‘Shazam’ spins a superhero fantasy into an appreciation of chosen families



WOW: Freddy Freeman, played by Jack Dylan Glazer, is amazed by Billy Batson’s transformation from boy to superhero.

By Yishai Thau, Staff Writer

Kids feel less important than adults. Kids are shorter, not as strong, and not as powerful. If a kid were suddenly given all the size, strength and power of an adult, what would happen?  

What if a child had the size and strength of an adult, but not the mind? To take that a step further, what if a kid became an adult superhero? Shazam powerfully explores this by giving the adults watching a chance to remember that little kid we all still are inside.

Directed by David F. Sandberg and written by Henry Gayden, Shazam follows Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a street-smart 14-year-old foster kid who, after running away from too many foster homes, is transferred to a group foster home. There he meets Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), an awkward yet lovable kid with a walking disability. Freddy, Billy, and his newfound foster siblings are all enrolled in the same school.

After an escape from the local bully, Billy encounters an old magical being named Shazam, played by Djimon Housou. Shazam makes Billy “champion of the gods,” giving him the speed, strength, and agility of several gods of Greek mythology.

This movie is a delightful ride. Its characters are loveable, and each one is developed strongly and written with complexity and relatability. Billy Batson is given a great backstory, including having been orphaned at a very young age. Without spoiling the ultimate reveal, this backstory is given an added perspective that shifts Billy’s emotional connection towards his foster family. We experience Billy’s loss and regret with him, and the closure that comes later, too.

The connection between Freddy Freeman and Billy Batson also makes Shazam special. Both cast off at a young age and bullied for it at school, the characters’ shared suffering fuels a strong and visible bond. An emotionally resonant writing style drives the audience’s connection to them — each one goes through so much struggle and strife that by the end of the movie, the rewards in the story are all the more satisfying for everyone.

Shazam also explores uncharted territory within the superhero genre, including the effects of childhood abandonment and chosen families. The best movies today blend genres together, and recently the best superhero films have as well. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) is also a political spy thriller; Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is also a comedic space opera. Shazam is both a superhero movie and a comedic family drama, making it fresh and original.

But Shazam’s most impactful quality is its powerful message: that chosen families could actually be as or more important than biological ones. It’s one that anyone can take with them. Billy Batson starts out reluctant to join this group home of other kids he doesn’t think are his real family. But as the film progresses, he realizes that they are his true family, and care more for him than any biological one he’s ever had.

As a 14-year-old kid, Billy also has to stand up on his own two feet and become deserving of his newfound superhero powers. The physical and mental weight he has to carry is immense, and sometimes nearly impossible. He has to both juggle his school life as well as his superhero life. He tries and fails many times at doing this, and finally matures enough to earn his superhero name — though in the end, he still retains his childlike wonder and sentiment.  

Shazam thus delivers on the promise of giving kids the feeling of what it’s like to be an adult and a superhero on a basic level. But it also pulls at our heartstrings, delivering an impacting story about the strength of friendship and the families we that we deserve.