*** ½ out of five stars
The first comic book hero that was named Captain Marvel (don’t ask, it’s a long story) comes to the big screen in the latest film from DC Entertainment.
Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel) is a good-hearted but troubled teenage orphan. He has a long history of running away from foster homes in search of his long-lost birth mother. One fateful day he is sent to live in a group home run by Victor Vasquez (Cooper Andrews) and his wife, Rosa (Marta Milans). Among his fellow foster kids, Billy becomes fast friends with superhero expert Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer).
After helping Freddy deal with bullies at school, Billy retreats into a subway train to hide. He is then summoned by the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). The ancient wizard is looking for a champion who is “pure of heart” to pass his powers to. Billy fits the bill and is given the power to turn into a superhero with the body of an adult (as portrayed by Zachary Levi). Billy can change back and forth by saying the wizard’s name.
Billy shares his secret identity with Freddy, and the two test the powers of Shazam. They manage to turn Billy’s superhero alter ego into a social media sensation and local hero but are more concerned with fame than altruism. Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) is on the prowl, having obtained the powers of the Seven Deadly Sins via the Eye of Sin stolen from the wizard’s lair. Can Billy become the hero he is destined to be and save not only the world, but also his newfound family?
Based on the comics originally published by Fawcett Publications (before DC Comics later acquired the Shazam/Captain Marvel Family of characters), Shazam! could best be described as a superhero take on the Tom Hanks movie Big. Both stories focus on the wish fulfilment of a child transformed into an adult. Given its premise, Shazam! is lighter in tone than some other recent DC films (i.e. Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman), but still has a serious side.
The heart of the film largely comes from the relationship between Billy and his foster family, especially Freddy. In the middle of the film, Billy and Freddy have some fun with Billy’s superpowers, and we see how these two are kindred souls. Faithe Herman’s performance as the youngest foster sibling, Darla Dudley, is also noteworthy as her character is spunky and truly charming.
The darker moments are generally those that involve acts of terror committed by Dr. Sivana, possessed and abetted by the Seven Deadly Sins. Sivana is somewhat of a dark counterpart to Billy, as he was denied Shazam’s power as a child (Ethan Pugiotto plays a young Sivana in flashback) and seeks revenge.
Shazam! blends several different tones and does so rather well. In addition to super heroic humor and action and menacing villainy, we also experience the drama of Billy’s history as a runaway orphan. Most of the plot points in Billy’s journey are predictable, but are done with enough sincerity to engage audiences.
Shazam! puts together a variety of elements that are familiar but not commonly found in superhero films. In doing so, it fares as a good, entertaining film from the DC Universe. If you’re already a fan of the character, or want to be, you know what magic word to say.