Shazam! hits theaters April 5 from director David Sandberg and Warner Bros. Pictures, based on the DC Comics character. The film stars Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mark Strong, Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton and Cooper Andrews.
Billy Batson is a streetwise 14-year-old who can magically transform into the adult superhero Shazam simply by shouting out one word. His newfound powers soon get put to the test when he squares off against the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana.
DC film adaptations are on a roll with the latest release Shazam! managing to reach levels of fun that current Marvel studios efforts have been trying to attain but unable to capture outside Thor: Ragnarok and the Guardians of The Galaxy franchises. Aquaman was a visual spectacle and thrill-ride unlike anything before it and Shazam! continues that trend of lighter material and a director who knows how to make one helluva kick-ass comic book adaptation. David Sandberg is known for his horror resume-you’ll get some crazy glimpses of that background in Shazam! from time to time, but the effort is mostly a family-friendly affair that flips the superhero origin on its head, creating this exhilarating up-to-date version of Big meets The Monster Squad.
Billy Batson is an orphan trying to find his mother and in the meantime is taken in by a loving family of foster kids who all have interesting personalities and traits that will make you fall in love with every single one. By the end of the film, you’ll be cheering for this family in ways you can’t even imagine going into the Shazam! experience. I was very unfamiliar with the comic book origins of Captain Marvel, aka SHAZAM! now, because Marvel Studios has another fairly important character with the same name these days. That being said, now that I’ve seen BOTH movies, I do prefer Shazam! – because the origin just has a lot more heart. I had no idea that Billy Batson was a foster child and I had zero clue about his foster brothers and sisters as well – so seeing that all come together felt very real and grounded, which makes the more ridiculous and over-the-top fantasy elements of the film feel less silly. Jack Dylan Grazer is a star and his ‘sidekick’ performance may very well be the highlight of the film for me.
Asher Angel plays Billy in his child form and does a magnificent job playing this kid who has been constantly on the run from one foster home to the next until he’s abruptly chosen by a crazy wizard, played intensely (as always) by Djimon Hounsou to take the mantle of Shazam! — a protector of the Earth domain who has a pure soul. Sandberg’s film NEVER passes up the chance to make a joke and even in the most serious of sequences, you’ll find genuine laughs. “Lay your hand upon my staff!” says Hounsou, to which Batson retorts, “Gross!” — There are more clever jokes and comedic beats in Shazam! than any other mainstream comic book adaptation that I can think of in recent memory. Some people may have issues with the crazy tonal shifts because of the need to inject comedy into Shazam! at any given point, but I found that to be a major part of the movie’s charm and originality.
Minor Spoilers Ahead:
The previews have done a fantastic job avoiding all the insane reveals of the film – so be warned when I say that Mark Strong’s villainous Doctor Sivana has one of the most frightening (and badass) powers of any superhero flick kicking around these days. There’s a boardroom sequence where Sivana reveals his horrifying abilities to summon the seven deadly sins — in their full demonic forms and the beasts kill a group of people in one of the most intense scenes you’ll probably ever see in a PG movie geared towards families. This is where Sandberg let loose and let his horror freak flag fly as high as possible. I took my 8 and 9 year old kids to the film and they took no issues with this moment — and I never let them watch a film with a rating over PG:13 — so to anyone disregarding this film as being too violent for kids – get on up outta here you pansies. Yes, Shazam! may have red-eyed demons biting people’s heads off – but somehow, some way — it never comes off as too much for the younger comic book film fan.
Zachary Levi plays “adult” Billy in his Shazam! form and the dude just nails it in every single scene. I dare you to find another performer who looks like he’s having as much fun as Levi does while wearing that ridiculous comic book faithful costume. What really floored me were the mannerisms that Levi utilised too – because I actually believed that this could be the adult form of a younger Asher Angel. When you can take the concept of a young child turned body-building superhuman and make it believable then you’ve already won half the battle. Shazam! is relentlessly silly but it embraces the magical elements and high concepts of wizardry in a way that is self aware but not so much so that it becomes a parody of the genre. This film is unabashedly geeky and thrilling – with a final act that had me and my children on the edge of our seats cheering. I didn’t want the movie to end – and I hope that the sequel does indeed make good on its insane mid-credits tease of a villain the likes of which NOBODY has ever seen before… Whoever’s idea it was to do that tease — is legit crazy and I love them for going for it anyway.
If I had any sort of criticism, it would be that I would have liked to see a tiny bit more of Mark Strong’s humanity come out considering the film starts with his own origin story but then shifts as he becomes tonally more generic than I would have liked personality-wise. His amazing power aside (his power is badass guys – don’t say it isn’t) – I do feel like he was a placeholder in some ways. But that’s a VERY minor gripe and honestly, the film was made with so much love and heart that I don’t understand how anyone could outright hate on it. Shazam! is peak DC movie-making and I truly hope that people flock to theaters and check it out April 5th. LIGHTNING! LIGHTNING FROM MY HANDS! LIGHTNING FROM MY HAAAAAANDS!