We’re in the middle of a cinematic superhero sandwich this month as both Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame acts as the metaphorical Marvel bun to DC’s monkey in the middle, Shazam! And while this refreshing new superhero movie opened with a rewarding $53.5 million at the domestic box office last weekend, Warner Bros. Entertainment has a long way to go before they catch up to Disney/Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel (which has recently joined the billion dollar club). Even Avengers: Endgame has already Hulk-smashed the record for highest grossing presale tickets of all time! Shazam! is the new kid on the superhero block, literally, and his solo movie seems to veer from the expected tone of other DC Extended Universe (DCEU) movies, like Justice League and Aquaman; moviegoers are still trying to figure out who Shazam is, exactly…

Along with figuring out where Shazam fits in the DCEU, rumours have circulated stating Shazam is also named Captain Marvel, which only confuses casual moviegoers even further. Is Shazam also named Captain Marvel? The answer is no, not anymore, but Shazam was originally named Captain Marvel before Marvel Comics came into fruition. When Marvel Comics gained popularity, the word “marvel” had a lot of notoriety, so the comic publisher reclaimed the name in a lawsuit and bestowed it upon Carol Danvers, the “Captain Marvel” we know today. Subsequently, DC Comics named their hero formerly known as Captain Marvel… Shazam!

What about Superman? Is Shazam based on Superman? Originally, the answer is yes. It’s obvious Shazam exudes a similar look and uniform as Superman, and a lot of the heroes’ powers are similar, too. They both have superhuman strength and speed. They can both fly. And they’re both “faster than a speeding bullet” (not to mention bulletproof)! But where Superman is considered an alien from another planet who’s born with his powers, Shazam is a mere human being who inherits his abilities through magic: Superman lends his origins to science fiction whereas Shazam is pure fantasy. It’s true the latter wouldn’t exist without the former, so there are some great nods to Superman (and even Batman and Aquaman) throughout the entire film. 

Directed by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation), Shazam! is here to be a hero, not a bully, and the film’s tone and overall message reflect that superbly. Shazam! is among Sandberg’s best work, if not the best he’s ever delivered, and with some frighteningly fun horror elements incorporated within the villains’ esthetic (the 7 Deadly Sins are awesome), Shazam! is an adventurous superhero comedy if there ever was one! Think Superman meets Deadpool sprinkled with elements of Harry Potter at Christmas time; it’s bonkers, but it works almost effortlessly. In fact, a Christmas release (considering the entire film takes place during the holiday season) could have propelled Shazam! to new heights. If you consider how well Aquaman did over the Christmas break, the two DCEU movies could have swapped release dates, bringing Aquaman into the spring/summer season and Shazam! (a bonafide Christmas movie featuring mall Santas and winter Christmas markets) into the holly jolly, family-friendly Christmas season. If Die Hard is considered a Christmas movie, so should Shazam!

Initially, Zachary Levi (Disney’s Tangled, Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok) was criticized by fans for how he looked in Shazam’s cartoonish-looking super suit, but the actor gets the last laugh as his suit translates much better on-screen than it did in early photos, and as preposterous as it may appear, Shazam is in on the joke. Plus, Levi will likely be suiting up in the lightening bolt-encrusted unitard again as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Hobbs & Shaw) is confirmed to star in a Black Adam solo movie – a known enemy of Shazam in the comics.

Before the adventures of Shazam! take off, the heart of this debut film lies within the touching story of an orphaned teenage boy. We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out, and in 14-year-old Billy Batson’s case (played by the talented Asher Angel), shouting out one word – “SHAZAM!” – turns this streetwise foster kid into a grown-up superhero named… Captain Sparkle Fingers! No, The Red Cyclone!… The neverending names for Shazam are both comic book-accurate and made-up, but they’re all placed in a timely and humorous fashion.

The entire 2h 3m feature is set in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia PA, but there’s no hiding the Torontonian scenery and landmarks. From Spadina Subway Station to Woodbine Shopping Center, Toronto’s cityscape is a shining extra in Shazam!’s overall grandeur. Other popular genre titles like Total Recall, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Kick-Ass 1 & 2, Pacific Rim, Scott Pilgrim, Carrie (2013), IT Chapter 1 & 2, Netflix’s Umbrella Academy and another DC Comics hit, Suicide Squad, were all filmed in the Canadian city, and now Shazam! can join the list.

Overall, Shazam! is an exciting new venture suitable for all ages, even if a few middle fingers, frightening monsters and “S bombs” make their way into the otherwise wholesome film. There are some fun surprises, too, but they may not register with casual moviegoers as well as they will for comic book fans, and while the main villain (Dr. Sivana, played by Mark Strong of Kingsmen: The Secret Service) embodies a similarity to Superman’s Lex Luther, all the other characters – especially the band of loveable foster kids played by child actors Jack Dylan Grazer (IT), Ian Chen (ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat) and newcomer Faithe Herman ( TV’s This Is Us) – unite to portray one of the best on-screen families in recent memory. Not since Harry Potter have wizards with lightning bolts been so enjoyable!

“Every hero has a secret.”

4 Popcorn Kernels / 5

TIP: Stay for not one but two extra scenes. One mid-credit scene and one post credit scene.



About the Author

Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.