Review: Like a bolt of lightning, 'Shazam!' pops and sparkles
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By Chip Chandler — Producer
A modern-day Big, only if Tom Hanks became Superman, Shazam! is a winning new entry in the current superhero boom.
Between Aquaman and this one, it appears that DC is finally, firmly capable of appreciating the inherent goofiness of its heroes — and the movies are all the better for it. (Wonder Woman was much less goofy, but still delightfully light in comparison to others.)
Shazam! isn't 100 percent silly — and, in fact, its monsters are a little creepier than necessary — but it wears its lightness as a badge of honor. Will it appeal to everyone? Likely not, especially those still devoted to Zack Snyder's woebegone interpretations, but a movie version of a character affectionately known as The Big Red Cheese shouldn't be filled with rainstorms and guttural heroes screaming out "Martha!" all the time.
For those new to the original Captain Marvel (though he's never called that in the film), check here for a primer. Suffice it to say that the original Cap was one of the better-known and most beloved heroes that came in Superman's wake. The twist that the hero was a boy who transformed into a powerhouse by saying a magic word was an ingenious way to appeal to younger readers.
And so, too, should Shazam! work for a tween-age audience, because the film not only takes childhood fun seriously, it also takes childhood emotions and fears seriously.
After a prologue introducing a young Thaddeus Sivana (Ethan Pugiotto, then Mark Strong as an adult) and the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), we meet 14-year-old foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel) — streetwise and a bit rough around the edges, but still nursing a hope that he can one day reunite with the mother he was separated from at a carnival.
The wizard, meanwhile, is losing hope that he can find someone pure of heart to take over his mission of keeping the Seven Deadly Sins captive, and when Billy, on the lam from some school bullies, finds his way to the mystical Rock of Eternity, the wizard accepts that the teen may be his last option.
So Billy says the wizard's name, and is immediately transformed into a strapping, megapowerful adult (Zachary Levi) — though he soon learns that just looking like an adult isn't a ticket to happiness. (Welcome to the club, kid.)
Helping Billy learn how to use his powers is his superhero-obsessed foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), one of four foster siblings Billy finds himself living with after running away from home after home.
Sivana learns of the new hero (Captain Sparkle-fingers is but one of Freddy's failed attempts at finding a name that works) and realizes that the wizard finally passed on his powers, just as he has cracked the code to return to the Rock of Eternity himself, where he immediately sets about freeing the Sins (who remind me of Zuul in the original Ghostbusters, and are just about as convincing).
The script (by Henry Gayden, from a story by Gayden and Darren Lemke) finds clever ways to put a modern spin on the Golden Age of Captain Marvel stories, with careful attention to Billy's emotional health and reiterating the importance of family, whether biological or found. Director David F. Sandberg's filmography thus far has been mostly horror flicks like Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation, but he mostly keeps it kid-friendly here (though it does get a little too dark at times).
Levi is an absolute wonder throughout, especially the way he shows Billy's marvel at suddenly becoming a grown man. His chemistry with Grazer is top-notch (as is Asher's, for that matter).
The elements all combine to a charming, breezy film — one that has me excited to see how Shazam will play with the likes of Aquaman and Wonder Woman. That's a far cry from how Batman vs. Superman left me feeling, to say the least.