“Shazam!” Starring Zachary Levi, Jack Dylan Grazer, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Meagan Good, Cooper Andrews; directed by David F. Sandberg; 132 minutes; PG-13 for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material. Grade: A-
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Marvel Studios should be pleased with “Shazam!” as DC’s latest film would feel right at home in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Considering the roller-coaster nature of DC films the past few years, with many more misses (“Suicide Squad”) and disappointments (“Justice League”) than hits (“Wonder Woman”), having a film on par with anything Marvel has to offer is high praise.
DC has a reputation for dark, brooding films so the lighthearted, fun feel of “Shazam!” is fresh air.
The story begins with 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who was separated from his mother as a child. He’s streetwise and resourceful, but he longs to find her and be reunited. Fiercely independent and believing he can only trust himself, Billy frequently runs away from any home that will host him.
After making his way to Philadelphia, Billy finds a home with the Vazquez family and meets Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), a quick-witted teen who becomes a trusted friend. One day, after painfully distracting bullies who were picking on Freddy, Billy escapes his pursuers by hopping the subway.
At an unexpected stop, Billy ends up in the magical lair of a wizard, who gives him the power to transform into an adult superhero by saying the name Shazam.
Viewers won’t get to see Zachary Levi in full Shazam garb until 15 or so minutes into the film. And at first glance, he wouldn’t seem to be superhero material. Playing geeky tech nerds (“Chuck”) and being the adult guardian of The Chipmunks (“Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel”) doesn’t scream “action hero.” But he’s perfect as Shazam. Youthful exuberance and honest enthusiasm make Levi believable as a boy inhabiting a superhero’s body.
Throw in yet another fantastic, villainous performance from Mark Strong and an incredibly likable ensemble group of young actors, and this film provides moviegoers with something truly special.
While the plot has a few holes, the movie is so brisk that you’ll hardly notice. A bit more troubling is the third act, which is a tad long and CGI reliant. The film is so much fun, however, that most viewers will only find this a minor annoyance.
Forget Batman and Superman. If DC is smart, it’ll leave its cinematic future in the capable hands of its more recent heroes — Aquaman, Wonder Woman and now, Shazam.