Sunday 31 March 2019

Film Review: Shazam!

Looking for a superhero film overflowing with glee instead of gloom? Just say the magic word! 

A troubled teen with a good heart bouncing from foster home to foster home, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) finally lands on his feet when he’s plopped on the doorstep of gentle foster parents Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa (Marta Milans). 

The caring couple and their menagerie of foster children – including Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) ­– open their hearts to Billy, but he’s too busy getting into trouble and looking for his birth mum to pay them any attention. 

A good deed leads Billy to a chance encounter with a mystical wizard (Djimon Hounsou), who gifts him with the ability to transform into the muscled lycra-clad adult hero Shazam (Zachary Levi), who is invulnerable to bullets, can leap buildings in a single bound and shoot lightning from his fingers. With Freddy in tow, Billy discovers the benefits of being older and super – but his gift isn’t without danger, which he comes to realise when the villainous Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) arrives on the scene.

After a rocky start, DC’s interconnected series of superhero films has come good recently. Wonder Woman remains the high watermark, and Aquaman proved even the lamest of heroes can be fun when in possession of enough charisma. David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! continues this upward trajectory, courtesy of its playful tone, colourful characters and abundance of heart. To say you’ll be beaming from ear to ear in an understatement. 

While the sprawling ensemble cast is packed with great characters, Billy and Freddy’s friendship shines brightest. A second act montage where the duo experiments with Shazam’s myriad of powers (with varying results) is hilarious. It’s a gleeful exploration of how two tearaway teens would act when gifted with a grown-up body and superpowers. They buy beer, visit a strip club and generally cause mischief. Basically it’s Tom Hanks’ Big with ancient wizards and gruesome demons thrown into the mix. What’s not to love? 

Levi (best known for the titular role in Chuck) and Grazer (who viewers will recognise from 2017’s It) bounce off one another with aplomb, with the former nailing the mood of a kid who just discovered they can fly at the speed of sound. Fun isn’t something audiences have come to expect from DC films, but Shazam! is making up for lost time. 

Of course, every hero needs a villain, and Sivana is a passable one – Strong skulks around behind dark sunglasses, snarls about his evil intentions and has a horde of hulking monsters at his back. He exists solely to create some third act drama, but isn’t what you would call memorable. 

At its core, Shazam! is about family. Billy is searching for one but looking in all the wrong places; Sivana is similarly lonely, but chooses to channel this into anger; Victor and Rosa’s home may be unconventional, but there’s no shortage of familial love at their dinner table. Because of this (and in spite of a few scares which reveal Sandberg’s horror roots remain intact), Shazam! is the perfect Saturday matinee film for the family. 

The Verdict: 8/10

A simple premise with heart and humour in equal measure, Shazam! doesn’t reinvent the genre or defy expectation, but it does deliver on its promise of unbridled fun. Comes recommended.

Shazam! is in cinemas across Australia from April 4.

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