In Philadelphia, 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is searching for his mother, having gotten separated from her during a carnival as a child. Over the years, he’s run away from several foster homes in his continuing quest to find her and the most recent doesn’t want him back.
However, a home run by Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews) welcomes him.
He’s introduced to his foster siblings, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), Mary Bromfield (Grace Fulton), Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman), Eugene Choi (Ian Chen) and Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand), but he remains standoffish. He doesn’t participate in a dinner-time ritual of joining hands and at school the next day he hurts Darla’s feelings by telling her they’re not actually related.
To his credit he immediately regrets this, in large part because Darla (who’d greeted him with an enthusiastic hug) is a little kid.
Later that day, when some bullies beat up Freddy, who walks with a crutch, Billy defends him.
He then eludes the bullies in the subway system. On board the train, the other passengers vanish, leaving Billy alone. The windows ice up and the doors open to reveal a large cavern.
This, we later learn, is the Rock of Eternity. Billy encounters an old man sitting on one of seven thrones. The man (Djimon Hounsou), who identifies himself as the wizard Shazam, says he’s chosen Billy as champion. He tells Billy to grasp the staff he’s holding and say his name.
Billy acquiesces, primarily to humor the old man, and is transformed into an adult wearing a red costume and white cape (Zachary Levi).
This, of course, is Captain Marvel.
Well, not any more, as I explained last month. However, while the “Big Red Cheese” is now called “Shazam” in the comics, he’s never officially given a name in the movie. For convenience sake, I’ll refer to Billy’s superhero persona as “Shazam” from now on and the wizard as the Wizard.
Ironically, Djimon Hounsou also appears in Captain Marvel as Korath, a character he first played in Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Wizard, who crumbled to dust upon transferring his power, had been seeking a champion for a long time. Decades earlier, he’d tested a young Thaddeus Sivana (Ethan Pugiotto), but Sivana failed to prove worthy and was rejected.
In the present day, a short time before Billy is given the power, the adult Sivana (Mark Strong) has discovered how to return to the Rock of Eternity. He confronts the Wizard and frees the Seven Deadly Sins, who take up residence in his body and give him super powers as a result. With help from the Sins, who manifest in large, monstrous forms, he kills his father and brother (John Glover and Wayne Ward), along with the board of directors at his father’s company.
Shazam convinces Freddy that he’s a transformed Billy and turns to him for help in figuring out what’s going on. Freddy declares himself this new superhero’s manager and tries to come up with a number of superhero names, including “Captain Sparklefingers” (because of Shazam’s ability to generate bolts of lightning.
Shazam roundly rejects that name.
Shazam and Freddy conduct a series of tests to determine what powers he possesses. He has strength, bullet immunity and hyper speed.
On the other hand, he’s not doing too well when it comes to flying.
He also has no idea how to change back into his normal self, so he and Freddy sneak into the Vasquez house under cover of darkness and head upstairs.
Fortunately, Shazam doesn’t have to worry about leaving unseen the next day because he inadvertently triggers the transformation back into Billy by telling Freddy about meeting the Wizard and saying “Shazam.”
Darla witnesses this transformation, but Billy and Freddy swear her to secrecy.
Meanwhile, Sivana has learned of this new champion and seeks to destroy him before he can realize his full potential.
For his part, Shazam performs a lot of tricks for the crowds and poses for selfies. One trick inadvertently causes a bus to crash and fall from a bridge, but he catches it.
Freddy reprimands him, pointing out that he, “Electrocuted a bus and almost killed these people.”
“But then I caught it.”
Later, Sivana, having seen Freddy and Shazam together in TV news footage, threatens the boy.
When he subsequently learns where Freddy lives, he threatens all the kids and forces Shazam to return with him to the Rock of Eternity, where he intends to make Shazam transfer the power to him, using the Wizard’s staff.
Shazam is able to extricate himself and the kids from the situation and get them back to Philadelphia, but Sivana, now in possession of the wizard’s staff, attacks the crowd at a carnival.
At this point, the other foster kids all know that Billy is this new hero (I’ll get to that in a bit).
During the battle, Shazam comes to realize the meaning of something the Wizard had said to him, wrests the staff away from Sivana and instructs the five kids to grasp the staff.
“Say my name,” he says.
“Billy!” they reply.
“No, say the name I say to change into this guy.”
Freddy, Mary, Darla, Eugene and Pedro are transformed into super hero versions of themselves, played, respectively, by Adam Brody, Michelle Borth, Meagan Good, Ross Butler and D.J. Cotrona.
Led by Mary, they distract the Sins, drawing them away from Sivana and making him that much less powerful.
Together, the six heroes stop Sivana and return the Seven Deadly Sins to the Rock of Eternity, where Shazam encases them in stone, as the Wizard had done before.
Back at the Vasquez home, Billy, having accepted that these people are his true family, leads everyone in the mealtime ritual.
In his cell, as shown in the mid credits sequence, Sivana has a most unusual visitor.
Do I recommend seeing Shazam? Sure. It’s not perfect, but it’s still an enjoyable film. In many ways, it’s a movie about family (in all its myriad forms) that happens to concern a superhero more so than it’s a superhero movie, per se.
In fact, it’s Billy’s foster siblings who help him succeed in locating his mother (Caroline Palmer) when he’d all but given up hope.
As to the superhero aspect of the film, I think there may have been a bit too much of Shazam showing off and not enough of him being a hero.
Ironically, it may be one of the most realistic superhero movies, despite the fact that it involves magic, because Shazam shows off so much. Billy Batson is 14 and Shazam acts like a 14-year-old might if suddenly given super powers.
In-universe, how would Freddy have behaved if the Wizard had chosen him? He’s a fan of both Superman and Batman (he has a bullet that had been fired at Superman, (complete with certificate of authenticity, as well as a replica batarang) and seems more interested in and knowledgeable about superheroes overall than Billy before his transformation.
Granted, Freddy was enthusiastic about many of Shazam’s “tricks”, and he might have done much of the same, but I suspect he might have been more actively superheroing sooner than Shazam did.
Wonder how their approaches to being a superhero will differ in a sequel?
I mentioned that the other foster kids know Billy is this new hero. Mary figures it out, which comes as a relief to Darla, who isn’t good at keeping secrets.
Earlier in the film, Shazam had saved a distracted Mary from being hit while crossing the street and addressed her by name. He’d also knows other things about her. Granted Mary’s very smart, but it’s still a hell of a leap to connect the adult superhero with the teenage Billy Batson.
She made the connection based on the fact that A) he knew her name; B) she’d seen Shazam and Freddy together on TV and C) the fact that Freddy and Billy had argued about this new superhero at the dinner table.
Of course it helps that Darla immediately confirms her suspicions.
Shazam contains elements of the original Captain Marvel’s origin story (the subway train that leads to the Rock of Eternity, Sivana being the first villain the “Big Red Cheese“ faced), along with aspects of more recent interpretations of the character (Billy having foster siblings who share the power).
So, what do Captain Marvel and Shazam have in common?
Apparently, they hang out together.
.And why not? They’re both great characters appearing in enjoyable movies.
Copyright 2019 Patrick Keating.