Movies

Shazam! is the unexpectedly entertaining superhero origin film that you have GOT to watch

Expect the unexpected with this one!

Movie: Shazam!
Release date: April 5 2019
Reviewed by: Kim Newman
A wizard (Djimon Hounsou) gives 15-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) the ability to transform into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) by using the magic word "Shazam!". Billy becomes famous before he learns to use his powers for good, and attracts the malign attention of demon-possessed villain Dr Sivana (Mark Strong).
★★★★
The wrinkle that makes Shazam! different from other superheroes is that he's literally a kid's wish-fulfilment fantasy.
Crusading reporters and millionaire playboys are as obviously enviable as their caped identities, but young Billy Batson (Angel) — originally a homeless orphan, to rub it in — is an underpowered kid like most of his original readers.
A cry of "Shazam!" invests Billy with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus (ie: lightning), the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury.
Shazam! 2019 Poster (Image: Warner Bros. Entertainment)
All in the body of a broad-chested lunk in a natty, white half-cape later copied by Elvis. Therefore, this revival of a hero whose last cinema outing was Adventures Of Captain Marvel in 1941 (before lawyers took away his name) is as much an entry in the kid-in-a-grown-up-body genre (Freaky Friday, Vice Versa, Big) as it is yet another addition to the currently crowded roster of superheroic spectacle.
A lot of skeletons rattle around in the plot, which involves the last wishes of a cavern-dwelling wizard (Hounsou) and the seething envy of diabolical mastermind Dr Sivana (Strong), but the spine of Shazam! is Billy taking a Spidey-like power and responsibility crash course while learning to appreciate a family that has come together by choice rather than biological accident.
Shazam! is action-packed and has it's share of funny moments. (Image: Warner Bros. Entertainment)
In the early stretches, as Billy bombs about Philadelphia searching for his missing mom while Sivana refines his self-made evil genius, Shazam! feels a little like an M. Night Shyamalan film with more bathroom jokes.
Then lightning strikes and Zachary Levi takes over the lead, incarnating every brat's idea of what a grown-up is like – though one of the wryest takes of the film is that Levi's broad-chested, super-powered Billy (who never settles on a hero name) is free to act more like a kid than Asher's driven, guarded teenage reading of the role.
This being a film made by grown-ups in 2019, Billy's heroic stunts — sometimes averting disasters he's inadvertently caused — become famous thanks to social media which peaked in 2017, date-stamping the film the way Kick-Ass' MySpace page did.
Zachary Levi stars as the superhero alter-ego Shazam. (Image: Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Since this is still part of the DCEU, dark shadows gather, with a couple of genuinely upsetting scenes — Billy and Sivana both have unhappy family reunions — and about ten minutes' too much rote CGI thumping and destruction.
However, director David F. Sandberg, of the smart little horror film Lights Out and the proficient but ordinary Annabelle: Creation, is more drawn to the whimsy, charm and comic potential of the material.
Ironically, this feels more like a Disney movie — in their mild-mannered superheroics phase, represented by the Flubber and Herbie films — than any of the Marvel comic book films released by Disney, with a clutch of appealing foster siblings (Faithe Herman is a standout) set to team with Billy in pretty much inevitable future adventures.
The hardest power to depict onscreen is the wisdom of Solomon, but Shazam! makes clever decisions, mixing middle school snark with disarming sweetness. And — yes — it delivers the requisite lightning-strike punch-'em-ups with considerable force.

Watch the cast of Shazam! being interviewed at San Diego Comic Con in 2018:

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