When 14 year old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is chosen by the wizard Shazam (Djimon Honsou) to be his successor, he is introduced to a mysterious new world, that of being a grown up. In taking on this role Billy is gifted with the ability to transform into a fully grown superhero (Zachary Levi) - one with more than a few super powers. Now he just has to figure out how to use them, luckily his new foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is there to help. But while he adapts to life as both a kid and an adult, Billy must also face off against Doctor Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), a man possessed by a group of demonic creatures - known as the Seven Deadly Sins - who want Billy's new found powers for themselves.
Ever since Man of Steel hit cinemas in 2013, there have been complaints surrounding the tone of the DCEU. It was something that this franchise couldn't escape - despite several colourful attempts - until now. Director David F. Sandberg has managed to take that dark tone and inject some light-hearted fun into the mix. So now the dark bits can be fun too! They literally are funny, it's fantastic the way that Sandberg has made it so you can laugh at the quippy, smart-arse kid as he annoys this sinister villain, and still appreciate the danger and the evil of the situation. Shazam! is a lot like Ghostbusters in many ways, a clever blend of scary and comedy, the Seven Deadly Sins in many ways resemble the hellhounds from the end of Ghostbusters - creepy but funny looking.
Zachary Levi described 'Shazam!' as "like the movie 'Big', but with super powers", and I think he really hit the nail on the head. This is the story of a child who has to learn the responsibility of being an adult and a superhero all at the same time. Because Billy soon realises that discovering what his powers are, is a hell of a lot easier than figuring out what he should do with them. Yes that makes for a silly story, and it can be childish in places, but both Billy and Shazam would still be able to hold their own with the other members of the Justice League. And besides, shouldn't a movie about a kid pretending to be an adult, feel - in part at least - like it's made by that same kid?
Billy is a really likeable kid, despite the fact he can be kind of a dick at times. As an orphan he's so totally focused on his goal of finding his family, that he fails to see what's right in front of him. He has a lot of growing up to do over the course of the movie and at times that growth can be painful - in more ways than one - but it's also a lot of fun. Asher Angel and Zachary Levi have done a brilliant job of bringing Billy to life in all his forms. If you didn't know any better, you'd think it was one actor playing both sides of the role. Looking at Levi's performance I'd say he didn't have to work too hard on this, because he comes across as such a big kid in real life. Clearly this role was made for him! A lot of the fun actually stems from Billy's experimentation with his powers - not to mention the trouble that usually follows. And this is where the unofficial sidekick comes in. Freddy - the guy behind some of the funniest superhero names ever invented - is usually there to help Billy, or make things worse. Jack Dylan Grazer's performance is a real scene stealer, he's perfect as this excitable nerd whose mouth has a tendency to get him in trouble.
Much like his ability to fly or punch through walls, our hero must also learn to use his new found courage and wisdom. It is never lost on us that even when he's Shazam, Billy is still a kid. There are times when he's unsure of himself, there are even times when he's terrified and his greatest strength is his ability to run and hide. And lets face it, that's probably a good idea when faced with going up against Mark Strong, who does make for an incredibly good villain...or should I say bad? There's more to Sivana than the usual world domination stuff, in fact this is a world where the heroes and villains are more alike than they'd care to admit. As well as the obvious hijinks, there's actually some interesting underlying themes to 'Shazam!', including responsibility, family and appreciating what we have. Even in a superhero movie, Sandberg has managed to navigate those themes without it getting cheesy. At its core, this is fun, family movie - as long as that family is over the age of 12 - with real heart.
Man of Steel may still be my favourite movie in the DCEU (or whatever they're calling it these days), but 'Shazam!' has easily taken a very close second place. David F. Sandberg has done something great here, he has taken that dark tone that many have complained about, and made it funny. I would really like to see more of the above pictured duo, not to mention Shazam irritating the Justice League in the not too distant future.
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