SHAZAM!

It’s no secret that superhero movies are where it is at in blockbusters now, but here is one that’s just a bit different.

The latest DC comic book adaption comes in the form of Shazam!, a character originally created by C. C. Beck and Bill Parker in 1939 and adapted finally for the big screen by director David F. Sandberg.

It’s about a kid, fourteen year old Billy who inherits the power of an old wizard. All he has to say is “shazam” and he transforms into an adult superhero with a bunch of powers. It’s a much more cheesy prototype than the superheroes we’re used to seeing on today’s screens, but it is handled very well.

The film is aware of how silly the premise is. Writers Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke embraced that – it doesn’t try to be something it’s not, takes the fun idea and rolls with it. Even the superhero suit reflects that – it’s very true to the comics; a bright two toned piece that looks like it’s walked straight off the page. It’s cool that they stuck with that, and not tried to modernise it too look more realistic for today.

It also grounds itself in a lot of relatable ways that make the story that more tangible to an audience. It isn’t deep and dark and moody by any means, instead is very accurate to a couple of young teenagers discovering super powers, and figuring out how to utilise them. Or more accurately, not actually thinking about how to utilise them for good and instead just have a laugh – of course a teenage boy would use his superpowers to charge his phone! It’s genuinely charming and funny to watch, a real nice change of pace in the now very serious genre.

There are also plenty of really fun jokes, genuinely funny ones that actually made me laugh out loud. The homage to Big was very silly, in a very fun way, and no spoilers but my favourite was the one about Rocky. So dumb but so smart that it made me snort for a good five minutes.

And I LOVED the post credits scenes. Brilliant.

Zachery Levi is the titular Shazam here, and does a really excellent job. He’s equally convincing as both a superhero and a fourteen year old, and really nails that blend of those two parts of Billy. He’s the right kind of actor that has that stupid naivety but in an endearing, not annoying way which is a hard find.

I was also pretty impressed by young billy Ashar Angel. He is not overshadowed by Levi at all, a tough feat considering Levi is the one selling this film really. He has just as much screen presence, charisma, and that endearing sad-bad-boy thing going for him that just makes you want to hug him. He does such a good job of holding the movie until Levi shows up that you don’t even realise it.

It‘s Jack Dylan Grazer plays Freddy Freeman, Billy’s foster ally and self appointed manager. He is brilliant, just so whip smart and talented at being this self aware kid who believes he’s a lot wiser than his years. I can’t wait to see more and more of Grazer because he really is brilliant – and this second big role on the screen only solidifies his future success.

The wonderful Mark Strong here plays the bad guy Dr Sivana, and looks like he has a blast doing it. He is your classic super villain through and through, finally having achieved his lifelong obsession with power and whatnot and ready to rule the world essentially.

The group of kids is great, and works so, so well together. It’s an eclectic mix of people, and they come together and form something greater. There’s Grace Fulton as Mary, the high schooler applying to colleges; Ian Chen as Eugene, a little kid obsessed with video games and computers; Jovan Armand as Pedro who is a lot quieter than the other kids but comfortable nonetheless and finally, the adorable Faithe Herman as Darla – a tiny little girl with a cheeky and charming nature.

I would say that Pedro’s character was a lot more absent from the film than any of the other characters, which I found odd as he really is the only one to be excluded.

The foster parents to this whole family are played by Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews – who you may recognise as the enthusiastic Jerry from The Walking Dead. They are the perfect ‘cool’ parents, equal parts loving and chill.

Something that I don’t think many people were expecting was how inclusive this film would be. The family is diverse, of different ethnicities, body shapes and physical ability. Other studios have only recently given us a female led film; and here DC gives us a family made up of disabled, Latina, Asian, black and white people. It’s incredible to see – more incredible to see them utilised as actual characters, not just a representation in the back for the sake of it.

The plot is great, as a really fun origin story. It follows your basic origin template: backstory for context; young ragamuffin protagonist; tragic event; magic powers; fun montage of discovering powers; silliness; shit gets real; big battle at the end. But it is refreshing to see this again. It reminds me of the original Tobey Maguire lead-Spider-Man films of the early two thousands – it’s there to be fun, light hearted and again, gleeful.

But it also has a serious heart, that feels genuine. I got the impression that it purposefully doesn’t try much in terms of plot in order to really bring focus to the heart of the story, give us good characters and a witty script.

The pacing is pretty nicely done – it doesn’t linger or rush, and the story develops in a pretty organic way. Zachary Levi doesn’t appear on screen until forty nine minutes into the movie, but I actually almost forgot he was part of it in those first near-fifty minutes. Not in a bad way – the story just wasn’t lacking without him there.

Shazam! has surprised me, in the best possible way. Its focus on the characters and story instead of the serious saving-the-world comic book films have now become is so refreshing, and a genuine delight to watch. It does give you that gleeful sense a child gets when they read a comic book for the first time.

And I love that. It’s possibly DC’s best yet – definitely up there with Wonder Woman, but in a very different way.

Shazam! is in cinemas now

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