14 year old orphan Billy Batson must save the world from diabolical forces after receives magical powers which allow him to turn into a superhero when he shouts out “Shazam!”.
Superheroes are inherently very, very silly.
Bright tights and capes, impossibly athletic bodies and impeccable morals…
Shazam, more so.
With a pure white cape with an extremely bright red suit, showing a gigantic lightning bolt across his chest and a completely insane name once you analyze it (Shazam stands for the Wisdom of Solomon, the Strength of Hercules, the Stamina of Atlas, the Power of Zeus, the Courage of Achilles, and the Speed of Mercury).
Which makes it’s great to see the filmmakers embrace how ridiculous and silly this all is, keeping the film light and winking at the audience to let them in on the fun, making for an excellently funny movie.
Thankfully the movie is also full of heart and emotion, thrusting our protagonist Billy Batson, an orphan, into a family made from other orphaned kids, after they were all adopted by a couple who were orphans themselves. This small detail brings a fresh dynamic to the frequently used theme of “family” seen in these types of movies.
Although Asher Anger does fine work as our protagonist Billy Batson, Zachary Levi steals the show as Billy’s super heroic alter-ego Shazam, effortlessly capturing the careless attitude and recklessness of a teenager being granted superpowers along with bringing endless amounts of charming, childlike wonder to the role while still being a bad ass when needed.
The family is represented by a group of great young actors, with Jack Dylan Grazer being the best of the bunch, providing great comedic chemistry with Levi.
On the side of the bad guys, villain Dr. Thaddeus Sivana is portrayed by Mark Strong and he delivers the performance that you would expect from the English actor who has given life to countless other villains (Robin Hood, Kick Ass, Sherlock Holmes). This is nothing against him as I think he’s a great actor but could probably do this in his sleep by now.
However, although fittingly menacing, evil and slimy, what really makes this antagonist stick out from the rest is his own backstory, presenting him as more of tragic figure than all out mustache twirling evil bastard.
Director David F. Sandberg, known more for his horror outings “Lights Out” and “Annabelle: Creation“, is thankfully able to display that side with some fantastically ghoulish creatures and intense moments of violent horror while providing a great balance of humor, heart and action, creating something closer to 80’s “kids” films such as “Gremlins” and “Goonies” that would terrify and entertain you at the same time.
Without the budget to present the visual insanity of Aquaman or epic scope of Man of Steel, the film is benefited by having to infuse the story with a lot more heart and emotion, streamlining it’s story and leaving most of the action and special effects heavy sequences for the second half after you’ve gotten to know and care about this mismatched family.
Shazam! is the candy bar of superhero movies – sweet, sugary and won’t your body or health any favors, but damn if isn’t really tasty. It may not change the future of the genre but has just the right amount of heartfelt and exciting energy to make it soar as one of the better offerings and certainly one of the highlights of the DC universe.