I grew up with the superhero Shazam! or, confusingly, the original Captain Marvel (Google it). In the ‘70s, he was the star of a live-action TV series featuring the teenaged hero and his “mentor.” They traveled around the country in a motorhome and did a bunch of superhero stuff. It was amazing. The story of a kid who could turn into an adult superhero, is on permanent vacation, and never has to go to school. Sold!
Jump ahead to 2019, and I’m 100 percent bought-in to the idea of a DC Shazam! movie. It’s a total nostalgia hug for me. For everyone else, there’s probably a lot to digest here. This is the “fun movie” DC promised with “Suicide Squad” without all the darkness and seriousness of the rest of the DC Cinematic Universe.
In this new version of the comic book hero, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a broody teenage foster kid in search of his real mom. He’s a troublemaker and is passed from foster family to foster family. After borrowing a police car, Billy is begrudgingly assigned to a foster home in Philadelphia. The charming family who takes Billy is overly optimistic about his arrival — but we know there’s gonna be trouble.
Billy’s housemate Freddy (the wonderful Jack Ryan Grazer) is instantly drawn this new kid, but Billy has all but given up on everything. Freddy is hilariously clingy and completely awkward at home and at school. In a brief moment of everyday heroism, Billy defends Freddy from school bullies and escapes their inevitable retaliation. Wooooosh! Billy’s good deed is noticed by an ancient being known as “Shazam” (Djimon Hounsou) and pulls the teen into his creepy realm. Shazam is dying and needs to transfer his powers to a person of purity and goodness. Guess who gets the superpowers? Billy! That’s not a spoiler, it’s in the trailers.
After uttering the words “Shazam,” Billy turns into a muscly adult Zachary Levi with an awesome glowing costume, a cape, and some vague super abilities. A large chunk of the film deals with Billy and Freddy discovering just what Shazam can actually do. It’s wildly entertaining and almost always hilarious. Levi and Glazer’s back-and-forth is entertainment perfection the way Tom Hanks and… that other kid… charmed us in “Big.” It took me about five seconds to get over seeing Zachary Levi looking like a pumped-up Arnold Schwarzenegger, and then I relaxed and enjoyed the fun. Levi is perfect for the role, charming and full of contagious joy.
More than anything I’ve seen so far from DC, “Shazam” puts the comic-book fun front and center. Yes, even more fun than “Aquaman.”
This is my favorite DC movie since “Wonder Woman,” and everything before that, except for “The Dark Knight.” Yeah, that’s kind of a stretch, but it’s THAT great. Kids will eat it up, and kids of the ‘80s will appreciate the old-school PG-13 humor and vibe. Queue the Queen song…
Oh, and there’s a GREAT bad guy played by the always fantastic Mark Strong. He’s not vaguely bad, he’s really bad. Like, "throw you out of an office building window" bad. His back story, while brief, is a nice motivation for his turn into villainy. It’s great stuff, and not the same-old mushy pseudo-villain some other superhero movies lean on.
Director David F. Sandberg directed two of my favorite horror movies from the last few years, “Lights Out” and “Annabelle: Creation.” It nice to see that he handles this superhero comedy movie as effectively as he does the scarier genre. And, unexpectedly, he brings some scary surprises into the otherwise lighthearted story.
I had a huge smile on my face walking out the theater after seeing “Shazam!” It was WAY better than I expected and just ridiculously fun. I’ve since mulled over a few plot-holes and questions from the film, but nothing to overshadow my enjoyment.
It will be interesting to see how Shazam the character, and the movie, connect with audiences. It’s probably the most kid-friendly comic-book movie we’ve had in a while. Personally, I can’t wait for superhero fans of all ages to see it. I was really impressed with the humor, the action, and the personalities.
For me, DC now has three good films in the last few years: “Wonder Woman,” Aquaman,” and now “Shazam.” I’m digging the sense of fun and the way it embraces its colorful comic book origins. As I said, it’s all about the nostalgia for me, and this movie brings a ton of it. Like a warm ol' hug of dangerous lightning.
Keep an eye out for tons of DC Comics shout-outs and references. And, stay through the credits!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Magic 8 Balls.