Shazam! is an enjoyable, if unremarkable superhero origin story. It’s got a likeable enough lead and packs a fair amount of good laughs – which is enough to keep the dull villain, shoddy special effects and bloated runtime from ruining the fun.
They do spoil it a bit, though.
After a prologue that goes on for way too long, we’re introduced to young Billy Batson (Asher Angel), an orphan desperate to find his missing mother and none too pleased to be a part of yet another foster family.
Things take a turn for the weird when an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) chooses Billy to be his Champion. By saying the wizard’s name – Shazam – Billy transforms into a full grown adult (Zachary Levi) with superpowers and a spiffy red outfit.
Out of his depth, Billy seeks the help of new foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Glazer), who’s a big ol’ superhero nerd. The scenes of Billy and Freddy goofing off and testing out Billy’s newfound powers are easily the highlight of the film – it’s no wonder why they’ve been all over the marketing.
From buying beer and going to a strip club, to stumbling upon a peculiar amount of crimes in the same night (another one of Shazam’s superpowers, perhaps), it’s all very goofy and endearing – thanks in no small part to Zachary Levi’s charismatic man-child performance and Glazer’s motor-mouth and nerdy enthusiasm.
The villain Thadeus (Mark Strong) is underwhelming at best. Strong is a reliable screen presence, but there just isn’t much going on with the character. What’s even worse is that he draws his powers from one of the least interesting takes on the Seven Deadly Sins I’ve ever seen.
They’re basically just CGI ooga-booga monsters, with no discernible personalities or distinguishing characteristics. At one point Thadeus wonders which Sin should help him exact revenge on his miserly father, which is entirely pointless since all of them seem to have the same powers and method of attack.
The movie really starts to drag towards the end, its good quips and funny moments growing further and further apart. The third act carnival fight eventually becomes a chore. By the fourth or possibly fifth time you see Billy yell ‘Shazam!’ and strike a heroic pose as his superheroic self, that ‘wow’ factor is all but gone.
What also doesn’t help is that the special effects aren’t particularly impressive. They’re fine in the comedy bits, but any time there’s supposed to be actual fighting going on, it’s all a bit ho-hum.
The foster family are likeable enough, but it’s too large of a supporting cast to properly flesh out. There’s a cool twist with them near the end – but devoting time to their new dynamic is one of the reasons the finale drags on.
In terms of the larger DC universe, it’s all relegated to Easter eggs and cute references. Shazam makes it clear that it is set in a world in which superheroes exist, but doesn’t go into any more detail beyond that. They just exist and the public are aware.
Shazam! is OK. It plays less like a modern superhero movie and more like an above average one from the pre-Iron Man era. Fairly enjoyable, but you’re not missing out if you pass on it.
I didn’t stay for any mid or post-credits scenes, because I didn’t really care.
Shazam! is out in cinemas on April 5th, distributed by Warner Bros.