Warner Bros’ rebranded Worlds of DC follows the insanity of Aquaman with another upbeat and frequently funny superhero crowdpleaser. Shazam! isn’t exactly the most well known of DC’s heroes, but in the same way James Gunn turned the little known Guardians into a box office hit, David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! does a great job introducing audiences to the lighter side.
Every kid wants to be a superhero, but for most of them it’s nothing more than a dream. That’s not the cast for 15-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) when he is bestowed the power of A wizard (Djimon Hounsou), giving Billy the ability to turn into a square-jawed grown-up superhero (gleefully played by Zachary Levi) when he says the magic word. Shazam! Think of Shazam as the superhero equivalent of Big or other body swap comedies of yesteryear, its only goal is to put a great big goofy smile on your face, and on that front it succeeds in spades.
Billy has bounced from foster home to foster home since he got lost at the funfair, still searching for his mother, Billy is one bad decision away from a life in a juvenile facility. His latest home finds him at the Vasquez’s (Marta Milans and The Walking Dead’s Cooper Andrews), a loving family that gives kids like Billy a supportive environment. His superhero obsessed roommate Freddy (It star Jack Dylan Grazer stealing every scene) counters Billy’s cynicism with positivity that would make Superman proud.
Levi puts his years playing lovable geek Chuck to good use, and his winning charm here is a sad reminder that Marvel didn’t utilise his skills in a thankless role as Fandral (one of the warriors three). Levi perfectly encapsulates a childlike wonder (and sulking when required) as Shazam, to some a cut-price superman, who makes himself a minor celebrity before fully grasping his new found powers. Even with Freddy’s help, Billy succumbs to the trappings of celebrity, and ends up hurting the people he has come to think of as family. Naturally, there are no big twists here, the ending is clearly visable after 30 minutes, but just because it’s predicatbale dosen’t make it any less enjoyable.
Mark Strong gets a second stab at a DC character after Green Lantern, and he serves up ham aplenty in his villainous turn as the demonically possessed Dr Sirvana. He’s not really needed to do much more than sneer, and growl, but Strong fully commits to the role. The stakes are refreshingly low; there are no grand designs on world domination, no sky beam to stop, just a group of kids learning to find the hero within. Even when the third act becomes overly sentimental, Shazam wears its heart so earnestly on its sleeve, that’s it becomes infectious.
Not everything fully works, some of the deaths at the hands of the Seven Deadly Sins demons are a tad too horrific for younger audiences. These sequences feel like an odd overhang over the DCEU that used to be, but I did kind of like the unexpected mild horror. Like Aquaman, it’s a least 20 minutes too long with an underdeveloped villain. It might be lightweight, but Shazam! delivers big laughs, a positive message with a great big goofy heart.