Director: David F. Sandberg
Screenwriter: Henry Gayden, from a story by Gayden & Darren Lemke, based on characters created by Bill Parker & C. C. Beck.
Jack Dylan Grazer
Runtime: 132 mins.
Australian release date: 4 April 2019
Previewed at: Roadshow Theatrette, Sydney, on 22 March 2019.
There’s quite a long history to the comic book superhero now known as Shazam! He began life way back in 1940 as Captain Marvel, the creation of writer Bill Parker and illustrator Charles Clarence (‘C. C.’) Beck. Back then he rivalled Superman in popularity but a law suit brought by DC Comics alleging that the Captain was a rip-off of their alien from Krypton led to him and his associated Marvel Family characters being withdrawn from publication for many years. When, ultimately, the rights were sold to DC Comics in the early ‘70s, a trademark battle with Marvel Comics resulted in Captain Marvel being relaunched with a new official title, Shazam! (the name is taken from the first letter of the names Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury, the six ‘immortal elders’ who provide him with his superpowers). Enough of the history lesson - is the film version any good? The good news is, yes. Shazam! is a thoroughly entertaining dude due largely to the fact that his god-like, adult body is controlled by the 14-year-old mind of wayward foster-child Billy Batson.
In a back-story, we are introduced to an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou), who’s searching for someone to replace him as his life is ebbing. The candidate must be ‘pure of heart’ and the old magician is having trouble finding someone who fits the bill until, in desperation, he chooses Billy (Asher Angel). All Billy has to do is say his name and he turns into the adult superhero Shazam! (Zachary Levi), but the lad is an unlikely saviour. He’s been tossed from foster home to foster home ever since his teenage mum ‘lost’ him at an amusement park when he was only three, and he’s developed quite a chip on his shoulder. When his roommate in a new family, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), reveals that he’s a comic book nerd who knows all about superheroes and their powers, he becomes Billy’s side-kick and helps to keep his alter ego a secret from the world. Well, except when he’s uploading videos of Shazam!’s awesome abilities. These Instagram and Facebook clips bring our hero to the attention of thoroughly evil bad-guy Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who’s been searching for Shazam! ever since the wizard rejected him as his successor years earlier, and who wants the superpowers for himself.
Swedish director David F. Sandberg, whose last outing was the horror movie Annabelle: Creation, has hit just the right note with his latest film and Levi is perfectly cast to play the man-child at the heart of the story. Sandberg explained, “It was important to find someone who could feel like a kid in a grownup’s body. I think a mistake a lot of people make when grownups try to play kids is that they just sort of lower the IQ, just play it dumber. And kids aren’t dumber, they’re just inexperienced, and more enthusiastic about life. And they don't have the filter that a lot of adults have. So that’s what we were looking for and what we absolutely found in Zachary Levi.” He’s ably supported by Angel and Grazer, who both have bright futures judging by their performances here. Mark Strong is a bit one-note but he can hardly be blamed - his sole acting instruction would most likely have been, “Be evil”. Script-wise, Shazam! is a bit too long and the ending, in particular, feels drawn out but these are relatively minor faults in the grand scheme of things; for the most part, the movie rocks along at a fair clip. Overall, Shazam! is a grand addition to the DC Extended Universe - one of the best, in fact. If you’re prepared to let your inner child fly, it’s a lot of fun.