I know what you’re thinking. “A movie review? We haven’t had one of those in a while!” Well yes, it has been a while but then it’s half term and I felt that, in support of the ‘GEEK’ part of our moniker, we’d best do something. Also it’s half term and I actually managed to get out to the cinema instead of catching my nerd movies months later on blu-ray or Netflix.
Shazam! is yet another superhero movie, this time from the cinematic studios of DC comics, a company more renowned for producing gritty, edgy movies about superheroes that are very dark and brooding, tormented by hideous back stories of adversity such as Batman, thrust into a gritty pseudo-historical setting like Wonder Woman or gruffly popping out of the sea like Aqua Man. Let’s also not forget when they abandoned the idea of heroes entirely and focused on the (super-gritty) bad guys in Suicide Squad.
Shazam! is something of a departure from that well established back catalogue of frowning front-men (and women) and instead we’re presented with a downright cheery superhero instead. He’s still got the gritty back story of death and abandonment but, for the most part, present day Shazam! is happy to indulge in the wonder of a child who has recently been granted super powers.
Which brings us neatly to the story. Shazam! is the tale of Billy Batson (played by relative newcomer Asher Angel), a normal if somewhat disenfranchised youth who is plucked from obscurity by an elderly interdimensional wizard to be imbued with all his mystical powers. Why you ask? Well the wizard, last of his kind, is growing old and weak and must pass on his powers before he expires. Despite numerous attempts to find a suitable candidate, he eventually gives up and fobs it off on to someone at random, with the lucky winner being young Mr Batson.
So we follow Billy as he comes to terms with his new-found powers in the way that any kid would; by blowing things up and shooting lightning into the sky. Obviously. But it’s not just powers that Billy is granted. Activating his gift (by shouting Shazam!) turns him into a fully grown man in his late thirties (played by Chuck’s Zachary Levi) with all the hilarious hi-jinks that come along with that particular movie trope.
But it’s not all fun and games. Thanks to the old wizard’s scattergun approach to selecting interview candidates and a rather blunt rejection technique, he’s also unwittingly created the supervillain of the movie, Dr Thaddeus Sivana (seasoned frowner Mark Strong). Tormented by a mean family and a lifetime of searching for a way back for a second interview, Sivana eventually breaches the divide between our world and that of the wizard, picking himself up a cohort of otherworldly demons that take up residence inside his head by means of a magical orb that he shoves into his face.
Once he’s merely halfway done figuring out his powers, Billy is set against the evil Sivana and he must get up to speed before the insane doctor can defeat him and steal his wizard-given powers for himself.
Shazam! is a mostly light-hearted adventure focusing on both Billy’s adjustment to his newfound superpowers and also his relationship with the latest in a long line of foster families. Billy is guided through his rebirth as a superbeing by his new foster brother Freddy (played by IT’s Jack Dylan Grazer) who seeks to keeps him morally grounded whilst (almost) leaping buildings in a single bound. I’ll not spoil the end but it was particularly pleasing to see how Billy’s family sub-plot is ultimately intertwined with his responsibilities as a superhero.
Note: Those with a keen eye will spot the scene where a fight with the big bad crashes through a toy store and Shazam! scuttles across an oversized piano, a clear nod to Tom Hanks’ Big, the original ‘boy magically becomes full grown man’ story.
So is it a movie worth taking the kids to? Well it’s rated a 12A in the UK and to be honest it really pushes the boundaries of what that can get away with. There are some rather gruesome scenes and the monsters are both loud, aggressive and rather disgusting in appearance. If you have kids with strong stomachs who are circling the 10-12yr age bracket then I’d say give it a go but don’t be tempted to take younger children along unless you want to have a lot of conversations about nightmares and the fictional status of movie monsters.
Overall I thought Shazam! was great. It looks like a great jumping off point for a new breed of more Marvel-style DC movies that actually tries to bed-in it’s tentpole characters before bringing them together in an ensemble feature. If so, that’s one I’m already excited to see.
Right now Shazam is still on at cinemas so if you’re interested in checking it out, get yourself to your local ‘big telly’ as soon as possible.