New superhero movies seem to get released every week. And yet, Shazam! feels like a breath of fresh air in the overstuffed genre. How? The film refocuses the superhero experience by ignoring all the angst and high stakes that plague The Justice League and even the Avengers and instead brands itself as the best superhero family since The Incredibles, along with having a sense of humor that would make Deadpool shit his pants with envy.
Warning: There are going to be a lot of plot spoilers ahead. So if you haven’t seen Shazam!, what are you even doing here????
During the climactic fight between Shazam and Sivana, our teen protagonist realizes that he can use the magical staff to transform his five foster siblings into adult superheroes, with each of them having one of Shazam’s powers. It’s an extremely fun twist and watching five grown superheroes behave like kids ranging from age seven all the way up to 17 is genuinely hilarious. It also is immediately reminiscent of the other great superfamily: The Incredibles.
Strangely, the superhero genre does not exactly embrace families. Think about the Avengers. Despite Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, and most of the MCU heroes being in the perfect fatherhood range, almost none of them are parents, save for Ant-Man, Hawk-Eye, and Thanos (who famously MURDERED HIS DAUGHTER). That’s why it’s so refreshing to see a family be so foundational in Shazam!, as Billy isn’t just fighting alongside a bunch of strangers who were also randomly invited into a mysterious cave. He’s fighting alongside his family and while they are certainly going to have their fair share of fights and conflicts along the way, they can rest easy knowing that they have each other’s backs, no matter who they’re facing.
Shazam! also feels like a spiritual successor to the Incredibles in the way it brings a certain level of childlike wonder and joy to the discovery of superpowers. Often times in modern superhero movies, the protagonist immediately finds their powers to be a burden and wishes they could just be normal. In Shazam!, Billy is absolutely stoked to discover he has superpowers and perhaps the funniest sequence in the movie involves him and Freddy figuring out what powers he does and does not have. It’s similar to when Dash realizes his speed allows him to run on water or when Bob gets his groove back thanks to being called back into action. Yes, the danger is real but, at the same time, both The Incredibles and Shazam! wisely acknowledge that being a superhero would be really fucking sweet.
But while Shazam! undoubtedly shares a lot of the same family-centric DNA as The Incredibles, it also has a sense of humor that seems to directly be targeting the core superhero demographic: dudes who grew up loving superheroes. When Billy is suddenly an adult, two of the first things he does is try to buy beer and then heads to a strip club because that is exactly what every single 14-year-old boy would do if he suddenly became a grown man.
The movie also has a ton of fun subverting and poking fun at the tropes that have become cliches in super flicks, including the melodramatic supervillain monologue and the hero bravely deciding to hide their identity from everyone to protect the ones they love. Shazam! knows that at this point, audiences are intimately familiar with the beats that come with a cinematic caped crusader, so it brings a certain level of meta-humor that is sure to land with superfans. But it also doesn’t go overboard with its sense of self-awareness, ala Deadpool‘s neverending flow of snark and fourth-wall breaking.
So while Shazam! is certainly not going to be nearly as popular as Endgame, it does deserve credit for feeling like it’s doing something innovative with the superhero origin story, as opposed to just completing a superhero-themed madlibs that results in an entertaining but ultimately forgettable final product. Shazam! has a heart and a wicked sense of humor and while those can often feel like a contradiction, the movie manages to pull it all off in a way that is wildly entertaining and wholly original. Hopefully, some of his superhero counterparts are taking note.