Billy Batson, separated from his mother as a child and unstable in foster care, is granted superpowers by the wizard Shazam. Transformed into a hunky adult, Billy is still only 14 inside. And evil Thaddeus Sivana, hosting the seven deadly sins, wants Billy’s powers for himself.
Shazam joins the DC cinematic universe with a nearly complete change of mood. The lightness of touch began with the clothes shop in Wonder Woman. It continued with the twinkle in Jason Momoa’s eye. And now it is in full flood as our teen protagonist discovers the good – and bad – of being a kid in a grown-up’s body. With superpowers.
He is helped by fellow foster-kid Freddy Freeman, not to mention the other four youngsters who live with the fabulous foster folk Rosa and Victor Vasquez.
All drama needs conflict
But all is not plain sailing. Billy is still looking for his mother, and this makes him unsettled. There are issues with bullies at school, particularly for Freddy – this leads to a particularly good payoff in the final frame of the movie. Oh, and Sivana – Mark Strong at his best – is merciless in his determination to wrest the Shazam powers from Billy.
Effects and performances good
The film is funny, and also exciting. It has good performances from all concerned – these young actors are very naturalistic, with not a shade of theatricality between them. The effects are as good as we have become used to, with a pleasing selection of superheroes throughout the movie.
The film offers many lame hero titles for the main character, but never gives him his comics name of Captain Marvel – just as well, given the Marvel character with the same name whose appearance was less than a month earlier. Curiously, she was never named in her film, either.
Is Shazam too dark?
I have one fairly minor criticism. The character was conceived and, for many years, used, with a strong juvenile appeal. Much of that is preserved in the humour here. But there is some genuine darkness, especially in the Sins. They, and what they do, will be genuinely horrifying for the more sensitive younger viewer. I find myself thinking that this aspect could have had a lighter touch for a younger audience.
But this remains a thoroughly entertaining movie with a climax to get you cheering.