“Shazam!” is good, old-fashioned superhero moviemaking that revels in the childlike glee of what it would be like to actually get super-powers.
In a movie market crowded with superhero films, “Shazam!” stands out by embracing the child in all of us — and in its titular hero. This is a movie that knows youngsters are the best possible fans of superheroes.
Billy Batson is a rough and tumble teenager trapped in the foster system who is chosen by the ancient wizard Shazam to inherit all of the best super-powers. Whenever Billy shouts the wizard’s name — “Shazam!” — he is transformed into an adult body with super strength, super speed, flight and lightning powers.
Billy and his superhero-obsessed foster brother Freddy then go on a tear around the city of Philadelphia that’s half crime-fighting and half finding out what beer tastes like. Along comes the super-villain Dr. Sivana, who wants Billy’s power for himself, so of course they come to blows.
Were you ever an awkward, lonely teenager being picked on by bullies and struggling with your place in the world? Wouldn’t it have been great to suddenly get a bunch of awesome super-powers and just go wild with them? That’s the magic of “Shazam!”. It’s pure wish fulfillment for the child in all of us, and the movie embraces the giddy joy of superheroes.
Actor Jack Dylan Grazer as the sidekick Freddy is the heart of the film, using his motormouth to drive both the superhero exploration and Billy’s growth as a hero. Asher Angel does a great job as the teenage Billy, who slowly comes out of his shell thanks to his new powers. And Zachary Levi plays Billy in the adult body of Shazam, having way too much fun.
This trio makes for the core of the film, easily balancing the frivolity of playing around with super powers and the serious responsibility of finding a family and a home. Billy and Freddy’s other foster brothers and sisters are also a very enjoyable part of the film in their supporting roles. “Shazam!” never loses sight of keeping the kids at the center of the fun.
Mark Strong does his job well as the villain Sivana, but he won’t stick out as being particularly exciting or memorable. The movie goes to great lengths to give him a worthwhile backstory, but he doesn’t even get a villain name or a colorful costume. He’s just an evil, menacing threat for Shazam to punch when it comes time to punch bad guys. And when the punching is this entertaining, Sivana’s faults as a character are easy to overlook.
“Shazam!” is pure entertainment. It’s not beholden to any other comic book movies, and it uses that freedom to just have silly, energetic superhero fun.