I have to admit, when I first saw the trailer for DC’s Shazam!, I didn’t think it would be a very good movie. Funny, sure, but cringy. Thankfully, the actual movie proved me very wrong: while, yes, the movie has its silly (and even cringy) moments, it’s actually very enjoyable to watch. After DC’s dark, broody superhero movies (looking at you, Batman and Superman,) it was refreshing to watch a DC hero come to life in a fun adaptation.
Now, before we dive into the heart of the matter, let’s take a closer look at the character of Shazam: who is he, exactly? Well, he started out as DC’s Captain Marvel, believe it or not. No relation to Carol Danvers, and no relation to Marvel. When the comics were created in the 1940s, Shazam and his siblings were known as the Marvel family. These comics were discontinued, and, by the time a reboot was made, Marvel had come out with their own Captain Marvel. The DC character was then renamed Shazam.
In the movie, Shazam is Billy Batson, a young kid in foster care with only one goal in mind: run away and find his birth mother. However, after he’s transported to another dimension and given superpowers by a mysterious wizard, Billy inherits the identity of Shazam. This means that whenever he says the magic word, he transforms into a better, older, and immensely more powerful version of himself. While he initially uses his newfound powers selfishly, Billy Batson soon needs to face his new responsibilities. Before you start reading, consider this your official spoiler warning!
30 Worst: Representation Of Female Characters
After superhero movies featuring strong, smart, powerful female characters, like Black Panther, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, or even The Incredibles 2, it was saddening to see how Shazam! treated its female characters. Sure, they’re there, but they felt like an afterthought. Darla and Mary are great, but they feel very one-dimensional, and the main characters— villain included— are all male. And don’t get me started on Billy’s mother, whose storyline felt rather forced and whose character was treated unjustly— after all, she barely had any screen time.
29 Best: A Feel-Good Superhero Movie
Despite all the negative points I’ll be listing in this article, I rather enjoyed Shazam! In fact, I came out of it with a smile on my face, which was rather refreshing in a post-Avengers: Infinity War world. Imagine that, a superhero movie with a happy ending.
Shazam! may have its weak points, but it’s funny and enjoyable to watch; in other words, it’s perfect if you need a pick-me-up. Looking for a feel-good movie that’s not a sappy romcom? Shazam! has you covered.
28 Worst: Underwhelming Villain
Poor Thaddeus Sivana just keeps disappointing people: his father, his brother, the wizard, and now, the audience. Thad had the makings of a good villain— the scars, the sad childhood, the evil eye, the cool leather coat— , but unfortunately, he ended up being rather underwhelming.
Abused by his father and brother, he grew up mad at the world and ended up being manipulated by evil entities who used him to seek world domination… or something like that. The exact goal isn't clear; all we really know is that Thad is evil.
27 Worst: Wizard Clichés
I just mentioned the wizard, and, well, the actor did his best, but the character comes across as cringy and cliché. It’s pretty clear he’s meant to poke fun at the “wise old wizard” trope— after all, his name is Shazam.
This would have been interesting, but the way the movie character is written doesn’t do the idea justice. Just like Billy’s mother, he doesn’t have enough screen time to become fully fleshed out, and he just becomes the clichés he’s meant to poke fun at.
26 Worst: The Seven Deadly Sins
Talking about clichés… the Seven Seadly Sins? Really? They could have been any other demon or evil entity, and it wouldn’t have changed much. We’re mixing wizards, superheroes, and Christian ideas here; it’s amusing at best, and confusing at worst. The movie uses the “deadly sins” narrative twice: when Thad sets one of the sins loose on his father and when Shazam taunts Envy. Other than that, we’re not quite sure what purpose the “Deadly Sins” serve. They’re ugly, they’re evil, and that’s pretty much it.
25 Best: Brotherly Love Between Billy And Freddy
Watching Billy and Freddy work together, bicker, and basically become brothers was pretty heartwarming. The two of them really make the movie! And I have to admit my heart broke when Billy didn’t show up for Freddy during lunchtime. The best thing about these two is that Freddy almost acts as Billy’s “conscience," telling Billy off when he gets carried away.
