'Shazam!' is a superhero movie for kids, and that's a great thing

Billy (Zachary Levi) and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) have some fun in 'Shazam!'
Billy (Zachary Levi) and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) have some fun in ‘Shazam!’
Image: Steve Wilkie / Warner Bros.

It’s been a long time since superheroes could be dismissed as mere kid stuff, thanks to stories as intelligent as Black Panther or as disturbing as The Dark Knight or as gleefully inappropriate as Deadpool.

But lost in all the praise over how mature and thoughtful and boundary-pushing these films can be is the fact that, well, superheroes are kid stuff. Most of us first fell in love with these larger-than-life crusaders as children, over comic books or Saturday morning cartoons or family trips to the multiplex.

Shazam! is the first live-action superhero movie in a while that seems to remember this. It’s pitched as, essentially, a beefed-up Big – a wish-fulfillment fantasy of becoming older and stronger and cooler – but with the emotional complexity of the best kids’ stories.

The premise of Shazam! is rather batty, even by comic-book-hero standards: Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a Philly foster kid with a Han Solo-ish tendency toward recklessness, is magically selected as the champion for an ancient circle of wizards sworn to protect humankind from the Seven Deadly Sins. 

Or, eh, something like that. The tl;dr of it all is that Billy emerges with the ability to transform himself into a grown-up superhero (a perfectly cast Zachary Levi) simply by uttering “shazam,” and promptly goes about acting exactly as you’d expect a 14-year-old suddenly blessed with these gifts to act. – within the limits of a PG-13 blockbuster, of course.

Meanwhile, he’s chased by Thaddeus (Mark Strong), who as a young boy was himself considered for the champion role, only to be sent down a dark path when he was unceremoniously dumped and told he’d never be worthy.

The material involving Thaddeus and the Seven Deadly Sins might be the only thing that keeps Shazam! from feeling like a true all-ages adventure. Director David F. Sandberg made his name in horror (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation) before helming Shazam! and it shows, in that he’s perhaps too effective at making the monsters scary. Those watching with younger or more sensitive children will want to exercise caution.

But Shazam! otherwise seems tailor-made for the young and the young at heart. The pacing is bouncy, the jokes are goofy, and the colors are vivid. The ponderousness and ambivalence that hang over many of the “grown-up” entries in the genre are absent here; Shazam! is a big open sky inviting you to come on up and test out those flight powers you just acquired. 

Preferably with a friend who can really appreciate it, like Billy’s foster brother and resident superhero expert Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, the clear standout of the young cast). One of Shazam!‘s most delightful surprises is its young cast, who play their characters not as precocious movie brats but as real three-dimensional individuals with their own idiosyncrasies.

What keeps Shazam! from floating off into space, though, is its grounded approach to Billy’s non-superheroic problems. The film takes seriously the challenges of childhood and adolescence, and the long-ranging effects of early traumas. Billy’s messy feelings about finding a new family, after losing his mother years ago, are given every bit as much weight as his journey toward becoming a true hero.

It’s unexpectedly rocky emotional terrain for an otherwise sunny film about the sheer fun of getting real big and punching out bad guys in front of adoring crowds, but Shazam! navigates it confidently, letting organic character development take the lead and striking a balance between humor and heart. And in the end, it fits, because that’s another thing Shazam! gets right about kid stuff: It knows that being a child can be really freaking complicated sometimes. 

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The latest 'Star Wars Battlefront II' mode mixes human and AI players


DICE/EA

DICE and EA are determined to keep Star Wars Battlefront II fresh a year after the loot box fiasco effectively came to an end. They’re releasing an update on March 26th that introduces Capital Supremacy, a Clone Wars-era mode that includes AI characters for the first time in competitive Battlefront II matches. Two teams of 20 human players, each augmented by 12 computer-guided troopers, will race to invade each other’s spaceships. It’s a complex, multi-stage mode that could lead to prolonged fights if there are any big upsets.

