Surely almost every kid has wanted to be a superhero at some point in their life? Even once grown up. In DC’s Shazam!, young Billy Batson is granted the opportunity, but all that super-heroic stuff doesn’t necessarily come naturally to him.
You see, as fate would have it he’s the kid – probably the only kid – who hasn’t entertained thoughts of capes, abilities, snappy names and tight-fitting, erm, tights. Mind you, he’s had a lot to deal with as a foster kid, ping-ponging between various foster homes without putting down roots, while doggedly searching for his birth mother.
Being a superhero film, there’s origin story – but it’s swept away fairly quickly in favour of getting to the fun parts. While escaping from a bunch of bullies, Billy (Asher Angel) has an encounter with some old wizard dude, and soon after realises that strange things are afoot. The wiz transfers his powers to him, and with one utterance of “Shazam!”, Billy now transforms into a buff – and very adult (well, physically) – super-dude.
Luckily Billy’s roommate Freddy (Jack Dylan Glazer, It) is all up on the superhero stuff, and the two set about testing the bounds of these newly-acquired powers. Well, after buying beer and discovering that it’s totally gross. This discovery (the powers, not the beer) comes in handy, as naturally Billy finds a nemesis in Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong). He wants ALL the wiz power, and has the seven deadly sins in his corner. He also doesn’t realise that his chosen enemy is really a 14-year-old kid.
Sounds a bit too fun for the usually rather dour DC Extended Universe? It’s actually a super-welcome relief. Shazam! pinballs about from silly to goofy to serious to parody to action-packed like a giddy puppy, and somehow it just works.
Key to everything is the lead trio of two kids and a bloke, with Zachary Levi (TV’s Chuck) the perfect choice to play a wide-eyed teen who’s wedged into an adult body in a super-suit. He manages a sense of wonder that plays well against the curiosity – and envy – of his partner in not-crime. Well, maybe occasional petty crime.
While at first glance Shazam! may seem like yet another superhero-saves-the-world-tale, just dressed up in Big (which gets the nod that it had to in one fun chase scene) shoes, the key story thread revolves around family – and, much like another DC variation, The LEGO Batman Movie, the concept of friends as family. It also has a couple of absolute laugh-out-loud moments – we’ll leave it at just saying “Sivana monologuing”.
Shazam! isn’t all silly and light though, as despite the generally fun and irreverent air there’s a darkness that underlies proceedings at times. As such, this isn’t a movie for young kids (and the M rating reflects this), but it definitely is one for any big kid who’s ever had super dreams.
In cinemas: April 4, 2019
Starring: Zachari Levi, Jack Dylan Glazer, Mark Strong
Directed by: David F. Sandberg