If they hadn't been quite so desperate to catch up on the huge success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC could have helped themselves immensely with a much better release schedule. Instead, they just had to get their crossovers in place as soon as possible, leaving more lightweight films, such as this one, relatively sidelined. And Shazam! could have easily been one of their first big releases in this wave of movies, with the main story feeling enjoyably standalone. If you have seen this already, imagine what a great impression it could have made if released before any of the other major DC movies, with the nods to other characters and a fun cameo right before the end credits.
For anyone, like myself, who is unfamiliar with this comic book character, Shazam is a powerful man who seems pretty invincible, can throw bolts of electricity out of his hands, has super-strength, and can possibly fly (he's still figuring things out in this origin tale). This movie also has him starting off as a teenager named Billy Batson. When Billy has the power bestowed upon him by an elderly wizard type, he can transform by saying his name. Saying the name again takes him back to his everyday child form, where he is residing in a foster home alongside a young boy named Freddy, who is the only one to initially be made aware of Billy's new superpowers. There's also a major villain, of course, and that is Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, who was once given a chance to claim the powers of Shazam but was found unworthy.
Cast-wise, this is absolutely wonderful. Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer are both excellent as Billy and Freddy, respectively, and Zachary Levi is an absolute blast as the adult-on-the-outside Shazam. The villainous Dr. Sivana is played by Mark Strong, who is as brilliant onscreen as he usually is, and it's perhaps telling that one of the better DC villains in recent years is also one that doesn't feel able to immediately destroy the entire world in a fit of rage. Djimon Hounsou does well in a small, but vital role, and there are solid performances from the likes of Faithe Herman, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, and the always-welcome John Glover.
The third feature film from David F. Sandberg (who spent years crafting some great shorts, including the one that would be developed into his first full-length film, Lights Out), this is a solid, and enjoyably comedic, superhero adventure. It's a small film, in many ways, with the more important moments being grounded in the personal story of Billy and his new family. The script, by Henry Gayden, has the usual lessons about responsibility and what it really takes to be a hero, but it also provides a very positive message to those who need to learn, or be reminded, that your family isn't necessarily made up of blood relatives. You can grow close enough to good friends that you make your own family unit, but forming those attachments means that you also impact on their lives more, and vice versa.
It may lack some of the huge set-pieces that fans of superhero movies have been getting on a regular basis over the past decade or so, and some of the more fun sequences could have crammed in a few extra gags, but this is a highly entertaining family film that delivers the expected cape-wearing moments alongside a healthy dollop of Big (which is given an amusingly obvious nod at one point). Sometimes you don't need to see the whole planet put in peril. Sometimes it's a lot more satisfying to watch a kid realise how he can easily have something life-enriching that he'd always previously thought out of his reach.
You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.