Every child dreams of being a superhero. Every producer dreams of taking that dream to the bank. It’s surprising then that a DC franchise struggling to best its nemesis Marvel has waited until now to reintroduce a character whose alter-ego is a relatable young kid – 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), transformed into a superhuman superhero (Zachary Levi) during a rather rocky subway ride. Playfully exploiting the comedy inherent in a protagonist whose features suggest a man but whose actions a child, David F Sandberg’s Shazam! makes for an excellent parody sure to fill Warner Bros’ pockets with bills as shiny as its hero’s costume.
A runaway foster child, Billy has winded up in Philadelphia in search of his mother, only to discover she doesn’t want him around. After a mysterious metro trip leaves its teenage passenger stranded at the underground lair of an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou), Billy is informed he’s mankind’s final hope against evil. The dying wizard then transfers his powers to the boy, who promptly turns into a costumed adult. With the help of Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), Billy’s newly adopted foster brother, the hero-in-waiting discovers he’s able to morph between his old and new identities by shouting Shazam, and consummates his superpowers in a showdown with the evil Dr Sivana (Mark Strong).
Much (but not all) of the movie feels like satire. Zachary Levi, as Billy’s superhuman alter-ego, does not behave like a superhero should. Instead, he uses his powers – and age – to charge phones and buy beer. Levi is remarkably comfortable playing a child in a man’s body (one imagines he’s had quite a bit of practice off-screen), and his interactions with Freddy are warm, snappy and often extremely funny.
The film’s witty dialogue is contrasted with a plot and backstories that feel somewhat formulaic, especially near the end, when scene after scene of mindless violence laced with punchlines almost makes one long for the credits. All the fighting becomes a little repetitive and monotonous – but that, perhaps, is exactly its appeal, audiences worldwide flock to these types of movies precisely because they pack a punch, or several.
Relentless mortal combat has been done to death. Shazam! gives the audience what it wants, but explores well-trodden paths with a refreshing bunch of kids as its guide. This results in a movie that fits in to the genre but also stands out – a child-friendly, producer-favourite blockbuster that’s the same, but different.
Shazam! is released nationwide on 5th April 2019.
Watch the trailer for Shazam! here: