By Miguel E. Rodriguez
Director: David F. Sandberg
Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Adam Brody, Djimon Hounsou
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 91% Certified Fresh
PLOT: Fourteen-year-old Billy Batson’s life is changed forever when he is tapped to be the recipient of all the powers of a god by an aging wizard.
What’s that, you say? The trailers for Shazam! look like something that should have gone straight to video? Looks kinda stupid? Like something along the lines of 2011’s abysmal Green Lantern crossed with Sky High?
Well, you’re not wrong in terms of the trailer. However, like all the best trailers, it only shows you what it WANTS to show you, and keeps the best stuff hidden until you pay your admission fee. And what the trailers DON’T show you is the heart, appeal, and just plain fun of Shazam! It’s the DC Extended Universe’s answer to Guardians of the Galaxy.
Plug the director’s name, David F. Sandberg, into IMDb, and you discover that his biggest credits to date are the Lights Out movie (a one-trick horror pony) and Annabelle: Creation, unseen by me, but which intuition tells me was not exactly a superhero movie. So he would not seem to be the ideal candidate to helm a movie that tries to bring some constantly-requested fun into DC’s dark universe of films. But whatever Sandberg learned on those other movies was worth learning, because he has created a comic-book movie that’s just about as much fun as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Like someone remade Big where the little kid turns into Superman instead of Tom Hanks.
The beginning of the film is pretty standard comic-book stuff. The origins of a key character, background on young Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel, a young actor who is the spitting image of Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, has anyone seen the two of them in the same room together, just saying), and his introduction into a foster home unique in the world of comic-book films, at least to my knowledge. Billy’s new foster home is a melting pot of cultures, from Asian to (I think) Samoan, with siblings ranging in age from about 9 to 18. There was something kinda cool about it, but not distracting. Just…unique.
When Billy miraculously gains his powers (in a scene that is distinctly Potter-esque, what with wizards, lightning bolts, and orphans), one of his foster siblings, Freddy, becomes his manager, owing to the fact that he’s an expert on superheroes, particularly Superman and Batman, although he can also be seen wearing a t-shirt with the Atlantean logo on it…nice touch. The scenes where Freddy and Billy attempt to determine the extent of Billy’s new powers are worth the price of admission. And they have a certain logic. If a bullet shot from a gun bounces off your brand-new super-suit, AND your body has completely transformed, how do you know if your HEAD is bulletproof or not? Speaking for myself, I’d just use my super-speed and get out of the way, but that’s not really definitive enough for our heroes.
Anyway. The movie uses a lot of comedy and just enough super-villainy to get us through the story without bogging us down in the deep dark psyche of the villain. And it builds to one of the most inspired climaxes I’ve seen in a comic book movie in a really long time. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say this: just remember that throne room.
Don’t let the kitschy nature of the trailers scare you away. This is a great, FUN movie.