To be the DCEU‘s brightest, funniest film so far is a pretty low bar, but Shazam! clears it effortlessly. The story of a 14-year-old boy suddenly becoming endowed with superhuman powers is ripe with comedic possibilities, and director David F. Sandberg‘s movie doesn’t disappoint. Shazam! feels like the bubblegum, technicolor younger cousin of DC’s other entries and is all the better for it.
It’s also happy to embrace the outlandishness of its conceit without embarrassment. A prologue simply tells us there’s a dying wizard (Hounsou) looking for a new champion to prevent the Seven Deadly Sins destroying the world. The first act takes a while to get up to speed thanks to the necessary introduction of young protagonist Billy Batson (Asher), but it clicks right into gear as soon as he first utters the eponymous magic word.
Zachary Levi is an absolute blast throughout, nailing both the Big-style naiveté of a boy in a man’s body and the heroic acts he learns to perform in this new avatar. As good as young Asher is as Billy, the film is always enriched when alter-ego Levi is on screen, especially in his often hilarious odd-couple buddy dynamic with new foster brother Freddie.
Things only really get a bit clunky in a couple of areas: Mark Strong plays a solid if forgettable big bad with somewhat underdeveloped motives, and the efforts to remind us Superman, Batman et al. exist in this same universe are thwacks over the head rather than winking nods.
Shazam! is a breezy, feel-good tale that’s ultimately about coming of age and finding your family. While never going full Deadpool in dissecting the tropes of comic book lore, it pokes fun at the genre while simultaneously making sure DC finally gets the memo: superhero movies can just be an unashamedly good time.
CAST: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Grace Fulton, Jack Dylan Grazer, Ron Cephas Jones, Djimon Hounsou
DIRECTOR: Daniel F. Sandberg
WRITERS: Henry Gayden (screenplay), Henry Gayden, Darren Lemke (story), Bill Parker, C.C. Beck (created by)
SYNOPSIS: We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s case, by shouting out one word, this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult superhero Shazam.