Wednesday, April 3, 2019
“Shazam!” is a fun flick but frightfully schizophrenic. It seems made to appeal to kids but it’s rated PG-13 with some rough language and adult references I wouldn’t want my children to see. It’s a straight-up comedy, DC Comics’ version of the “Guardians of the Galaxy,” though not nearly as raunchy as “Deadpool.”
At 132 minutes it’s about a half-hour too long, and the final showdown goes on so languidly you actually start to get tired of all the super-smackdowns.
Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself. The DC superhero movies tend to be a little more cartoony than the Marvel ones, and “Shazam!” -- do I really have to include the exclamation point on every reference? -- waltzes straight over the line into cartoonish.
The setup is that Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel, which is actually a better alter ego name than his character’s) is a 14-year-old kid who’s bounced from foster home to foster home. He’s recruited by a dying wizard (Djimon Hounsou) to take over his powers and continue his eons-long battle against the seven deadly sins, who want to get ahold of his glowing power-egg thingee.
The idea is that the wizard has been searching for decades to find a suitable replacement who’s pure of heart, but can’t locate one so he settles for Billy, who is prone to stealing police cars and thwacking bullies in the face. When Billy says the name, he suddenly transforms into a grown man in an extravagant red-white-and-gold costume with a lightning bolt on his chest.
He’s got the usual super traits: strength, speed, invulnerability, flight (eventually), plus he can shoot lightning out of his fingertips. With the help of his foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), a sardonic kid who uses a crutch and knows all the ins and outs of the superhero shtick, he sets out to use his powers to… have fun, make money and impress chicks, as most 14-year-olds would.
Eventually he gets around to do-gooding, though circumstances force his hand.
While he’s been becoming a YouTube sensation, the deadly sins, represented as gargoyle-like statues come to life, find their open champion in one of the wizard’s rejects, a kid who grew up to be the nefarious Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong). He has essentially duplicate powers of Shazam, plus he’s got the wizard’s stolen power-egg, which he’s using as an eye.
Let me tell you one thing I appreciated about the movie: Zachary Levi, who plays Shazam, wears a quite-obviously padded muscle suit instead of spending a year punishing his body so he can spend five seconds flashing a ripped torso.
Levi’s a goofy, giggling presence, playing an amped-up teenager who’s geeking out on suddenly turning into a super. He has a tendency to sayhisdialoguetrippingfastlikehecan’twaittogettothelastword, as teens are wont to do.
There’s also a subplot about Billy struggling to bond with his new foster family. Freddy’s the fast-talking standout of the group, though I also liked Faithe Herman as the adorable hug-addicted tyke, Darla. She's a terrible secret-keeper, but at least she's honest about it. The rest kind of fade into a jumble.
One of the running jokes is that Billy and Freddy can’t come up with a decent name for the new superhero, rejecting “Shazam” as too silly. So at alternate points in the movie he’s referred to as Mister Philadelphia, Thundercrack, Maximum Voltage, Red Cyclone and a few others.
The DC movie universe has been a pretty grim place, so I’m glad to see them attempt to lighten things up with “Shazam!”. It doesn’t quite zap you to superhero nirvana, but there are enough laughs and jolts to recommend.