Does Shazam! really embody the “strength of Hercules?”
I think it depends on what you’re comparing it to.
If you’re one that thinks “fruit to fruit” is sufficient, it’s probably only as good as the most average of Marvel movies.
If you’re one that wants to dig a little deeper and compare “apples to apples,” then I’d say it’s definitely one of the better DC movies, but not the best.
The problem is that the bar is so high for Marvel and so low for DC that you can’t help but want to give DC a little more leeway, but the truth is that they’ve had more than enough chances to find their footing and still can’t seem to get it quite right.
And that’s not the opinion of some jaded, die-hard Marvel fanboy. I never read any comics growing up, but I was always a DC guy. I loved that Superman was a Boy Scout, that Batman was just rich, that GL had a power ring that could do anything, that Flash was the heart and soul of the team and that Wonder Woman was, well, Wonder Woman (no hero in any universe compares to her).
So I went into Shazam! with genuine hope that this was going to be a defining point in the franchise where DC finally built on the successes of Wonder Woman and Aquaman and started building on the wider, more exciting franchise. This movie did not do that. Instead, it continued to lumber down a road well-traveled to deliver yet another movie in a cinematic universe that is as defined by its drudgery as its moments of spectacle. It was a great movie and lots of fun, but, at least for me, it failed to move the DC cinematic universe forward. In fact, everything about it felt like a stand-alone piece, from the tone to the general appearance. In short, aside from some overt (and welcome) indications that it exists in the same world as Superman, et al., it lacked any convincing cohesion with the greater universe.
It is clear DC is desperately trying to learn from its mistakes. This movie had several laugh-out-loud moments and abandoned any and all broodiness. It kept the wanton destruction and death toll to a minimum. It gave us a diverse and amazing cast that was without a doubt the best part of the movie.
Unfortunately, it is also still clinging to many of the faults that have mired down so many of its predecessors. The cartoony and oppressive CGI maybe wasn’t as bad as what we saw in Batman v. Superman, Justice League or (sigh…) Suicide Squad, but that doesn’t mean it was good. And the villain was so underdeveloped you’ll be longing for the return of the Enchantress. In fact, as a writer I question whether the villain was even necessary. Had they been braver and the writing more confident, I would say not.
Where Shazam! surpassed its DC counterparts was in giving us a genuinely family-friendly superhero movie that was at times sincerely joyful.
Billy Batson has no idea how to be a hero. He doesn’t know how to fight. He’s relying on trial and error to figure out his powers. He is quick to run and hide. He is risk adverse, only comfortable dealing with low-hanging fruit and has difficulty committing. He frequently repeats the same attacks in foolish hopes of a different result. But when he finds his courage and embraces the things that make him strong (i.e. his character, his family, his wonder, his power) he becomes transformed by magic. He is, in fact, a perfect metaphor for the current state of the cinematic DCU.
And no spoilers, but there were two end credit scenes: one that dug confoundingly deep into DC’s otherwise impressive bench of recognizable characters and one that was hilarious. Unfortunately, the good one is last, so you need to stay to the very end of the credits!