At this point the DC comic book universe seems to be taking the approach of throwing everything against the wall and seeing if anything sticks. ‘Shazam!’ is their idea of quirky fun, a tone that to this point has been foreign territory for the studio. It’s an unapologetic superhero version of ‘Big’, that succeeds when presenting as a comedy with heart, but falls short as spectacle with its generic effects and undercooked villain.
Wisely sticking to the modernized version of the comics’ reboot, ‘Shazam!’ spins the origin yarn of Billy Batson (a serviceable Asher Angel), foster teen turned swole adult superman (a perfectly cast Zachary Levi). The film has an absolute blast playing with the idea of what would a kid do with incredible powers. Scene after scene of Levi and fellow foster pal Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer of ‘It’ fame, killing it once again as a disabled hyperkinetic sidekick/hero manager) trying to figure out his powers, his name (great gag for a character that historically had been referred to as ‘Captain Marvel’), and most importantly, how they can take advantage of the situation. Their antics and gags are authentically immature, and the chemistry between all the young actors in the group home is loose and heartwarming.
Unfortunately like many superhero movies, ‘Shazam!’ struggles with tone, aesthetic, and the overarching threat. It’s a shame that the filmmakers didn’t fully lean in to the lightness of the material, opting to retain the drab look and poorly realized CG creatures of other DC properties. Main villain Dr.Sivana (a glum Mark Strong) could have been played with the campy weirdness of the character in the comics. Instead he is reduced to subbing for the story’s original antagonist, Black Adam, in both power set and motivation, a corporate move clearly designed to ‘save’ The Rock’s portrayal for another film. Even still, as the action devolves into derivative punch-fests, the movie still maintains its playfulness. It’s nice to see DC have some success with little known characters, but still confounding that they can’t get the big guns (besides WW) right . . .
Written By: Henry Gayden
Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Running Time: 132 min.
* * * (out of four stars) -OR- B