It starts out with a territory control phase on the ground. If you control a majority of the points for long enough, you become the attacker during a ship invasion phase and have to race to a shuttle to increase the number of reinforcements you get when the assault starts. Once onboard the ship, the attackers have to break through defense systems and destroy the ship’s weak points to win. There’s a kicker, though: if the defenders hold out, they send the fight back to the ground and will even command an advantage. Any damage to ships sticks around, so attackers who get a second try could have a much better chance at victory.

The initial Capital Supremacy mode is limited to one map on Geonosis, although it will introduce two new units (Republic ARC Troopers and Separatist BX Commando Droids) to match the setting. Will this attract people burned by Battlefront II‘s initial troubles? Probably not. However, it might keep you engaged if you thought the shooter was running out of steam.

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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has best Steam launch of the year

In brief: Hotly anticipated title Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a.k.a. Dark Souls with ninjas, has achieved a monstrously successful launch on Friday. Publicly available Steam stats show the game with 108,000 concurrent players – more than any other Steam release in 2019 so far.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has only been out for a day and it’s already off to a great start. The critical response and players’ reactions seem to be universally positive, and that’s translated nicely into sales for FromSoftware’s latest title.

In its first 24 hours, Sekiro had 108,000 concurrent players on Steam. While that’s not the same astronomical numbers as other recent titles like Apex: Legends, it’s enough to make Sekiro the top Steam release so far for 2019.

At the time of writing, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is atop Steam’s Top Selling list, having dethroned Far Cry New Dawn, and has a ‘Very Positive’ rating from the community.

Sekiro is made by FromSoftware, the company behind infamous death-fest games Dark Souls and Bloodborne. The game is less grim and fantastical than its older brothers, opting for a gorgeous Japanese aesthetic. Set in Shengoku era Japan, players take on the role of an unnamed shinobi warrior to “unleash an arsenal of deadly prosthetic tools and powerful ninja abilities.”

The plot is one-step removed from the clichéd ‘save the princess’ trope, as players are charged with regaining their honor by rescuing a young lord. But this is first and foremost a game for players looking for a challenge, not an original story.

There is one mitigating factor in this success story. With the number of major releases being published on platforms other than Steam this year – like The Division 2, Anthem, and Metro: Exodus – competition has been less fierce for that top spot. But FromSoftware can definitely be content with the initial sales of Sekiro, especially as it’s a new IP with no brand recognition to draw players in.

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Adele and Jennifer Lawrence dropped in on a popular NYC gay bar and partied hard

Patrons at the popular New York City gay bar Pieces got a big surprise on Friday night when ho-hum music superstar Adele and one of her besties, Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, dropped by for some drinks and some fun. 

Introducing herself onstage as a “stay-at-home mom,” Adele garnered loud cheers from the crowd during the bar’s “Frisky Fridays” drag show. Adele was later joined by Lawrence who was having just as much fun as her pal.

Oh, and at one point, Lawrence literally took Adele down.

The pair had plenty of fun just hanging out and mingling and soaking in all the fun on a Friday night as everyone should, really. 

Friendship goals now have a new high bar set for 2019.

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Image: @PapacitoBach/Twitter

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Reporter used spit to fix hair and Twitter can't handle it

Pity the remote reporter who has no control when the feed goes live and catches him or her in a vulnerable moment.

This happened to NBC’s Matt Bradley who was broadcasting a live spot from Syria about the fight against ISIS. When the feed switched over, unbeknownst to Bradley, viewers got a full dose of the reporter using his spit to fix his hair.

Oh man, poor Bradley. Plenty of us have done something similar before in a moment of desperation but we weren’t caught doing it on national cable television. Sure enough, Twitter responded to video of the moment with shock.

Amidst the rush of Twitter’s bombardment of GIFs and jokes, though, CNBC anchor Carl Quintanilla chimed in later, coming to the defense of his network-mate with a really good point.

Indeed, fighting continues in Syria despite reports that ISIS has lost control of its last territory in the war-torn country. But when it came to the spitting incident, Bradley handled the reaction with good humor.

With that out of the way, Bradley did eventually get to do his report on-air, free of any spitting, and he continues to relay essential information from the ground where the fight continues. 

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Image: Valerie Breiman/Twitter

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