With great power...
DC's breezy new superhero flick Shazam! is a welcome addition to the canon
These days, it feels as if a new superhero film comes out every other week. To stand out, each new entry has to offer something fresh for viewers. Enter DC Comics' latest effort Shazam!, which slips into cinemas ahead of the much-hyped return of the Marvel Cinematic Universe later this month.
With promotional posters for Shazam! showing the eponymous hero blowing bubblegum, you know this promises to be a different kind of heroic tale: a lighter, brighter and more youth-oriented story than the DC canon has offered to date.
At the beginning of the film, we meet 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) as he gets into trouble for trying to locate his long-lost mother, from whom he was separated at a young age. Child services send him to a crowded foster home. One day, after an encounter with bullies, he escapes on the subway, when he is suddenly summoned to another realm by an ancient wizard who grants him the power to transform into Shazam (Zachary Levi) a buff superhero clad in red, with a golden bolt of lightning on his chest. So begins the story of a kid who suddenly finds himself blessed with superhuman abilities.
The glum Billy transforms into an overexcited Shazam. I felt a slight disconnection in the characterisations at first. But I guess this is where we finally get to see Billy, or rather Shazam, as a happy-go-lucky, carefree adolescent, instead of the troubled child forced to grow up at a young age. What would you do if you suddenly become an adult? What would you do if you suddenly become a superhero? Go drinking? Save the world? Take advantage of your superpowers to become a YouTube star? This is what a kid would do, with comical and nearly disastrous results.
Of course, the fun doesn't last long. Whenever a hero comes along with special powers, there will be a villain who covets them. Mark Strong plays Dr Thaddeus Sivana, a bad guy with family issues of his own, seeking to possess the powers of Shazam. There's lots of back story for this one, so it's a little disappointing how Sivana comes off in the end as a little one-dimensional. The film could really have gone deeper with all the issues tied to his childhood. The situation is better with young Billy, who at least shows some development and growth in his journey.
Angel and Levi both do a fine job embracing their respective roles though, as mentioned earlier, I would have loved more consistency in some of their characterisation. Mark Strong is OK, but he isn't given much to work with. The young supporting cast members who play Billy's foster siblings are a joy to watch, even if some elements of their portrayals may be a little clichéd and stereotypical. Overall they make for a fun ensemble that really work together. It's also interesting to see director Sandberg in something so lighthearted following his takes on the horror genre with Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation.
Shazam! is a coming-of-age tale that reminds us that we have to grow up when the situation calls for it. At the same time, it's OK to remain a child at heart and to have a brighter outlook on the world. The film also has a thing or two to say about the meaning of family and teamwork. Overall, Shazam! makes for an enjoyable and harmless experience that the entire family can watch together. There isn't too much in the way of drama. Instead, audiences will get plenty of laughs and a few surprises along the way.