If Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame is the super-loaded, mile-high platter of nachos on the cineplex menu this year, then Shazam! (exclamation point included) is the cocktail weenies appetizer—it tastes good, is fun to eat, and is just filling enough to get you ready for the main course without spoiling your appetite. A super-enjoyable, highly entertaining flick, Shazam! proves that DC is able to keep things humming along after the success of last year’s Aquaman and 2017’s Wonder Woman while putting the Batman/Superman/Suicide Squad disasters even farther in the rearview mirror.
Directed by David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation), from a superb script by Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo), the film is serious about not taking itself too seriously—adherent to the mythology of the character (which dates back to Whiz Comics #2 in 1940) while cleverly updating the story to bring it into 2019. Geeks will geek out, non-geeks will have a blast, and kids (tween and up) may find themselves with a new favorite superhero.
Boiled down, Shazam! is a modern-day, comic-book take on Big, Tom Hanks’ 1988 flick about a kid trapped in an adult’s body. Instead of young Josh Baskin, though, we get 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a foster kid who has spent years searching for his real mom while bouncing from group home to group home. While Batson is knee-deep in his search, the benevolent wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) is also on the hunt, looking for a human of pure heart to take over for him and assume his name and power in order to protect the world from the seven deadly sins. Unable to find such a human, he settles on Batson.
All Baston has to do is say the magic word, and—SHAZAM!—he turns into the superhero wizard (played by an all-in Zachary Levi). With no idea what (if any) superpowers he has, Shazam submits to a series of field tests at the hands of his buddy Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer)—and we’re treated to the best sequence in the movie. Is Shazam bulletproof? Only one way to find out. “Shoot him in the face!” Freddy tells two thugs at the mini-mart.
Before Shazam can even enjoy his powers, though, along comes a super-villain to ruin the day. We first meet Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) in the prologue when the old wizard Shazam tries to recruit him as a young man, but the kid’s impure heart gets him nixed from consideration. In the 30 years since, Sivana has kept trying to get back to Shazam’s hidden lair to get his hands on the powers and wreak havoc in the world. When he finally succeeds, Shazam! clicks into comic book movie mode in a big way, and the fun begins.
While there’s certainly comedy and meta-humor galore, Shazam! is careful not to skimp on the story and the characters, and it’s also elevated by a decent amount of heart. This isn’t just a throw-away bit of goofiness designed to bring in some big money for DC and just kill time until the next Wonder Woman movie. While keeping his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, Sandberg manages to give us something not seen very often in superhero movie-dom—a smart, clever, and oh-so-entertaining film that leans more on the hero than the heroics. It may be less filling, but it still tastes great.