Wednesday, October 27, 2021

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Film Review

Fun, sharp, adorable


“Shazam!” is very much a family film — like blending up elements of “Goonies” and “Gremlins,” served over a heaping bowl of “Big.”

“Shazam!” PG-13 Director: David F. Sandberg Stars: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer

When you’re a kid, all you want to be is grown-up. And when you’re grown up, all you want to be is a superhero. No? Well, you might after exiting the latest comic book blockbuster, “Shazam!”

As the film starts, we enter a seemingly familiar (and familiarly dark) DC Extended Universe. It’s the 1970s, and a child is being picked on for his interests by his business-minded father and older brother. Neither are subtle in their dislike and disappointment of Thad, openly mocking him for his childlike wonder in things like magic. But moments later, Thad finds himself not in the car but before the wizard Shazam, who has been testing people’s morality in the hopes of finding a new champion. Thad is deemed unworthy and sent back, awakening in the car with his father and brother, screaming for another chance — that he is worthy. It’s a powerful opening and a great misdirection as you expect to meet your hero only to cross paths with the villain, the future Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

Fast-forward to present day Philadelphia, where we meet 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), an orphan who’s been hopping around foster homes since he lost his mom. (Literally.) A nuisance to child services and authorities, Billy is your stereotypical rascal-with-a-good-heart. The next place he winds up is a group home led by former group home kids themselves. Understandably skeptical, Billy meets the others living in the home.

After defending Freddy, a fellow grouphome kid against an attack from bullies, Billy finds himself face to face with the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who has been in a decades-long search for someone worthy to wield the power to ward off the physical manifestations of the seven deadly sins. All Billy has to do is “place (his) hands on my staff and say my name,” tells the wizard.

And with that, a new demigod is made. Endowed with the ability to instantly become an adult superhero by speaking the wizard’s name, Shazam (Zachary Levi) gleefully explores his new powers with Freddy’s help. Of course, when you give a teenager this kind of power, it shouldn’t surprise anyone when shenanigans inevitably follow. Freddy’s YouTube page blows up when he starts uploading clips of testing Billy’s newfound powers and exploring superhero names like Thunder Crack and Captain Sparkle Fingers.

This is very much a family film — like blending up elements of “Goonies” and “Gremlins,” served over a heaping bowl of “Big.” And that’s how this movie feels — like something out of the 1980s. It’s fun, sharp, adorable, at times darker than expected, but ultimately with a message that leaves you feeling generally optimistic.

Standout Grazer will be a fast favorite for many, but Levi deserves just as much respect pulling off a goofy man-child with aplomb. Strong’s Dr. Sivana is a cold, serious counterpart to Levi’s juvenile attention. The performance of the whole cast helps it so you can understood the motivations and desires of the characters, which makes it easy to care about what happens to them.

This isn’t the story of a boy who turns into an adult superhero ready to battle evil at the drop of a hat. It’s about a person learning to grow up and accept the things he’s tried to deny his whole life.

Young or young at heart, everyone walks away saying the same thing: “SHAZAM!” ♦

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