Like the luminous and cheesy insignia flashing across his chest, Shazam!is a lightning bolt of quirky energy that has lightened up the largely dour DC movie universe, turning into its unexpected champion. Considering the gravitas of the legacy superheroes who came before him – yes, even the campy Aquaman(see our review) was quite epic with its sprawling underwater worlds and heavyweight leading man – who would have thought that the DCEU would finally knock it out of the ballpark with a zany and pleasantly unassuming action adventure that’s a cross between Supermanand the Tom Hanks classic, Big.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a troubled teen who seems to get a kick out of running away from home and playing juvenile pranks on cops. What’s initially seen as mischief turns out to be a cover for a heartbreaking backstory: Billy was separated from his young single mother at a crowded funfair when he was little and has tirelessly searched for her ever since, hence his inability to stay put.
His latest antics gets him shipped off to another foster family, a cosy household run by a loving couple who’s already caring for six other orphaned kids including Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), who is physically disabled but has a vast knowledge of superheroes. After confronting two school bullies who have been picking on Freddy, Billy is on the run again and gets spirited away to the mystical lair of an ailing wizard named Shazam.
In need of a champion to help defend the world against the dark forces of the Seven Deadly Sins that had been unleashed by one Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), a power-hungry scientist with a broken moral compass, Shazam endows Billy with his powers.
Whenever Billy calls out “Shazam!”, he turns into a swole superpowered man-child (Zachary Levi). Think Superman’s goofy cousin complete with bright red spandex and a white cape. With Freddy by his side, Billy as Shazam tries to figure out his abilities and new responsibilties. But hot on his heels is Dr. Sivana, who wants to harvest Shazam’s magic for himself.
This is just my two cents worth but Shazam! might very well be the best movie that the oft troubled DCEU has ever made. Some of you might be sniggering that it’s still a low bar to clear and some of you might be outraged – what about Wonder Woman, right?
Wonder Woman (see our review) will forever occupy a special place in pop culture as a well-crafted superhero blockbuster that is not only headlined by a potent female cast, but steered by a female director. More importantly, the box office hit has revolutionised female representation in a genre that, at one time, seemed to belong exclusively to Hollywood’s boys’s club. Having said that, Wonder Woman is still quite problematic, plot-wise. The powerful build-up is diluted by a climax that was, well, anti-climatic with its cut-rate villain and a twist viewers can spot a mile away.
Shazam! however, is strong from start to finish. There isn’t a single cringe-worthy moment (I shudder at least once while watching most DCEU movies) as it expertly balances gripping action, playful humour and heart. For a movie in which the hero spends a lot of time goofing off, it’s also a surprisingly poignant, emotionally-resonant story that examines the true meaning of family, how it’s more than just bloodline and that it’s genuine love and support that truly empowers us. Without giving away more vital plot points,Shazam!’s narrative is the kind that comes full circle, which is always elegant and touching.
Shazam!is also well-acted with a dynamic cast of lovable performers who all seem to possess such impeccable comic timing. And it’s simply infectious! Like Hugh Jackman, Robert Downey Jr. and Ryan Reynolds before him, Zachary Levi is also born to play the superhero he’s been entrusted with. His boyish charms and down-to-earth humour lend themselves well to the kid-stuck-in-an-overgrown-hunk persona. Also, Mark Strong proves that you can still play a captivating supervillain without a British accent!
Taking a leaf out of the Steven Spielberg/ George Lucas handbook, director David F. Sandberg has created a fantasy adventure reminiscent of the retro kid-friendly capers of the ‘80s and ‘90s, which is quality entertainment for the whole family. Shazam! is a good time at the cinema and totally worth your time and the ticket price.
Shazam! lands in Singapore cinemas today. Be sure to let us know what you think of the movie when you see it!