Film: “Shazam!”; Director: David F. Sandberg; Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Faith Herman, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews; Rating: ****
There is something endearing and exciting about this superhero film. Designed on one of the most, lesser known DC characters, this origin film packs in so much heart and fun with a superhero that truly feels like no other.
Apart from the story, it is the style of the narrative that’s worth a mention. The film begins in 1974 New York state, where, while travelling in a car, playing with his Magic 8 ball, a little boy Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), is teleported to a magical place, the Rock of Eternity, where he meets a celestial being, the last of the council of Wizards, who is looking out for “a person of pure heart”, to succeed him. Thaddeus is put to test and fails.
Back into his car, Thaddeus is further humiliated by his older brother and admonished by his father for being a pest. They argue and soon have a near-death accident. This is the subtle birth of our villain.
Cut to present day Philadelphia. We run into troubled orphan Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who keeps running away from foster homes, in his obsession to meet his biological mother, whom he lost as a little child, at a local fair.
Billy eventually ends up living with the Grazers and their extended clan of five foster children including the disabled teen Freddy Freeman, with whom he shares a room.
One day while riding the subway, grumpy Billy’s life turns upside down when he is magically summoned to the Rock of Eternity by the celestial being who is still searching for an heir.
A reluctant Billy is forced into taking charge by proclaiming the “S” word, an acronym for each of the six immortal elders: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Archilles and Mercury. So after saying, “Shazam” aloud, Billy inherits the celestial beings powers and is transformed from a scrawny teen into the tall, the strong, the wholesome super hero, Shazam!
Excited with his new powers and cheesy outfit, Billy now Shazam (Zachary Levi) goes on an adventurous binge of having fun, but is soon the target for Thaddeus, who is now a champion of evil-beings.
Though technically, it’s still the story of saving the world from evil, it is the fun aspect induced in the narrative that makes the film exciting. And what’s more, the over-the-top antics and every visual gags are funny and believable. With references to Superman and Batman abound, the script is sharp enough to navigate the conventions of the fantastical genre without ever veering too far into the metafictional space.
While the first half concentrates on Billy Batson’s journey, the second half is action-packed and thrilling at times. The messages about being self-aware and fearless are subtle and hits the right notes.
On the performance front, every actor is sincere and the chemistry between each one of them is perfect.
On the technical front, the film is mounted with ace production values. The elaborate CGI, the well-choreographed action sequences, the excellent sound effects and razor-sharp edits makes for fine viewing.
Overall, this live-action film will appeal to younger audience and adults alike.