FANTASY; 2hr 12min
STARRING: Zachary Levi, Djimon Hounsou, Mark Strong
Levi (left) and Strong keep it unreal
While on a1974 car trip in Upstate New York, young Thad (Ethan Pugiotto) is miraculously teleported into the gothic domain of a disapproving wizard (Hounsou as Shazam), from which he’s summarily ejected for not being up to pure-hearted snuff. Leapfrog to present-day Philly, where the adult, power-crazed Thad now goes by the handle of Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Strong).
Meanwhile, withdrawn 14-year-old foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel) wants only to track down his missing mother, even as he loftily declares that families are for people who can’t take care of themselves. For no obvious reason, Billy has also been magically whisked to Shazam’s dispiriting hidey-hole and summarily anointed as his Chosen One, which translates to being instantly buffed for superhero action merely by shouting the wizard’s name. Kitted out in catsuit and cape, man-child Billy (played in costume with boyish dismay by Levi) can pull all sorts of cool, extra-curricular stunts (shoot electricity from his fingers, fly like a dream, catch a falling bus, et cetera) which he understandably hasn’t the foggiest how to control.
So here we have it. One peevish villain with textbook father issues and a goon squad of statues come to lumbering life facing off against a clueless and irresponsible teen tucked snugly into a gym rat’s sculpted bod. Billy has no goon squad to turn to—although he sorely could use one. He does, however, have his disabled foster brother, Freddy (bright spark Jack Dylan Grazer), who compensates for his crutch with a mile-a-minute personality. Good luck with that, lads.
Shazam! has been set up by the franchise powers that be as the seventh instalment in the DC Comics Extended Universe (aka DCEU for anyone not in the supe loop). Any comics money-spinner is a weighty row to hoe, and director David F. Sandberg puts his back into every fan-serving minute, layering stunts with positive subtext while setting cheesy CGI cheek by scaly jowl with an everyday urban world. His nutty study in contrasts comes off as the DC counterpart to a big ol’ brotherly hug—big being the go-to word at 132 frisky minutes. Not that anybody is likely to be counting. There’s way too much pow-zap happening for that.