Warning: this article contains spoilers
Unlike superhero movies that have a darker atmosphere, Shazam! is a lighthearted origin story of 14-year-old Billy Batson, who gains the power to transform into an adult with super-strength, speed, and flight upon yelling the word, “Shazam!”
Every superhero movie has an underlying lesson, and Shazam! is no different. A refreshing take on foster children and the power of family, the movie follows two characters and how their childhood experience reflect who they are.
At first, both the hero and villain of Shazam! are rejected by their families. Billy, our hero, is abandoned by his mother at 2 years old in a carnival and is put in the foster care system. In the villain’s case, Thaddeus Sivana (who should be in the running for having the most villain-y name for a villain), is shown to be constantly ridiculed and put down by his father and older brother. Both characters experience the trauma of rejection, but they manifest the negative outcomes in two different ways.
Growing up in the foster care system, Billy follows a pattern that other foster children can relate to—including the clients of Children’s Rights. He is moved from foster home to foster home, often running away in search of his mother. After being found, he is always rejected by the foster family he ran away from and forced to move to yet another home.
Finally, he is taken into the care of a couple who have a happy family of five other foster children. Rather than perpetuating negative stereotypes of ‘troubled’ foster children, the movie does a good job of making these children diverse, both racially but also in terms of their unique personalities.
Billy rejects this family too at first. But what’s different about this family’s reaction is that they completely understand and forgive his behavior—as former foster children themselves, the parents can relate to Billy’s situation.
It’s also interesting to note how Billy gets his powers. From the beginning of the movie, the wizard Shazam is searching for the perfect human, one who is pure of heart. Of course, Shazam was never able to find a perfect human. In a desperate last resort, Shazam gives his powers to Billy.
Although initially Billy goofs around with his powers, he comes to embody what it means to be a real superhero once he realizes that he has to protect his family. This shows that all foster kids have the potential to reach their best abilities when they are given the opportunity to succeed—but people, like the wizard or Billy’s foster parents, must be willing to give them a chance.
It’s true that family shapes a child, and it doesn’t matter it’s biological or foster parents as long as they are positive role models and understanding of the situations that foster kids are in. Just as Thaddeus’ mean-spirited family shaped him into a villain, so too did Billy’s loving family turn him into a superhero.
One of my favorite parts of the movie was when the camera zoomed into Billy’s foster parents’ bumper sticker. It reads: “I’m a foster mom. What’s your superpower?” In my opinion, truer words have never been spoken. If your child grows up to be healthy and happy, then you really are the best kind of a superhero.