If DC could make more movies like Shazam (and Wonder Woman) and forget about the dark, dreary world of Batman and Superman, then they have a real fighting chance against Marvel.
Shazam is a like a superhero movie crossed with Home Alone, The Goonies and Superbad — but without any raunch and no blood.
The first truly family-friendly teen superhero flick (it skews younger than Spider-Man: Homecoming and Kick-Ass), it’s charming, high-spirited and embraces its youthful, goofy side.
In order words, it’s the anti-Justice League. Yes, thank you, DC gods, you are listening.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a 14-year-old runaway in Philadelphia. Since he was accidentally separated from his mother at a fair as toddler, he’s been bounced from one foster home to another, usually because Billy takes off.
With a strong independent streak, he reluctantly agrees to move to a new home, with the Vasquezes (Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans) and five other kids — Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Darla (Faithe Herman), Mary (Grace Fulton), Eugene (Ian Chen) and Pedro (Jovan Armand).
Billy is asked to share a room with Freddy, a superhero enthusiast with a whip-fast mouth and crutches.
When Freddy is bullied by some kids at school, Billy intervenes and then, dashing onto a train, he notices the people in his subway has disappeared and the windows have frosted over.
He’s been transported to another realm where a dying wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) tells him he must take his powers and protect the world from an evil force.
The threat is a manifestation of the Seven Deadly Sins, which has taken over Dr. Thaddeus Silva (Mark Strong) — when the Sins come out, they look like the love child of Ghostbusters’ Slimer and a Rodin statue.
As Shazam, Billy takes the form of a grown-up man (Zachary Levi), tall, muscly and chiselled-jawed. Which means he can buy beer! And he does.
Billy and Freddy go to town with Billy’s new powers in exactly the way immature teens would do — making YouTube videos of them testing fire invincibility, flying, super strength, invisibility and more.
The videos go viral and Billy (Thundercrack/Sir Zaps A Lot/Red Cyclone — they have trouble picking a name) becomes famous, which attracts the attention of Dr. Silva. A couple of 14-year-olds don’t tend to think medium term, like, don’t showboat your powers and potentially draw out a supervillain.
Shazam is like an ’80s and ’90s fun throwback, referencing, if not directly, at least in spirit, quite a few movies of that era — Jumanji, Jurassic Park, the Amblin movies, and there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to Big, which is, obviously, very fitting.
And if you had any doubt the era of filmmaking it was aping, you only have to wait for Natalie Cole’s This Will Be to play out over the end.
The kid actors are great, especially Grazer whose quick rhythm and mop of curly hair recalls a certain Seth Cohen from The OC — which makes a later cameo from Adam Brody pretty much perfect.
Levi is wonderful here, emitting the warmth, angst and confusion of a teenager so effectively, you could almost buy him as a young teen.
Shazam is a neutered kind of superhero movie in which the violence is over-the-top and not at all gory — one gruesome act is avoided by the camera’s quick pan-away. And the core message isn’t “world-in-peril”, it’s about family and belonging.
If Shazam is the direction DC is taking, not necessarily making all of its movies PG-rated zany bear hugs, but at least acknowledge that superhero movies have a wide audience who don’t all want a self-serious dirge, then the future is looking good.