Freddy isn’t afraid to be straight with his new brother, thankfully! And the scenes at the beginning where they’re testing out Billy’s powers are some of the best in the movie.
24 Worst: We Never Get To See Mary’s Power
Spoiler alert: all the siblings get some kind of power at the end. Billy transfers his powers to them, and they all get one: Freddy finally gets to fly, Darla gets super speed, Pedro gets super strength, Eugene gets electricity, and Mary… well, we’re not sure what Mary gets, aside from her superhero costume. Logically speaking, she should have received one of Billy’s powers— maybe resistance to fire? In the movie, in any case, it’s very uncertain what she actually is capable of, as we don’t see her do anything except struggle against one of the Deadly Sins.
23 Worst: More Eugene, Please
Eugene, Billy’s tech-savvy little brother, is arguably one of the best characters in the movie… and while his siblings definitely appreciate him, he doesn’t appear nearly often enough. Much like Pedro, Eugene gets very little screen time, which is a shame, as he has some pretty good line. Not to mention, he ends up being fairly essential to the plot, as he uncovers Billy’s mom’s identity, triggering a series of revelations for the young hero. In short, more Eugene in the movie would have been a great idea.
22 Best: A New Kind Of Superhero
Say what you want about Shazam/Billy, he does have the merit of being refreshing. Sure, the whole “hero learning to control their powers” trope isn’t new, but the comedic way it’s handled in Shazam! sets the movie’s protagonist aside from well-known heroes like Superman, Spider-Man and Batman. Not to mention, it’s especially good to have an atypical hero when you compare him to Thad, who couldn’t fit the mold of the typical comic villain more perfectly if he tried. True to his character, Billy doesn’t act like you’d expect him to.
21 Worst: High School Clichés
I’ve talked a bit about clichés already, and here I am again, because, well, this movie has a lot of them. Since Shazam! partially takes place in a high school, it features all your not-so-favourite high school tropes, starting with the obligatory pair of bullies. I feel that there could have been a way of showing that Freddy experiences adversity in life that didn’t feature these uni-dimensional characters. The bullies are secondary antagonists, but, just like the main baddy Thaddeus, they’re pretty disappointing.
20 Worst: Is Billy Too Adult?
Part of Shazam’s whole “thing” is that he transforms into an adult when he says his name. It’s pretty impressive the first couple of times, but the problem is that the transformations are awkwardly written. Billy/Shazam gets stuck in a sort of limbo between teenage-hood and adulthood.
Unfortunately, it feels like watching an adult who occasionally remembers he’s meant to be a kid (again, the problem is more with the way the character is written than with the acting.) On the bright side, Billy’s creative use of his transformation power when he’s fighting is pretty great to watch.
19 Best: The Movie Doesn’t Take Itself Too Seriously
I’d be unfair to Shazam! if I didn’t mention that it’s not trying to take itself too seriously. Not all the jokes land, and there are some plot holes, which is ok! Shazam! isn’t trying to be the next Avengers or Captain Marvel. It’s an enjoyable movie with humor, tension, and the occasional silly scene, and that’s what actually makes it pretty good. Sometimes it’s good to remember that comics are sort of silly sometimes (for instance, Spider-Man fights an enemy called The Wall, who, you guessed it, is a wall,) and Shazam! does exactly that.
18 Worst: Unnecessary Violence
One thing that struck me early on in the movie (no pun intended) is the jarring violence of certain scenes— particularly the scenes featuring Thaddeus. For instance, the scene where he storms into his father’s meeting and attacks him, his brother, and their associates seems unnecessarily violent and graphic (I won’t give too much away, but it’s not pretty to look at) in a movie that, until this point, was fairly child-friendly. As I’ve already mentioned, Thaddeus is pretty much evil incarnate— there’s no need to graphically display how cruel he is.
