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REVIEW: The surprising adoption message in ‘Shazam!’

Warning: spoilers ahead!

Good movies about adoption don’t come around often.

The faith-based realm gave us Bella (2006) and October Baby (2011). The animated/family genre delivered Stuart Little (1999), Meet the Robinsons (2007) and — in a quirky way — Despicable Me (2010). And in the mainstream adult-centric category, we’ve had Lion (2016), August Rush (2007) and Martian Child (2007), just to name a few.

But outside of Superman and Batman and their peripheral adoption themes, we haven’t had a superhero film that’s made the tension between biological and adoptive parents a central plot. Until now.

The DC Comics movie Shazam! (PG-13) opens this weekend, following a 14-year-old boy named Billy Batson who has been searching for his biological mom ever since his toddler years when he was misplaced in a crowd. He’s lived in six foster homes — and he’s run away from them all.

“I don’t need parents to play make-believe with,” he tells a social worker. “I’ve got a mom.”

And now Billy is moving in with family number seven, Victor and Rosa Vasquez. They, too, once were foster children, and they have a home filled with foster kids — five, in fact. Billy would be the sixth.

Billy likes Victor and Rosa, but he nevertheless continues searching for his biological mom. House by house, block by block, city by city.

But in the middle of his search, he gets found — by an aging wizard named Shazam who is looking for a replacement. Shazam believes Billy is the perfect fit, “strong in spirit” and “pure in heart.”

Billy objects, but it doesn’t matter. Shazam’s mind is made up, and he gives Billy his powers — powers that transform him into a superhero who can fly through clouds, leap over buildings, and stop a deadly bullet … and live.

Billy only needs to say one magical word (“shazam”) to turn into the new-and-improved Shazam — a 20-something muscular man who wears tights and a cape. He initially wastes his powers to stroke his ego — remember, he has the brain of a 14-year-old — but he finally sees the error of his ways to fight evil. That happens when a bad guy (this one is named Dr. Thaddeus Sivana) is trying to destroy you.

Shazam! is as funny as it is original. The best scenes involve our superhero discovering his talents while his friend, Freddy, watches in awe. The film is too violent and disturbing for young children (Sivana’s sidekicks are people-eating demons) and it has too much language for my taste (by my count, more than 25 coarse words).

But for the older moviegoers among us, Shazam! is worth watching — simply to watch a teen boy go on a journey to find his identity. In the end, he does find his biological mother, but it doesn’t elicit the emotions he expected, even if it does bring cloture.

Halfway through the film, he’s telling someone that “families are for people who can’t take care of themselves.” Yet while talking to his biological mom he displays growth: “I have to get back to my real family.”

Shazam! is a blockbuster film that tackles some of life’s most important question, including the definition of “home” and “family.” Not bad for a superhero flick.

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