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Following on from the successes of “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman”, DC continues to lighten up its cinematic universe and focus on telling good standalone stories with “Shazam!” and judging by the audience reaction and box office for this film, they’ve got a good thing going.
“Shazam!” is linked to the DC universe at large, but isn’t beholden to it – characters talk about Batman, Superman, and others but at no point does the viewer have to have prior knowledge of what happened before to enjoy this film. At its most basic, the story of the movie is “Big” crossed with “Superman”. Young Billy Batson (Asher Angel) meets the wizard Shazam and is bestowed with his superpowers and in addition becomes a full grown man in the process. He quickly figures out how to switch between his normal self and his super powered self, but his knowledge of superheroes isn’t strong enough to fully comprehend what’s going on. This is where is foster brother, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), steps in. Freddy is an expert on all things superhero related, and the two work together to push the limits of Billy’s new found abilities, but meanwhile in the background, another more sinister power begins to make his presence felt, and will ultimately become Billy’s ultimate challenge.
“Shazam!” works on a number of levels. Firstly, it’s very self aware in a similar way to “Deadpool” albeit more family friendly. It has the feel of an eighties films in that it doesn’t pander to kids and has a couple of scary moments and some occasionally salty language in the way “The Goonies” did. The dynamic between Billy, Freddy, and the rest of his foster family is realistic and produces some great heartfelt and funny moments.
Where “Shazam!” differs from a lot of comic book films is in the fact that instead of one actor playing dual roles, we get two different actors playing the same character at different ages; the aforementioned Asher Angel as young Billy, and Zachary Levi as grown up looking Billy complete with tights, cape, and glowing chest symbol. The two performances are what make this film in my opinion. If one of them didn’t work, the whole tone of the film would be off. But both actors are excellent, and Levi in particular is having a ball as a teenager in an indestructible adult body.
“Shazam!” is another winner from DC that sets the table nicely for next year’s “Wonder Woman ‘84”, and hopefully the new found colourful optimism can spread to some of the characters that need it most like Superman and The Flash, and as a result DC can become real competition to the dominance that Marvel is currently enjoying.
These are the experienced and knowledgeable words of our Kevin Dillon, @kevinwritestuff.
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