When you hear that DC Comics is bringing yet another superhero to the big screen, the news likely follows with a groan of both exhaustion and presumed mediocrity. I will admit this was my initial reaction to “Shazam,” a character that few outside of the dyed-in-the-wool comic book fan circle ever knew existed.
How surprising that the film exceeded my expectations.
Bringing the fantasy of many teenage boys to life, “Shazam” tells the story of 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a streetwise foster kid who meets an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) and becomes the most unlikely of superheroes. By shouting the word “shazam!,” Billy instantly turns into the adult version of himself (Zachary Levi), who also happens to be a caped crusader. The timing is perfect because the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) is ready to unleash the forces of the seven deadly sins out into the world, and only Shazam has the strength to stop him.
The story will appeal to kids and kids at heart. The supporting cast of fellow foster children living in the same home (including Faithe Herman, Ian Chen, and Grace Fulton) create a rag-tag group of buddies that is credibly touching. Watching Billy as he and confidant Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) work their way down the list of every superpower in the book, from flying to x-ray vision, to find out what Shazam can do feels as authentic as it is funny. Worried that the film’s humor will be overcome with the unpleasantness and sarcasm that plagues films like “Deadpool” and “Guardians of the Galaxy?” Don’t be. This appropriately-rated PG-13 superhero movie takes the good-natured comedy route with a lively, carefree attitude.
The special effects are solid, and the characters so well grounded that it never feels like you’re watching a CGI cartoon. While Levi at times plays the grown-up version of Billy just a little too dumb, his lunkhead shtick is charming and fits in with the tone of the movie. The kids are charismatic and easy to like too, and Angel and Grazer confidently carry the film with their buddy comedy banter.
The origin story is established with a careful, deliberate importance, setting up future sequels in a way that leaves audiences clamoring for more. When’s the last time a DC movie ended and you left the theater actually excited to see the story continue? That happens here. Everything is clearly explained for those new to the story line, so no prior knowledge of the comic books are required for maximum enjoyment.