Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Movie Review: Shazam!

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Laughs; superhero fun
Cons: A few issues, but still fun overall
The Bottom Line:
New superhero
Captures screen with laughs, action
Is plenty of fun

“Say My Name So My Powers May Flow Through You.”

I don’t believe I’d heard of Shazam until the previews for the new movie started heating up at the end of last year.  Now, obviously, I enjoyed superhero movies and TV shows, however, there was one reason I was excited to watch this movie – Zachary Levi.  I’ve been a fan since he starred in Chuck, and this movie looked like it would be perfect for him.  A few things from the previews made me a little concerned, but it turned out the previews pretty much got this movie correct.

When we meet Billy Batson (Asher Angel), he is a fourteen-year-old runaway trying to find his mother.  He’d gotten lost as a kid at a fair, and has been running away from foster homes ever since.  After his latest exploits on the street, he’s placed in his latest home, one run by a couple who are former foster kids themselves.  He is sharing a room with Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), a disabled foster kid obsessed with all things superhero.  Still, Billy isn’t planning to stay long; he just needs some fresh leads on his real mother.

After protecting Freddy from a couple school bullies, Billy escapes to the subway.  But there, something strange happens, and he finds himself in a cave with an old wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who names Billy his champion.  After saying this wizard’s name, he finds himself as an adult with superpowers (Zachary Levi).  With only Freddy to guide him, he has to figure out what his powers are.

Unfortunately, he won’t have much time since Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) has unleashed the seven deadly sins in an attempt to gain power and take over the world himself.  Only Billy is standing in his way.  Can Billy figure out how to stop this man?

While this movie is quite obviously a superhero movie, it is also part comedy.  They play up Billy dealing with his mysterious transformation into being an adult for plenty of laughs.  For the most part, this worked, although some of the jokes were a bit immature for my tastes.  This is what I was referring to in my opening paragraph – I suspected I wouldn’t enjoy all the jokes from the previews, and I was right.  Still, there were plenty of laughs along the way.

But it is still a superhero movie, and that means action.  We get plenty of action sequences, some of them with comedy.  Considering all the powers that Billy has as Shazam, the effects are an important part of the movie as well, and they almost all work.  Some of the deadly sins look like what they are, computer effects, but it is a minor complaint.

However, those deadly sins could be frightening for young kids.  The previews make this look like a fairly family friendly film, but take the PG-13 rating seriously.  Not only do we get the demons (that’s what the sins look like), but we get a smattering of language appropriate for this rating.  This is definitely a case of know your kids before you take them.

I was a bit concerned when I learned that Billy was a foster kid about how that aspect would play out.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I loved the characters in the foster home.  We only see his current foster family, but I thought they were fantastic.  The parents are obviously loving, and the kids, who range in age from a high school senior down to I’m guessing elementary age, all are great.  The characters are exaggerated for the comedy, but they form a loving family.  It seems that foster families tend to be portrayed negatively in pop culture more often than not, and I know that can certainly be the case.  But it was wonderful to see such a happy foster family, which I know is also the case in real life.  Yes, this does lead to a predictable story arc for Billy’s character, but I didn’t mind too much.

While the cast is uniformly good, I do have to praise the stars.  Asher Angel is fantastic as Billy, who goes through quite a bit here as his teenaged self.  Jack Dylan Grazer steals every scene he is in as Freddy.  I expect to see him have a long career.  Mark Strong is great as the villain.  And yes, Zachary Levi shines as Shazam.  The role calls for some great comedy as well as action, and he nails everything.  However, as a friend pointed out, I feel like he and Asher weren’t always playing the same character.  Billy is much more serious than Billy as Shazam is.  I blame this on the script more than the actors.

As a trivia note, John Glover has a small role here as Dr. Sivana’s dad.  This isn’t the first time he’s played the father of a major DC villain.  I know him best as Lex’s father Lionel Luther during several seasons of the show Smallville.

Watching the movie, I couldn’t help but be surprised that it came out now.  It is set at Christmas, and could have easily been released during the November and December window.  Of course, with Aquaman ready to go last year during the holiday movie period, it seems that the powers that be made the right choice.

Be sure to stay all the way through the credits for a couple of fun bonus scenes, including one that possibly sets up the sequel.

Shazam! may not break any new ground as far as superheroes go, but it is a very fun film.  This is a movie that will leave you smiling.

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