Shazam! (2019)

[8.0]

A young teen Billy (Asher Angel) is called upon by mystical forces and given the ability to turn into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) at will. Together with help from his new foster brothers and sisters, he learns how to handle super-speed, lightning from his fingertips, flight, and other powers. He’s also forced into a confrontation with a man (Mark Strong) possessed by the Seven Deadly Sins.

Shazam! caught me off-guard with how good it is. Why is it that whenever Warner Brothers has a medicore-to-shitty DC movie (Man of Steel, Suicide Squad), they tout the hell out of it. But when something as good as this movie or Wonder Woman are on the verge of release, they can’t recognize them for the pearls that they are? Shazam! is very funny, surprisingly heartfelt, and emotionally exciting toward the end. And even more importantly, it’s about something that resonates. It’s about surrogate family – forging your own ties that bind.

The heart of the film is Billy’s relationship with a foster brother named Freddie, played with disarming nerdiness by Jack Dylan Grazer (It). The film hits its comic zenith when Grazer and Levi (as Angel’s adult superhero) spend a night on the town accidentally discovering superpowers, later skipping school to put those powers through a series of ridiculous tests. Once the boys start to get things under control, I wondered if the rest of the movie could possibly live up to those act two highlights. I’m happy to say it does — with both comedy and heart. The third act of superhero movies is usually predictably paint-by-numbers, with the big hero and the big villain having their ultimate showdown and blowing a lot of shit up. But Shazam! has a few very satisfying surprises up its sleeve. Precious few superhero movies have surprised me this late in the game. But no spoilers here!

Mark Strong makes for a good bad guy — and thank God he’s not a giant purple thing, or a giant sparkly blue thing, or a giant CGI anything. He’s just an actor doing a good job. I also have to single out adorable little Faithe Herman as one of Billy’s foster sisters. And can we have John Glover (Gremlins 2: The New Batch) in more movies, please? He’s got only a few scenes here as the bad guy’s greedy father, but I’ll take whatever Glover I can get. Oh, and the Seven Deadly Sins? They’re CGI monsters, but they look and sound totally bad-ass.

The film features a smattering of violent moments that had me wondering if it wasn’t rated R (it’s PG-13). The lighting is overly dim and uninspired (an unfortunate trend now that cameras are more sensitive to natural lighting), and the final showdown might go on just a smidge too long, but Shazam! is a lot of fun at the movies.

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