As the unrelenting flow of superhero movies continues, with each year bringing a tidal wave of releases seemingly bigger then the last, it's easy to forget how much fun superpowers can be. As we watch increasingly furrow-browed supermen (and occasionally women) fight tyrannical gods threatening cosmic extinction as well as their fellow hero (remember: the safe word is Martha), one can crave something simpler, less sprawling, and, well, fun. Stepping in to fill that craving is Shazam! the latest (and lightest) DC adaptation.
A slow first act, slightly bogged down by setting up its world, gives way to a joyful second and third act, signified by the arrival of Zachary Levi's Shazam. The hero is the unencumbered goofy joy of a fourteen year old (Billy Batson), freed from restraint and angst and poured into the hulking mass of a superpowered being, and Levi plays the part perfectly. Shazam! juggles twin narrative threads of its hero and villain pursing what they most desire (Billy's desire to be reunited with his mum, Thaddeus Sivanna's lust for the power Billy has) whilst gleefully sending up the whole genre it is part of.
And it has to be said that Shazam! is funny. Effortlessly so. Its touch points include Kick Ass, Big and Big Hero 6, but it feels refreshingly of its own. Writer Henry Gayden heaps on the zingers, perfectly delivered by a fabulous ensemble, whilst director David F. Sandberg (better known for such horror film as Lights Out) gives the film a clean palette and a sweeping look. Proceedings are kept tightly focused to
As already mentioned, Levi is magnificent here, giving a star-making turn that you immediately want to see more of. But the rest of the cast are also worthy of praise, with an adorable roster of foster children that almost turn the film into an ensemble picture. Jack Dylan Grazer (IT) stands out as Billy's closest friend and co-conspirator, bringing a nerdy glee that is endearing. Mark Strong gives yet another scene-chewing villainous turn, whilst special mention must go to the wonderfully likeable duo of Mart Milans and Cooper Andrews who make a sizeable impact in limited screen time. The cast is perfection, making Levi the icing on the cake.
Shazam! is a terrific romp, even if it is a tad overlong. It morphs into a fairly standard superhero movie in its final act, but wins points for a final battle that doesn't end up destroying half a city. A loving parody that pokes fun at its genre whilst simultaneously basking in the geeky joy it brings, Shazam! is just a heck of a lot of fun.