy in the lurch regarding lunch time.

And there’s a nice scene where he saves Mary and then they have a conversation about her reaction to being accepted into college.

It’s touching because it’s the first time we see Billy really reaching out to one of his new siblings and caring about them, wanting to help them.

But it’s also amusing because unlike the usual wise advice you’d expect to get from a Superhero in a situation like this, he gives her terrible advice that comes out of Billy’s own selfishness. Again, it’s coming from a teenage boy.

Great stuff.

But he tells her that that family is for people who can’t take care of themselves, which really sums up who Billy is at the moment.

You can’t not feel sorry for Freddy when he’s humiliated in the lunchroom.

And then Billy finally realises how his actions affect other people when his lightning show nearly causes the death of everyone on that bus.

So at 1.25 hours in, over half way through, Billy finally meets his villain. Thad.

In all the excitement of saving people and getting paid for selfies, fighting a villain is one thing that never occurred to Billy until now.

Billy is immediately out of his league. Which again makes sense, because he’s just a kid.

But he immediately realises he needs Freddy.

Transforming back into his teenage self to escape was a smart move.

So the other kids figure out who Billy is, and Eugene has identified his real parents.

It seems unlikely that the police couldn’t find his mum, just because she reverted to her maiden name. But I happily forgive that because the scene that follows has so much emotional weight to it.

Wow. So he reveals himself to his mum, and leans in to hug her. And she kind of pushes him away, looking visibly shaken. Already the scene is hitting me deep.

When Billy first let go of her hand and went missing, she panicked, but when she saw him with the police officers, she let herself believe that they could do a better job of looking after him than she could. She believed he’d be better off without her.

So she left.

And she actively hid herself so she wouldn’t be found.

I understand the feeling of parental inadequacy. I feel it a lot. And she has reason to feel it too. She’s 17 years old with a child she’s raising on her own. She has no support. Probably no money. She feels she’s never going to be able to give him a good life.

But the one thing he really needs, she can give him. A mother’s love. That’s what he needs most. That’s what she doesn’t understand.

But to give up your child like that. Man, I could never do that. I couldn’t even comprehend that.

And now, she immediately tries to justify herself by saying “But you’re okay right. You landed on your feet. You look good.”

And Billy, with all the heartbreak he’s feeling, as he realises he’s been completely rejected by the mother he’s searched for all his life, so crushed in spirit, actually spares her feelings by saying he just wanted to let her know he was good, and he’s going back to his real family now.”

He’s the mature one here. He’s the adult in this situation.

He’s the one putting the needs of others before himself, while she’s just looking out for herself.

But I think there’s actually a little truth to what Billy says.

I think he realises in this moment that his new foster family cares for him a heck of a lot more than his biological mother ever did. They can be the family he always craved.

But I think he also realises just how messed up his mother is. She’s not in any better situation now than she was when she was 17. In fact, she’s probably worse. Evidence suggests she may be in a relationship with an abusive partner.

If they were to re-enter each other’s lives, he’d be the one taking care of her.

And given the chance, he’d probably do that.

But she doesn’t want him in her life. That is clear.

And she doesn’t even remember the compass, which was such a symbol to him all his life.

But he’s right, she needs it more than he does. She’s still lost, whereas Billy is starting to realise what he’s found.

Of course, none of this is really going to dampen the pain he is going through right now.

It’s a powerful scene. Fantastic stuff.

And that’s when he gets the phone call, letting him know that Thad has his family.

But now he’s ready.

He’s just gone through some powerful character growth.

Now he’s ready to be the hero. And now he knows just how much that family means to him.

This is how it’s done. Character growth, overcoming the internal demons equips a protagonist to defeat the external demon. In this case, Thad and his, well, literal demons.

Don’t you just love story structure?

The batarang moment was important because it allows Billy to realise that Thad is vulnerable when the sins are not inside him.

And then we end up in Monsters Inc.

I’m not sure what’s supposed to be behind all these doors. Other planets? Other realities?

The crocodiles playing cards are kinda weird.

Thad says Billy doesn’t deserve the name Champion. Billy is no more worthy than Thad was as a child. Billy knows that.

But he’s about to show us that you don’t need to be perfect to be a hero.

You just need to learn from your mistakes and do better.

The kids have figured out that Thad is powerless when the sins leave his eye, so, in a true act of bravery, given they have no powers at all, they bait him into letting them chase her.

But he’s gotta keep one in his eye.

At that last moment when hope seems lost, Billy realises his greatest power is enlisted the help of those he loves most.

The thrones wait for his brothers and sisters.

So he transforms all of his siblings, giving them the same powers he has.

It’s a little corny, but it’s all very thematic. And it works, because the movie has kind of earned it.

They do a little bit of the others struggling to figure out their powers, but they learn to use them way quicker than Billy did.

But I guess you could argue that they at least have Billy’s example to know what is and isn’t possible.

The actor that plays adult Darla does a pretty nice job of portraying a little girl in an adult body.

Nice little payoff as Freddy gives the two bullies suitcase wedgies, like they did to him. I didn’t pick up on that detail before.

So now we have the final confrontation. Billy has to convince the sin to come out.

He figures out which one is left and appeals directly to what it is.

And then we have a Disney death, where thad falls on his own, rather than being actively killed by the hero.

Except that Billy saves him. And then traps the sins back in the rock.

So Billy is with his family now. He’s home.

And then we get a payoff to the lunch scene. Freddy is still a pariah, but he doesn't care. Because he’s a superhero.

But Billy shows up and brings Superman, minus his head, since Henry Cavill was unavailable to film the scene.

I mean, it was a fun little reveal. But it’s a real shame we didn’t get to actually see Billy meet Superman, and have Superman give him some advice.

I think there’s a lot of potential for a Tony Stark / Peter Parker style relationship there.

I mean, we’ve all seen the screenshot of the comic with Clark Kent sitting next to Billy, even if we haven’t read the comics.

But films bring in their own logistical challenges.

Maybe we’ll get to see some of that in the sequel.

Not having anywhere near enough comic book cred, I didn’t know what the talking caterpillar was all about, in the mid credit scene, other than …. It seemed kinda silly.

So I asked Google.

Turns out it’s Mister Mind. A worm from the planet venus.

Hmm. That’s gonna be a hard villain for me to swallow.

Not that I’d want to swallow a worm.

Anyway. We’ll see what, if anything, comes of that.

So that was Shazam. A pretty entertaining movie with more heart than you might expect from the comedic tone.

That brings my coverage of the DC Extended Universe to a close.

As I said in a previous episode, I haven’t Birds of Prey yet so I’m not going to be talking about it.

I’ll cover more DC movies as they come out. We’ve got Wonder woman 1984 and Zack Snyder’s Justice League coming. Theatrical movies are gonna be harder for me to cover in this format, as I can’t watch them over and over, pausing to take notes, so I’m not sure how that’ll work with Wonder Woman. I might wait until it is released on Blur Ray.

I dunno.

Next fortnight, I’m gonna give an overview of my thoughts on the first two seasons of Star Trek Discovery.

Then, the next episode after that we’ll be starting on season 3.

Don’t forget you can look me up at AdamDavidCollings.com where you can learn all about my book series, Jewel of The Stars.

Until then, have a great two weeks.

Live long and prosper.

Make it so.

56 episodes