‘Shazam!’: a Man-Boy Superhero for the Man-Boys

Say My Name Say My Name if No One is Around You

I saw the Shazam! movie. In a reasonably-faithful but modernized retelling of the classic comic-book story, Billy Batson, a handsome teenage orphan, moves into a multicultural foster townhouse in West Philadelphia. But rather than escape to Bel Air to live with his Uncle Carlton, he instead takes the subway and meets old Apollo Creed the wizard, who gives Billy a magic word–Bazinga!–that allows him to transform into an incredibly powerful superhero. He says “say my name” without bothering to quote Destiny’s Child, which is fine.

SHAZAM! ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Written by:Henry Gayden
Starring:Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Djimon Hounsou, Jack Dylan Grazer
Running time: 132 min


Shazam! is less a film than it is something you mail away for after collecting box tops. It has the same old-school, gee-whiz charm of the old black-and-white Captain Marvel serials on which it’s based. But it also contains a few segments of semi-scary violence, some emotional rawness, and two or three dick jokes. Zachary Levi, as Shazam, wears the “Big Red Cheese” suit convincingly, and is often very funny. Asher Angel (how can that be his real name?), as Billy, looks like he stepped right out of the pages of a comic book. As the villain, Mark Strong plays evil Stanley Tucci. He has too many scenes, but he looks the part. I really liked Jack Dylan Grazer, who gets a lot of screen time as Freddy Freeman, Billy’s differently-abled foster brother who grows up to be the first baseman for the Atlanta Braves.

This goofball superpowered boy-com borrows from a lot of pop-culture, both recent and not-so-recent. The antics of Billy and his all-ethnic Brady Bunch crew, especially when they’re running around a mystical cave complex, suggests multiple viewings of The Goonies. Billy and Freddy are teen-idol dreamboats straight out of Stranger Things. The movie owes pretty much everything to Big, from the bunkbeds that Billy and Freddy share to an obvious but awesome keyboard gag during a hilarious fight in a toy store.

Billy and Freddy share a refreshing beverage in Shazam!

Most of it, it copiously references other superhero movies, some of them better, some of them not. Shazam! exists entirely within the DC Cinematic Universe, which, with this movie, finally becomes a thing with a consistent tone. We’ve banished the darkness of the Nolan/Snyder years. Cheeky gee-whiz earnestness, with a multi-cultural bent, walks the Earth again.

Shazam! is 20 percent too long, 20 percent too sappy, and, let’s face it, kinda stupid. The movie’s monsters, who are supposed to be scary, just seem like typically cheap DC CGI.  But little boys will love it. Little girls will love it. And big fat man-boys, who made up 75 percent of the audience when I saw the movie, will love it too. They say this movie is for every boy who wishes he were a Superman, but it’s really for every man-boy who wishes he were a boy who wishes he were a Superman. Along those lines, while I won’t totally spoil how he appears, there’s an excellent Adam Brody cameo. Chrismukkah comes early this year.

This concludes my review of the Shazam! movie.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

One thought on “‘Shazam!’: a Man-Boy Superhero for the Man-Boys

  • April 5, 2019 at 11:52 am

    I thought the magic word was Benghazi


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