After what seems like a never-ending parade of films with brooding heroes, the DC Universe finally takes a turn for the lighter side (sort of) in “Shazam!” – the origin story for the teenager turned superhero.
It’s a nice departure from previous DC entries, one that is much more fun than most of its predecessors and way more fun than the dreadful trailer that played on every film the last six months suggests.
“Shazam!” follows 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), separated from his mom at an early age and now bouncing around from foster home to foster home while trying to find his mother who disappeared years ago.
Billy is sent to live with two former foster children turned foster parents (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews in two very delightful supporting roles) – the latest addition to a house that includes four other children.
Billy’s life gets even crazier when he is summoned by a mysterious wizard to his realm where the wizard gives the boy all of his powers – allowing him to become an adult superhero known as Shazam (Zachary Levi).
Unsure how to use his powers, Billy turns to one of the foster kids he is now living with – comic book aficionado Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) – to help him figure out how to be a superhero. But his training is forced to be sped up when a sinister doctor named Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) arrives, looking to combine Shazam’s powers with those of the evil spirits that have allowed him to become a super villain.
For a while “Shazam!” feels like two movies fighting with each other for supremacy. You have this goofy comedy about a kid being a superhero, but director David F. Sandberg also uses his horror background to make some darker moments where the stakes are a lot higher than you would expect in a movie about a teenage kid.
Those styles might cause the film to go off the rails in lesser hands, but Sandberg – along with Henry Gayden’s screenplay – manages to balance the tones well, eventually bringing it together in the final act with some payoffs that are sure to please fans of the comic book.
It also helps that this is one of the most self-aware DC movies to date – a film not afraid to use other well-known heroes in the universe for a few laughs.
Levi won me over as the overgrown superhero, while Strong proves to be a quality adversary. Grazer is also pretty good as the sidekick, able to have winning chemistry with both Levi and Angel.
It all adds up to a surprising winning formula – an unexpected bit of fun that is one of the better DC creations. “Shazam!” is so effortless, it makes you wonder why it took the DC universe so long to get it right.