17 Worst: Abrupt Shifts In Tone
In fact, on a similar note, the whole movie seems to have problems finding its tone. It goes from childish and playful to violent and disturbing in the span of a few seconds, and the transitions are really quite abrupt. I’m not saying that you can’t have fun scenes juxtaposed with violent scenes (look at Deadpool or The Umbrella Academy,) but Shazam! does this in a way that’s inexplicably awkward. Same goes for the transitions between comedic scenes and dramatic scenes— they don’t always work in this movie.
16 Best: The Soundtrack
Like many recent superhero movies, Shazam! features a stellar soundtrack. In the cinema, most people around me smiled broadly when Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now and The Ramones’ I Don’t Want to Grow Up came on, and I still had Eye of the Tiger stuck in my head for days after thanks to that musical lightning bolt scene. These licensed songs work pretty well with Shazam’s original soundtrack— not that it wasn’t good by itself! In short, the music in Shazam! really helped the movie stand out.
15 Worst: That Costume Really Is Awful
Pedro says it best: Shazam’s costume is pretty ridiculous. Sure, this ties into what I was saying earlier about the movie not taking itself seriously, but at the same time, it’s hard to overlook the costume during the first few scenes Billy has it on. The giant lightning bolt at least has the merit of looking less cumbersome on Billy’s costume than on the wizard, but the bright red costume and white cape just don’t help poor Billy’s credibility. Then again, like Billy himself points out, he didn’t really choose the costume.
14 Worst: I’ve Seen This Plot Before…
While the character of Shazam is pretty different from your average superhero, the plot of the movie doesn’t really offer anything new. A wizard must choose an apprentice/successor to carry his legacy. An evil villain (with powers that conveniently match the hero’s) and his evil minions set out to destroy said apprentice and do evil things.
While figuring out how to defeat the villain, the hero finds out important things and gains new friends (or in this case, family) along the way. Shazam! thankfully didn’t try and force a romantic sub-plot on top of all this, which was a relief.
13 Best: Our Introduction To Billy
The very first scene in which Billy appears, where he calls the cops, tricks them, locks them in a shop and consequently breaks into their car to find out information about a woman he thinks might be his mother… and steal one of the officers’ lunches. This scene effectively does three things: after Thaddeus’ exposition scene, it offers comic relief; it plays with your expectations, and it’s an excellent introduction to Billy’s character. In other words, it started the movie out right.
12 Worst: Billy As A Child (Aside From That First Scene)
Problem is, after that first scene, Billy’s character (or at least his child self) grows almost unlikeable. Yes, his quest for his mother is tragic, but the movie doesn’t spend enough time on it, and, as a result, it’s hard to get attached to the character. In fact, not including it might have been easier.
Not to mention, while it’s understandable that he would act out against his parents, he’s also terrible to his siblings. He ignores Mary, upsets Darla then manipulates her, steals one of Freddy’s most prized possessions (and only comes clean because he needed Freddy’s help.)
11 Worst: Not Enough Of The Siblings Bonding
On that note, after all that Freddy has done to his foster siblings, after several scenes where he refuses to participate in family traditions, after his general attitude towards everyone else in the movie, it felt a bit forced to see him suddenly call them his family and start treating them like such. Of course, Billy and his siblings just went through a traumatic fight against a super-villain, and he discovers that his mother abandoned him…but we don’t really see scenes where the siblings bond as a family (aside from the bond between Freddy and Billy.)
10 Best: A Good Plot Twist
One of the things that made Shazam! so enjoyable to watch was its ability to keep surprising us. The trailer made the movie look fairly predictable, but, thankfully, this wasn’t entirely the case. I’ve already mentioned Shazam’s character and Billy’s unique use of his transformation ability, but the biggest surprise comes from the final plot twist.
Billy uses the wizard’s staff to transfer his powers to his siblings. The question that remains is why did he get to keep all his powers after the transfer while the wizard lost his, but that’s another story.
