Shazam!

 

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DC Comics has another hit on its hands as a kid inherits the body of an adult superhero.

   

Shazam!

Freaky foster kids: Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer 

 

Shazam! is a synthesis of the many themes we have seen creeping into our multiplexes of late. It is a rallying cry for diversity, foster parenting and for the Boy Who Would Be Superhero. Taking its cue from Penny Marshall’s Big (1988) – and the body swap comedies of the late 1980s – it posits what it must be like to be a 14-year-old foster kid suddenly endowed with an adult body and in particular some pretty awesome powers. Thus, following the obligatory CGI-heavy chunk of exposition, we eventually jump to contemporary Philadelphia where we encounter our young hero, Billy Batson (Asher Angel). The latter has already run away from foster homes in six different counties and isn’t about to settle down anytime soon. We meet him as he is running rings around the police, before being deposited into yet another foster home alongside five other kids. Handpicked for its infinite variety, this instant family does its best to welcome Billy to its bosom. But Billy is still bent on finding the mom he lost at a fairground a decade earlier…

 

Then, 34 minutes in, Billy’s subway train stops at a magic temple and the boy encounters a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) looking for a soul “pure of heart and strong of spirit.” And, with a modicum of cajoling, Billy is transformed into an adult superhero going by the name of Shazam. All he has to do is utter the name of his alter ego and he is transfigured. However, much of this mumbo jumbo is quite unnecessary (and unduly expensive). Audiences should be quite content to accept Billy’s new powers on face value. After all, this is a fantasy adventure from DC Comics.

 

The fun of Shazam! is that a kid finds himself with the faculties of super strength, hyper speed, a bulletproof face and the ability to manipulate electricity. After all, Peter Parker’s gradual realization of his powers is the best part of the Spider-Man movies. Unfortunately, once Billy has been upgraded, he discovers most of his new skills in one quick montage. A more savvy approach would have been to cut out the backstory and to focus more on Billy’s developing strengths. Nevertheless, the fact that Shazam is still fourteen and behaves as such, reaps considerable merriment. Oblivious of his true potential, Shazam is happy to perform magic tricks for pocket money and to charge up the phones of passers-by. Then he’s tracked down by the awful Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) and things get really tough for the lad. Thaddeus has already rounded up the Seven Deadly Sins to act as his henchmen (a hideous, diabolical bunch) and needs Shazam’s powers to complete his quest for global domination.

 

Charles Baudelaire once said that, “Genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will.” And this is where the film misses another trick. As the Boy Wonder struggles to evade the onslaught of the adult, all-powerful Thaddeus and his demons, he realises that his immature powers are no match for his ruthless nemesis. Thaddeus thinks nothing of using innocent bystanders as bait to prey on Billy’s burgeoning humanitarianism. Until now, Billy’s undoing was his self-pity and selfishness. But he has one enormous advantage over the older man – or should have: his youthful guile.

 

In spite of its missteps, Shazam! still has much to commend it. As the eponymous hunk, the 38-year-old Zachary Levi has delirious fun as the boy flexing his adult persona and physical assets. The film is also magnanimous enough to acknowledge its debts: in once scene, Thaddeus chases Billy over a toyshop’s giant keyboard, an obvious allusion to the scene in Big in which Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia play the piano with their feet. And the exhilarating finale – paving the way for the inevitable sequel – ends the movie on a high, leaving its audience begging for more.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Djimon Hounsou, Faithe Herman, Meagan Good, Grace Fulton, Michelle Borth, Ian Chen, Ross Butler, Jovan Armand, D.J. Corona, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, John Glover, Natalia Safran, Ethan Pugiotto, Andi Osho.

 

Dir David F. Sandberg, Pro Peter Safran, Screenplay Henry Gayden, Ph Maxime Alexandre, Pro Des Jennifer Spence, Ed Michel Aller, Music Benjamin Wallfisch, Costumes Leah Butler.

 

New Line Cinema/DC Films/The Safran Company/Seven Bucks Productions/Mad Ghost Productions-Warner Bros.

131 mims. 2019. USA. Rel: 5 April 2019. Cert. 12A.