Shazam is every boyhood dream you had, when you secretly imagined yourself to be a superhero (I will ignore those souls who kept turning circles on the bed pretending to be Shaktimaan). All 14-year-old Billy has to say is “Shazam!” and he instantly turns into a bright-red-spandex-clad grown-up superhero. No need to be bitten by a spider, no need to get angry to turn into the Hulk, no need to be an alien from another planet, nor be gifted with technological wizardry. All you need to do is say “Shazam!” and that’s it.
Every super-hero movie needs a super-villain. Guess who’s that here…The Seven Deadly Sins! Every priest watching the movie has a big smile on his face now.
The ancient wizard ‘Shazam’ (Djimon Hounsou) is the last remaining one of the 7 wizards occupying the 7 thrones. The wizards have managed to imprison and contain the 7 Deadly Sins for centuries, but now with all-but-one gone, the Sins are getting stronger. Shazam hunts for his successor, who must be pure of heart, but everyone comes up short. Faced with extinction though, he hastily invites the 14-year-old foster child Billy to take over. Billy’s heart is not in the right place at the moment, but then maybe that’s the point. Every one of us has to grow into maturity and wisdom using our life experiences. No one is born a super-hero.
Shazam! is the most relaxed, fun and light-hearted movie to emerge from the DC stable. The film pokes fun at many aspects of the typical super-hero movie, even indirectly alluding to characters from the DC verse. Superman, for one, features regularly. Our new superhero even has an identity crisis – he can’t come up with a name for his superhero alter ego. His foster brother Freddy throws many suggestions his way – Thundercrack and Sparkle Fingers to name two. In the end, he never really gets one. He’s kind of every superhero rolled into one. He’s the secret super hero lurking in each one of us.
Here are 7 Catholic lessons to be learnt (or be reminded about) from this movie:
1. As the principal character says repeatedly during the movie – The 7 Deadly Sins don’t care about you.They’re just using you to create havoc and mayhem in the world. And they’ll dump you once their work is done. Pride, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth, envy and wrath, are always very enticing, so easy, so pleasurable, but once you are tightly in their grasp, they bring nothing but misery and suffering in the long run. They destroy your life and the life of those whom you love. So how do you defeat the 7 DS? With Virtue! As the wizard explains, Billy’s various powers are channelled into him through a host of heavenly beings including Solomon (wisdom), Hercules (strength), Atlas (stamina), Zeus (power), Achilles (courage), and Mercury (speed). Combat Sin with Virtue!
2. Billy’s foster brother Freddy asks him, “So what’s your superpower?” Billy has no idea. Thus begins a journey of discovery (through a number of tests devised by the superhero-expert Freddy) to look for super strength, the ability to fly, being bulletproof, fire-proof, speed, etc. Shazam will have to gradually learn his strengths and abilities. That’s not the only learning curve he will have to go through though. He will also have to learn what it means to be a real hero, instead of being just a narcissistic, self-serving costumed man. In both, it is Freddy who shows him the way. As Billy realises down the line, he can’t do this alone. In the spiritual realm, we need Jesus to show us who we truly are. We can’t do this alone. We’ve got a friend in Jesus.
3. Telling your child that he’s good for nothing is a strict No-No! Isn’t that how many super-villains started off…low self-esteem? Every child is an image of God, made by His Hands. Every child has been imbued with unique gifts and talents, and its our responsibility to help them find it through accompaniment and encouragement. There is no useless child, only shallow adults and an uninspiring world.
4. Pride, sloth, greed, gluttony, wrath and lust. Wait! There’s one missing. The greatest of these is ENVY.Envy is the deadliest of these, though it may appear to be the weakest. That’s because the green gooey monster hides in your heart and slowly grows by feeding on you from within. It is the most difficult to get rid off. It is also the most frequent one we suffer from. As Billy realises at the end, it is Envy he will have to draw out, to defeat the evil Dr Sivana. Who are you envious of in your life?
5. Superpowers are no good unless they are shared with others. Your super-strength is multiplied when you ally with your friends. That’s why so many of our caped crusaders fight in teams to save the world. Salvation is achieved as a family. Christianity is not a religion of individuals, but a community. You have been blessed for a reason – so that you can become a blessing for others. God works in you and through you.
6. The young Billy is on a constant expedition running away from one foster home after another, with the sole objective of finding his real mother, whom he was separated from as a little child in a fun-fair. There are genuine people offering him real love all around him, but Billy is blinded by his obsession to find his real mother. When he finally finds her, he realises that his ‘real’ family was actually the one he was staying with all along. So what’s the real meaning of ‘family’?Shazam! makes you think. As Christians, we are also part of a larger family, the family of God. We often refuse to look beyond our immediate family, and recognise the love that is present all around us.
“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mt 12:49-50)
7. Mother Teresa is supposed to have said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Billy says something similar during the climax. “What good is it being a super-hero if you can’t save your family?”All our noble intentions, deeds and words must begin from home. There’s no point being a hero outside, if you end up being the villain at home. Family must always come first. Always! Shazam! Is finally about loving your family.
Fr Joshan Rodrigues