Director: David F. Sandberg
Cast: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, Grace Fulton, Faithe Herman
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“The good, pure people you’re looking for… I’m not one of them.” That’s the sound of Warner Bros. and DC’s latest superhero taking flight, and if that leaves you expecting a brooding, dark blockbuster about a gloomy antihero, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Shazam! is a comic book movie that embraces its exclamation mark with both hands, then immediately wonders what would happen if it used that exclamation mark to do silly things.
Because Shazam, while he looks every bit like the chisel-jawed Zachary Levi, and sports a Spandex outfit complete with cape and lightning bolt, is at heart an immature 12-year-old boy – literally. Billy Batson (Ashley Angel) is the 12-year-old’s name, an orphan who has a habit of running away from foster families and running toward the wrong side of the law. Until, perhaps, he is placed with Victor and Rose Vasquez, who run a foster home with five other kids. It’s a ramshackle, open-hearted affair, where chaos goes hand in hand with genuine concern, and it’s Shazam!’s ability to capture that kind of environment and these characters with sincerity that makes it a surprisingly sweet and charming outing.
Angel is excellent as the self-centred Batson, initially dismissive off but later egged on by superhero-fanatic Freddy (), and by the end of the film, all of the other foster kids – most notably the scene-stealing Darla (Faithe Herman) – have their own part to play, both narratively and thematically, as well as emotionally. They’re balanced effectively by Mark Strong as Dr. Sivana, a similarly lonely boy grown up to be a vengeful, cruel adult. Transported to a wizard’s temple, where the titular sorcerer (Djimon Hounsou) hopes to find someone pure to inherit his powers, Sivana goes for the Eye of Sin instead, bringing all manner of evil monsters into the world. Billy? He takes the good route, but only because there’s nobody else to do it.
Before these two opposite forces eventually collide, Shazam! does exactly what a teenager would do upon receiving super abilities: has fun trying them out, doing everything from stopping muggers to apprehending armed robbers before undermining each effort with some kind of childish mistake. It’s fun to see the silliness unfold, as Shazam! successfully finds a way to balance the familiar coming-of-age struggle with something light and fun. Even Billy and Freddy trying to come up with a name for Shazam is amusing, as their suggestions range from Thundercrack to Powerboy and Mr. Philadelphia (“That’s a cream cheese thing”). At the heart of that knack for comedy is Zachary Levi, whose cartoonishly heroic features are perfectly suited to the role of an uncertain costumed saviour. The result is predictable family fun, but precisely because of that, it’s a refreshing antidote to the darker run-of-the-mill superhero movies that carry a 12 Certificate but lack Shazam!’s sheer entertaining warmth.