I'll be the first to admit it doesn't take much to get me to watch a superhero movie. Regardless of who is in it, what it's about or if the trailers make the movie look good or bad, I'm going to see it no matter what. I know what I like. That's why when Shazam! was first announced, I immediately knew I'd be catching it as soon as I could, popcorn in hand, excitement off the charts.
But I know superhero movies, while crazy popular, still aren't for everyone. I realize that even some people who love comic books don't like big screen adaptations of their favorite characters for completely understandable and valid reasons. So that's why Shazam! took me by such surprise. Shazam! really might be the perfect superhero movie because it speaks to diehard comic books fans, superhero movie lovers and newcomers to the superhero/comic book genre alike.
Big words, I know. But Shazam! lives up to them. Zachary Levi's titular superhero is a breath of fresh air for the genre, as the actor brings a childlike wonder to the role that helps you discover for the first time or rediscover why superhero movies can be so fun. The comedically talented Levi is clearly having the time of his life here playing the superhero-ized version of the young Billy Batson. Meanwhile, Asher Angel perfectly complements Levi's energy as the "real" version of Billy, a foster kid struggling to find a place where he belongs when he's unexpectedly blessed with the powers of a superhero.
As Billy learns how to control his new powers of flight, speed, strength and "lightning hands," the audience is along with him for the ride as the movie lays out all the rules for being a superhero in a new, creative way. It's like Superhero 101 for 2019, breaking out of the somewhat strict and unwavering guidelines the genre has gotten stuck in for the past decade or so.
And yes, this is another origin story, but with a completely unique and fresh structure that reminds you why origin stories are so essential for the genre. The movie introduces viewers to its world, characters and the reason why it deserves your attention and love. It simultaneously deconstructs and reinvents all elements of a superhero origin story in youthful ways, right down to figuring out what powers Billy now has in videos that go viral on the internet to finding the perfect lair with the help of a shell-shocked real estate agent. It mixes the right amount of mature real-world lessons with the giddy optimism of being a kid and thinking everything will turn out okay no matter what.
Shazam! is smart without being complicated, light without being frivolous. It's hilarious and heartwarming. And above all else, it just makes sense. Levi plays Shazam perfectly with such joy and excitement and also a little bit of selfish narcissism that would come with a down-on-his-luck foster kid finally getting a taste of power and success. Of course he'd rather use his new powers to win the love of the superhero-adoring public than risk it all to stop a bad guy he didn't have anything to do with anyway.
Levi's Shazam is exactly how a young kid would act when given superpowers. Why can't he have some fun while other, more established heroes like Batman or Superman save the day? Of course, some bigger lessons about responsibility and what it means to be one of the good guys win out, but the journey to get there never becomes predictable.
After a decade of angsty big screen comic book fare, Shazam! is the perfect movie to bring out the kid in all of us. Not sure when it happened, but somehow, at some point along the way, we've forgotten that having fun can be cool too. Hopefully, Shazam! sparks a new movement within the genre and collective conscience that allows kindness and happiness prevail over moody, depressing themes and characters. At least for a little while. We could all use a little more joy in our lives, and Shazam! brings it in spades.
Sydney Bucksbaum covers movies, TV and comics for DCComics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SydneyBucksbaum.