As the most dominant form of pop culture art that still assumes a large, shared audience, movies have an inordinate influence on our culture. They also tend to present a broader range of themes and perspectives than other works, such a pop music. Rather than produce a standard review, we thought we’d experiment with a new format that helps parents (and others who engage with kids) use movies to have broader discussions with their children.
Why it’s worth talking about: Although Shazam! aims to be nothing more than a goofy and fun superhero blockbuster aimed at younger viewers, there are several overtly Christian themes that provide parents an opening to talk about theological topics.
Note: The rest of this article contains spoilers. None of the revealed information will lessen your enjoyment of the movie, and it will prepare you to have a robust discussion after seeing it with your child.
What it’s about: Billy Batson, a 14-year-old foster kid, is chosen by the wizard Shazam to be the next “Champion of Eternity” and defender of humanity. By saying the magic word SHAZAM! Billy is transformed into an adult-costumed superhero who has the power of seven heroes: the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. (His actual powers include bulletproof skin, super speed and strength, and the ability to fly and shoot lightning from his fingers.)
Demons called the Seven Deadly Sins tell Thaddeus Sivana, who is bitter over not being chosen as the champion 40 years earlier, that if he kills Billy/Shazam he’ll gain additional power.
Only by discovering he needs to stop focusing on himself and use the power of his foster family is Billy able to defeat Sivana and the Sins.
Concepts and Characters You Need to Know
To aid in your discussion, here are the characters you need to know.
Billy Batson/Shazam (Asher Angel/Zachary Levi) — The superhero alter ego of Billy Batson.
The Shazam family — Near the end of the film, all of Billy’s foster siblings gain similar superpowers.
Dr. Thaddeus Sivana — As a boy Sivana was summoned by the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), but was not chosen because he was not “pure of heart.” He instead decides to gain power through evil means.
The Seven Deadly Sins — The Sins are a group of ancient, powerful demons that represent the worst aspects of human behavior: Pride, Envy, Greed, Wrath, Sloth, Gluttony, and Lust. These demons have the power to take control of people’s bodies, forcing them to indulge in the sins they represent. At the beginning of the film, the Sins are imprisoned in seven stone statues at the Rock of Eternity. Sivana frees them, and when they are put in the Eye of Sins (which replaces Sivana’s right eye), it gives the mad scientist the same powers as Shazam. When the demons are released to fight individually, though, Sivana loses his powers.
The Supporting Roles
Frederick “Freddy” Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) — Billy’s foster brother and sidekick. Disabled, nerdy, and lonely, Freddy desires to become a superhero too (which he eventually does).
Billy’s other foster siblings — Mary Bromfield (Grace Fulton), Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand), Eugene Choi (Ian Chen), and Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman).
Billy’s foster parents — Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa Vasquez (Marta Milans).
Talking Points and Discussion Questions
Purity of Heart — Billy is chosen to be champion because he is supposedly “pure of heart.” But throughout the first half of the film we see him acting in a way that does not seem pure. Being pure of heart can’t mean being without sin or never doing anything wrong, since Jesus said: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). Talk to your child about Psalm 24:3–4 and what it means to be pure of heart. As John Piper explains:
You can see what David means by a “pure heart” in the phrases that follow it. A pure heart is a heart that has nothing to do with falsehood. It is painstakingly truthful and free from deceitfulness. Deceit is what you do when you will two things, not one thing. You will to do one thing and you will that people think you are doing another. You will to feel one thing and you will that people think you are feeling another. That is impurity of heart. Purity of heart is to will one thing, namely, to “seek the face of the LORD” (Ps. 24:6).
The Deadliness of Sin — Because the main villains are demons who embody the seven deadly sins, it can provide an opportunity to discuss the topic in a unique way.
For younger children, here’s a helpful and simple definition of sin: “Doing things our way instead of God’s way.” Walk them through various Bible stories—starting with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—to show that doing things our way instead of God’s way hurts and angers him, separates us from him, and leads to negative consequences, including death. Explain that Jesus died to take away the worst effects (our eternal separation from God), and that if we love Jesus, we will avoid doing things our way and instead strive to do things God’s way.
While the list of the “seven deadly sins”—pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, gluttony, and lust—is not found in the Bible, Christians have found these are the ones we tend to struggle against the most. Explain what the terms mean and ask your child to think of an example of each.
Overcoming the Sins — Billy is given special power that allows him to overcome the Sins. By the end of the film, the demons are recaptured and once again imprisoned. Explain how we, relying on Jesus and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, are given similar ability to fight against sin in our own life.
In the Bible, Paul says that because we are made alive in Christ, we are to put sin to death (Col. 3:5). Putting sin to death is therefore a daily task for all believers. As the Puritan John Owen famously said, “Be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work. Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” But sin in our lives, like in the film, is a monster that’s continuously defeated and yet has the potential to return time and time again. Explain that rather than “killing sin” once and for all, we must—with the Holy Spirit’s help—continue to overcome its power throughout our lives.
The Importance of Family — Billy keeps running away from foster homes because he’s searching for his birth mother. When he finds her, however, he learns she abandoned him intentionally. This leads Billy to realize that he’s not alone; he has already has a family who loves him. Ask your child how Billy changes when he discovers how he needs his new family.
Cautions and Concerns
Shazam! contains mild profanity and rude gestures (i.e., the middle finger). Billy and Freddy also enter a strip club (twice), though the building is only shown from the outside. There are also several deaths and some scenes (e.g., a surprising car crash, people being eaten by demons) that might be disturbing for children under the age of 7.
You don’t need to know this stuff to enjoy the movie, but it might impress your kid.
• In the movie, Billy gets his powers by saying the name of ancient wizard Shazam, the last of the Council of Seven Wizards. But in the original version of the comics, the magic word that transforms Billy into a superhero—”SHAZAM!”—is an acronym of six “immortal elders”: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. Solomon is the only real historical figure—the rest are ancient Greek gods (Zeus, Mercury) and heroes (Achilles, Hercules).
• Many funny suggestions are made about what Billy’s superhero name should be (“Captain Sparkle Fingers”), but they never mention what it actually is—Captain Marvel—because that’s the name of a Marvel Comics superhero (whose movie is also in theaters). Obviously, Billy can’t go around telling people his hero name is Shazam, since that’s the magic word that transforms him back and forth between being a hero and being a teen. Although the character first appeared in 1940, Shazam wasn’t used as his official name in the comics until 2011.
• Because the movie is set in the DC Extended Universe—the shared universe centered on DC Comics superhero films—Shazam exists in the same world as the recent film versions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg.
• Due to censorship standards in 1940s-era comics, the Seven Deadly Sins are also known as the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man. They are Shazam’s oldest enemies, having appeared in the second issue of the comic in 1940.
• Shazam/Captain Marvel was the first comic-book superhero to be adapted into film. He appears in a 1941 12-chapter film serial called Adventures of Captain Marvel (you can watch it online here). The character was also in a live-action television special in the 1970s and an animated series in the 1980s.
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