They got the tone right. “Shazam!”, the latest DC comic book superhero to arrive on the big screen, is an appropriately goofy, childish affair.
Because they s
tole borrowed from the right “origin story” in adapting this, the “other” Captain Marvel, for the big screen. It’s “Big” in tights, with a very fancy cape.
They cast it well, with Zachary Levi of TV’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and earlier, “Chuck” managing to be childlike, unsophisticated and ungainly when it counts. He’s no Tom Hanks, but he gets across the novelty of a boy of 14 transformed into a buff, cut, cod-pieced do-gooder, a kid who can now buy beer (“YUCK!”) and get into strip clubs.
This is a comic book movie with all the DC Darkness washed out of it, pointed at a younger audience (in most ways) and content to make any fanboy/fangirl pandering so obvious as to be laughable.
Of course it’s a 75 minute picture, with maybe 30 minutes of good one-liners and sight gags, drowning in two hours and twelve minutes of Comic Book Event Picture excess. There’s nothing to justify that, but it’ll still be a big hit, so whatever.
They cast EveryVillain Mark Strong of the Robert Downey “Sherlock Holmes” and “Kick-Ass,” as the heavy — and gave him nothing to play, nothing to amusing to say — just a bald guy with a bright blue right eye to show us he’s got “the magic” and he’s not afraid to use it on “The Champion,” chosen by the last of the Seven Wizards (Djimon Hounsou, of course) to battle darkness, evil, what have you.
It’s a movie about two kids, one who was “interviewed” for the job of “Champion” back in 1974, and found wanting. He couldn’t resist the powers that the wizard, searching for “one soul who is worthy,” was tempting him with.
The other? He’s Billy Batson (Asher Angel), orphaned since the day he lost his mother at the fair even though he’d just won a compass “so you can find your way.”
Billy’s latest foster home is a kind-hearted house filled with kids, with the smart aleck Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) the one who shows him the ropes at home and in junior high.
Freddy uses a crutch, and that gets him bullied. When Billy stands up to the bullies, he becomes the wizard’s last, best hope to pass on what The Council of Wizards always wanted, “a champion to inherit my magic.”
Billy only has to say the wizard’s name and he’ll absorb “the wisdom of Solomon (S), the strength of Hercules (H), the stamina of Atlas (A), the power of Zeus (Z), the courage of Achilles (A),” the money-making power of Marvel (M).
Billy finds himself in a red suit with a cape, and “Big.”
Freddy is all “up on the supes” (super heroes), “the caped crusader stuff.” He’ll make the perfect sidekick.
The “other” boy, the one who didn’t pass muster, has grown up to be a scientist/oligarch, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Strong). And he’s out to corral Shazam’s powers for himself.
A great running gag — Freddy puts Billy through a series of “Super Hero” tests. Can he fly? Can he become invisible? How handy is it that they stumble into a convenience store robbery?
“Bullet proof? Let’s SEE!” Freddy records these experiments on his cell phone.
Another running gag, what to “call” our superhero — “Thunder Crack?” “Sounds like a butt joke.” “Mr Philadelphia” (the setting)? “Sounds like cream cheese.” “Maximum Voltage? “Sparkle Fingers?”
Yes, we see lightning shoot out of his fingers, a la “Captain Marvel” and others. The best effect might be the people/wizards/gargoyle villains turning to ashes, which also seems familiar. The effects are not that novel nor are the epic brawls, and the sight gags (“YOUR cell-phone is charged! And YOUR cell-phone is charged!”), on the nose and not surprising.
The director did an “Annabelle” horror movie and the screenwriter’s most famous credit is the limp kiddie sci-fi “Earth to Echo.” So if this was as good as some folks have been saying, that would be the surprise of surprises.
It’s not. The script and direction range from pedestrian to passable. Limp takes on bullying, a rehashed fight at the fair, under-developed side stories on “family” and Shazam assembling his “team.” Yawners, for fans only.
So as the only movies to compare superhero pictures to are other superhero pictures, let’s park “Shazam!” in its proper place. It’s a little more fun than “Aquaman,” not quite up to “Captain Marvel.” Like “Fantastic Four,” it’s a gateway drug comic book adaptation, a superhero movie on training wheels, best suitable for young kids (save for the insane and unsustainable running time) about to embark on a lifetime of fandom.
Or people who think “Thunder Crack” is the equivalent of Algonquin Round Table wit.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material
Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Grace Multon, Meagan Good, Djimon Hounsou
Credits:Directed by David F. Sandberg, script by Henry Gayden, based on the DC comic book. A Warner Brothers/New Line release.
Running time: 2:12