Shazam! Movie Review

With Shazam!, the DC Extended Universe is starting to lose its edge...and it's all the better for it. True to his nickname of "The Big Red Cheese", Shazam! arrives on the big screen in a movie full of laughs, superhero action, and a surprising amount of heart.

It's really weird to say that a DC Comics movie is comfy, but there's a certain earnestness and warmth to Shazam! that evokes the style and feel of 1980's children's adventure movies like The Goonies or E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, and folks looking for the same edgy veneer as Aquaman and Wonder Woman will be hard-pressed to find them here.

Not to say that it's all fun and games, as Shazam! still deals with themes like abandonment, loss, and a kid's need to be validated, as is the case with Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a troubled orphan boy who spends most of the movie pining over a mother who may or may not have abandoned him. Billy's rebellious nature doesn't faze the ancient Wizard Shazam (Djimon Honsou in his second DC movie role), who bestows upon him his powers and turning Billy into a superpowered adult (played by Zachary Levi) tasked to guard the Seven Deadly Sins, a group of evil spirits that could spell doom on Earth should they escape. All well and good, except Billy would rather busk corners and take selfies as Shazam than be the hero he's meant to be.

It's amazing that the two best performances of the film come from the actors playing the same character. Asher Angel is equal parts charming and childish as troubled teen Billy Batson, and it doesn't stop when he transforms into Zachary Levi's Shazam, who has the immature doofus act down pat. Levi's adult Shazam is the perfect vehicle for Billy's journey from edgy asshole to hero, and it's fun to watch him take the "kid in an adult's body" bit and run with it like only he can. The rest of the kid cast is great, though Jack Dylan Grazer's role as Billy's foster brother/best friend Freddie Freeman may be downright annoying at times, but I guess that's just the adult in me talking. Oh god I'm an adult now...

Throwing a wrench into the wizard's plan is Sivana (Mark Strong), a rejected candidate for the power of Shazam and whose abusive upbringing turned him into a bitter man obsessed with wielding power over the weak. Given the DCEU treatment, Dr. Sivana is no longer the mad snickering geezer with Mr. Magoo glasses but a force of evil that's truly menacing thanks to Mark Strong's performance, making him one of the better-done villains DC has had so far.

It's surprising how down-to-earth Shazam! feels, to the point that it might come across as boring to fanboys who've been used to being fed the over-the-top action the DC movie universe is known for. Indeed, it drags in some parts as superheroics take the back seat to more family drama, but I feel that's what's so endearing about this movie. It's more about a kid's journey towards acceptance and finding a family who will call him their own, and that makes Shazam the superhero more relatable in the end.

Shazam! is the "easy listening" of DC movies, a wonderful palate cleanser after all the non-stop epicness thrown at us so far. If you're a fan of Shazam in any capacity, you'll find lots to love with this film, and I'm sure even non-fans will find something to love here as well.

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