Zachary Levi leads DC to Another Victory with ‘Shazam!’

After Justice League’s disappointing turn in terms of both box office revenue and critical reception, DC was left with a rather sizable task- producing movies that not only satisfied the legions of fans that have been waiting for the DC response to Marvel’s Avengers franchise, but also made enough money to justify the multi-hundred million dollar investments that Warner Brothers had made into solo endeavors. Seemingly against all odds, however, they were able to come up with Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman, which made a sizable impact at the box office and garnered almost universal praise. Two years later, they landed another victory with James Wan’s Aquaman and were rewarded with over one billion dollars in worldwide revenue. Luckily for DC, lightning seems to have struck for a third time: Shazam! is a delightfully charming superhero flick with just the right amounts of humor and heart to ensure another box office victory.

In a departure from form, Shazam! centers around the story of Billy Batson, a 15-year foster child who, after being dubbed “the chosen one” by a mystical wizard, is granted the ability to transform into an adult man with a wide array of superpowers, simply by saying the word “Shazam”. Yes, the premise is as bombastic as it sounds, and yes, the movie takes full advantage of this. Right off the bat, it is made very clear that Shazam! is not trying to emulate the dark, gritty tone that many have come to associate with the DC  cinematic universe. Instead, Shazam! is a bright, goofy flick whose intended audience is around the same age as its protagonist. Speaking of protagonists, both Asher Angel and Zachary Levi do an outstanding job of portraying the younger and older version of Billy. Levi is the clear scene stealer – his delivery and comedic timing are exactly what you’d expect of a teenager who was suddenly given the body of a pro-wrestler, and anytime he’s onscreen, it is hard not to find a smile creeping on to your face. With Levi taking the reigns when it comes to the majority of the film’s jokes and hijinks; that leaves Angel with the more grounded, dramatic aspects of the character, which he nails. I had my doubts as to how well such a young actor would be able to play serious, emotional scenes, but Angel seems to have no trouble at all playing the leading man – in fact, at times I often found him much more compelling and believable than Jason Momoa’s performance in Aquaman.

 The supporting cast, made up almost entirely of Batson’s adopted family, also shine in their individual roles. The so-called “Shazam family” give the movie its emotional core, and Billy’s growing relationship with them, and his adoptive brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), in particular, set Shazam! Apart from the other machismo, lone-wolf type of films that generally make up the superhero genre. So much so is the family dynamic is so heavily developed and focused on, that it is easy to forget that you’re watching a superhero movie at all.

However, one painful reminder that Shazam! Is, in fact, a superhero flick, is the lackluster villain. Though Shazam doesn’t quite have as large a rogues gallery to choose from as say, Batman, Dr. Sivana still feels a little cliche and overdone in comparison to other heavy-hitting villains of years past. Though Mark Strong tries his best with the material he’s given, Sivana is clearly the weak point of an otherwise entertaining movie. His presence does not feel particularly intimidating, and his cronies are visually uninventive in comparison to the rest of Shazam!’s colorful world.

In terms of pacing, Shazam! Improves on its fellow DC predecessors. Unlike Aquaman, it never seems to drag on, and its third act sticks the landing, unlike Wonder Woman. All in all, Shazam! Is an incredibly strong entry into the DCU, and a step in the right direction for the future of the franchise. With its stellar cast, dazzling visuals, and tongue in cheek sense of humor, Shazam! keeps DC’s hot streak alive while putting its own charming twist on the standard superhero movie.

Shazam! Hits theatres this Friday, April 5.