Shazam! full review

After a rocky start, DC’s connected cinematic universe has begun to hit to slowly hit its stride, with the likes of Wonder Woman and Aquaman proving that there’s life in these movies yet.

And now with Shazam! the studio might have had its biggest success yet: a lighthearted, comedic take on a very silly superhero that’s funnier (and shorter) than Aquaman, without skimping on the action.

The film is out now, so grab tickets from Fandango or Atom Tickets in the US, or your cinema of choice for the UK: Cineworld, Vue, or Odeon. And if you want to know whether or not to sit through the credits, check out our guide to the film’s post-credit scenes.

Shazam! is a bit unlike most other recent superheroes. For one, there’s the silly name, a compromise a few years ago after DC was forced to drop the character’s original name: Captain Marvel. You can see why that one had to go, though it’s still spooky that Shazam! has dropped just weeks after Marvel’s Captain Marvel.

More importantly, he’s actually 14-year-old kid, granted the magical power to transform into an adult superhero by a dying wizard. Yeah. It’s a difficult origin story to sell seriously, so it’s smart that DC has opted to instead treat this as something between a high school comedy and a superpowered remake of Big (including the obligatory giant floor piano reference).

Foster kid Billy Batson is the ‘chosen one’ who’s granted powers by a wizard, activated simply by uttering his name: Shazam! Up against him is Mark Strong’s Dr. Theobald Sivana, embittered after being deemed unworthy by that same wizard years before, and now obsessed with gaining the powers of his evil counterparts.

It’s a goofy plot, and the film knows it - smartly, most of the running time is instead devoted to the relationship between Billy (Asher Angel) and his new foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), which is understandably tested and twisted by Billy’s new powers - though the best part of the film is devoted to them goofing around as they explore what exactly he can now do, all through the lens of a generation that grew up on YouTube.

Those powers see Billy transform into the dashing figure of Zachary Levi, finally stepping into the Hollywood limelight after years of TV work, voice acting, and supporting roles. He’s perfectly cast here: the physical embodiment of the clean-cut classic superhero meshed with the comic sensibilities of a teenage boy, and just enough heart to sell the film’s more emotional beats.

Those all settle around the family - central to the Shazam! comics and a natural fit for the foster themes - and it’s consistently impressive just how touching the film actually manages to be. Step away from all the goofs and this is genuinely sweet, heartwarming fare at times, laced with just enough sincerity to carry emotional weight without undercutting the next dumb joke.

Verdict

If there’s one word to sum up Shazam! it’s this: fun. Unlike Aquaman, which lost sight of its funny side in the attempt to always be epic, Shazam! knows that the best way to save a silly superhero is to keep them, well, silly.

Zachary Levi is perfection, Mark Strong chews up all the scenery he can get his hands on, and even the kids hold their own as the script zigs and zags between daft teen comedy and surprisingly sincere family fluff - and against all the odds, it somehow always works.