Review: Shazam!

Boosted as a welcome light touch for the DC Comics movie universe, this rambunctious, somewhat unfocused comedy doesn’t really pass muster as a proper superhero feature, and it’s difficult to tell whether that’s the point. If you broke it down as you would a normal story you’d find two trains of thought: a touching tale of a foster child finding a family that’s more supportive of his needs than he could ever expect, and a hackneyed fairy tale about the same boy being gifted with super powers he has a hard time dealing with. As far as the latter thread goes, the recent Into the Spider-verse already nailed that particular theme, and the former thread is never really given a chance to make its case since it’s always being interrupted by the superhero stuff. What’s left is mostly confusion, though quite entertaining as such.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is not the typical orphan with a chip on his shoulder, though he tries mightily to be that. His new foster family, which already contains three other children, including his roommate, the comic-obsessed Freddy (Jack Dylan Glazer), can’t quite tame his unruliness, which is basically super-smart kid sarcasm. His main goal is finding the birth mother who gave him up, but in the meantime he feels at least obliged to protect his new foster brother from the bullies who torment him endlessly, and one day, while escaping from said bullies on a subway, he ends up in the “lair” of a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who has somehow chosen Billy for his “pure heart,” a quality that so far has gone unnoticed by the audience. The wizard, it turns out, has been searching for many years to find someone like Billy to whom he can impart his powers before he retires or whatever (it’s never quite clear why he needs to offload them). Actually, the viewer already knows this because in a very well done opening sequence that takes place in 1974, the wizard tries to impart these powers to another adolescent but changes his mind at the last minute. This boy still manages to absorb some of those powers and grows up into Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), a rich industrialist whose mission is to somehow gain all the powers he couldn’t take the first time.

Billy is a reluctant hero at first, especially since in order to utilize his new powers he has to change into an adult (Zachary Levi), and the comic bits mostly involve this caped character, Shazam, working with Freddie to suss out what kinds of powers he has, and, for the most part, he turns out to be nothing more than Superman without the mature outlook. The bulk of the jokes are predicated on Billy’s teenage sensibility making sense of a grownup’s body. The confusion admitted to above is sparked when this tone runs up against the requisite superhero action scenes, which are between Shazam and Dr. Sivana. Suffice to say, they are as forgettable as any in the DC Comics cinematic universe, but, for sure, it will be interesting to see if Shazam is welcomed into the Justice League. I’d love to see his reaction to Wonder Woman.

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Marunouchi Picadilly (03-3201-2881), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Picadilly (050-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shibuya Toei (03-5467-5773), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

Shazam! home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2019 Warner Bros. Ent. (c) DC Comics

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