By Chic DiCiccio
The first 20 minutes of “Shazam!” details the lives of two teenage boys. One is ridiculed and mocked by his father and older brother and the other is abandoned and left to become a foster child. With a backstory that dark, it would be okay for you to assume this is another Zack Snyder-directed DC Comics mopefest.
Thankfully, Snyder’s gray, murky world is nowhere to be seen in this bright, cheery and big-hearted comic book flick that, despite its Philadelphia setting, is actually quite family friendly. Well, as family friendly as a movie can be where the villains are ghoulish, grotesque monsters crafted after the Seven Deadly Sins. The sweetness balances out the scares perfectly and thus makes “Shazam!” the finest addition to the DC Movie world since “Wonder Woman.”
After being chosen by an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) to be the Earth’s Champion, foster kiddo Billy Batson (Asher Angel) simply says the word “Shazam!” and he’s transformed into an adult version of himself (Zachary Levi) with nearly every superhero power imaginable. Billy learns to harness those powers with the help of his superhero obsessed and partially disabled foster brother, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer).
As with all comic book origin movies, there’s an obligatory training montage. There have been some good ones in the past, but nothing like this. Set to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” (those guys must really love money), Freddy hilarious puts Billy through his paces in ways best described as straight out of MTV’s “Jackass.” This and Billy’s initial attempts at heroism are a riot and more fun than any of the previous DC Movies combined.
Of course, Billy needs his villainous foil, and Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) definitely fits the bill. He’s powered by the aforementioned Seven Deadly Sins, and the only thing in his way from global domination is Earth’s Champion, Shazam.
There’s really only a few things not to like about “Shazam!,” with the sometimes rubbery looking special effects being the poorest aspect of it. The final half hour drags through a big CGI fight that could have been snappier with some better editing but nitpicks like that aren’t going to matter to the general public. Make no mistake, this movie is going to make a fortune.
That’s going to up Zachary Levi’s Q rating quite a bit. It’s completely well-deserved as Levi’s “big kid discovering his powers act” is perfect from start to finish. He goes from scared kid to arrogant bully to brave hero with ease and childlike glee. His smirks and grins are almost as deadly as the lightning that he fires from his fingertips.
While Levi is a huge reason that “Shazam!” plays from start to finish, it really works because it’s loaded with heart. Sure, Henry Gayden’s script is loaded with plot points that simply cannot be hated. How can someone not be emotionally invested in a kid who gets brought into a home filled with nothing but well-adjusted and kind foster kids? Not possible. Director David F. Sandberg milks that for all its worth and “Shazam!” is at its best when all the foster kids are working together.
The glut of comic book movies can be a bit annoying, particularly if you aren’t invested in the world-building aspect of it all. “Shazam!” stands on its own and creates a world that doesn’t need superbro team-ups or a cast of thousands.