9 Worst: A Long Movie…
While Shazam! is enjoyable, I’m not entirely sure I’d watch it again, simply because it is a bit long. While the movie exceeded my expectations, some parts felt forced and dragged on. Some subplots were stretched and thinned out (the bullies, for instance,) while others would have deserved to be a bit more fleshed out (as I was saying earlier, the relationship between the siblings for instance.) This being said, it was far from boring; it’s just not a movie you’d watch twice.
8 Worst: …That Takes A While To Get Started
In fact, the movie’s length might have gone unnoticed had the action taken less time to get started. There’s a bit too much time, if you ask me, between our first encounter with the wizard (when he tests Thaddeus) and Billy’s meeting with him.
There’s also a lot of focus on the action at the school (which, as I mentioned earlier, was fairly cliché.) All in all, the movie might have benefited from Billy getting his powers a little faster.
7 Best: Some Good Visuals
I did criticize Shazam’s costume earlier, but I do have to admit that wasn’t entirely fair of me. The visuals in the film are interesting, as they’re a little different from the sleek, ultra-modern aesthetics recent superhero films got us used to. The bright colors, the silly costume, the sometimes awkward special effects, the lighting, the set… A lot of this takes inspiration from the '80s, giving the film a fun, retro aesthetic that definitely fits with the story (with the exception of, as I’ve mentioned, the violent scenes involving Thad.)
6 Worst: The Special Effects
While yes, the special effects were part of the overall aesthetic, something felt slightly off about them. They weren’t bad, of course, but it felt like the movie was having an identity crisis trying to balance out modern visual effect and a retro vibe, which led to a jarring juxtaposition.
Thad and Billy/Shazam using their powers? Pretty cool. The Seven Deadly Sins monsters? Not so much. (No, I’m still not over those Sins.) The thing is, had the special effects been harmoniously modern or harmoniously nostalgic, it could have worked out, but the mix of both feels odd.
5 Worst: Why Was Billy Chosen By Shazam?
In the early scenes, it’s clearly explained that the wizard (or Shazam, but let’s keep referring to him as the wizard for clarity) wants nothing short of the best for his champion. He’s seeking a pure heart, and, as Thad points out, it’s hard to be certain that even exists.
Yes, when he chooses Billy, he’s desperate to pass on his powers to anyone, but after all the trouble he went through, it feels odd that Billy ends up being the chosen one (as I’ve mentioned before, he can be…not great.) No wonder Thad is frustrated!
4 Best: Darla’s Character
Really, all of Billy’s siblings were pretty amazing. And how can you not love Darla, Billy’s adorable (if chatty) little foster sister? Both as her child self and as her adult superhero self, Darla managed to be almost instantly endearing, which isn’t the case of well, the protagonist of the movie. I don’t know about you, but I would absolutely watch a Shazam! spin off or sequel starring Darla instead of Billy. In fact, learning more about any of the new Shazam heroes would be great!
3 Worst: Two Dimensional Parents
While Billy’s foster siblings were, on the whole, pretty cool characters, his foster parents felt a bit like cookie cutter parents. Yes, they’re great, but as characters, they could have had more depth. Rosa and Victor Vasquez do exactly two things in the movie: they worry about their children, and they’re loving parents. Yet, we know that they both were in foster care as children, and we’re given hints of a past… but nothing concrete enough to flesh out the characters.
2 Worst: Billy’s Search For His Mother
Billy’s birth mother, on the other hand, had the potential to be an interesting parent character. Thanks to her, Billy’s origin story differs a bit from most superheroes'. She achieves that by being alive, for one. The fact that she’s not presented as an inspiration, but as a girl who tragically became a mom too young and got stressed is also innovative for hero movies. However, her sub-plot felt rushed and almost forced, and could probably have been handled better.
1 Best: There’s More To Shazam! Than You’d Think
At the end of the day, however, Shazam! is a much better movie than the trailer would have let you believe. Yes, it has its faults, but what movie doesn’t? All in all, having listed the twenty worst things about this movie— and the ten best— I would say that the good sides outweigh the bad. It’s a great movie to watch if you’re in need of cheering up, or simply in the mood for a fun superhero movie, and I for one can’t wait to see if there will be a sequel.