Shazam!

 

            Yes, another comic book Superhero movie---because you can get creative with them (especially with today's CGI technology), and because they tap into the nerdy kid still residing in all of us, and because they sell.  And part of the reason they sell is because they not only have heart, but also a sense of humor, even if some of it is juvenile.

            Interestingly enough, we develop the bad guy first.  Little Thaddeus, picked on by his older brother and belittled by his Dad, gets lightning-bolted into the throne room of an aging wizard (Djimon Hounsou).  The Wizard tells Thaddeus that if he is strong of spirit and pure of heart, he will get to inherit the Wizard's powers, but there's a test.  The temptation to take the easy road to power is alluring, because the Wiz kinda seems like an old grump who's lost his grip, and an apprenticeship with him doesn't look like much fun.  But Thaddeus reaches for the easy way, fails the test, and is immediately transported back to his old life, while the Wizard continues his quest for somebody strong of spirit and pure of heart. 

            Now, many years later, there's been no shortage of candidates, but they've all failed the test, so there are no Knights of the Round Table, or Jedi warriors in training, where, come to think of it, purity of heart was also in short supply.  Finally, The Wizard stumbles on an unlikely candidate, Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a kid who lost his Mommy at a Carnival as a toddler, and has bounced around foster homes ever since.  He's obviously become street-wise, but has also grown up with a fiery determination to find his “real” Mom, which, understandably, makes his foster parents feel like they'll never measure up.  Now, for his “last chance,” he's thrown into a foster home where there are five other foster kids, one of whom, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) takes an immediate liking to Billy, and tries to be his buddy, while Freddy himself suffers from both a physical handicap and being bullied in school. 

            The superpowers start coming into play when the Wizard confers on Billy the full power of his office, just by laying hands on his staff and saying his name---Shazam!  Now Billy has suddenly turned into a grown man in a spandex-and-cape costume.  That's enough shock in itself.  But Freddy helps Billy discover what his powers are, chronicling the humorous attempts on Youtube and, of course, garnering thousands of followers, and trending. (Billy can also reverse the process just by saying “Shazam!”)

            At first, Billy just does magic tricks for tips, figuring he might as well make a profit on this thing.  And giving the school bullies a taste of their own medicine feels pretty good, also.  Meanwhile, he does find out where his birth mother is, but knocking at her door turns out to be a big disappointment to them both.  So that throws Billy straight into the orbit of his “new” family, yes, with the attendant moral-of-the-story that love isn't necessarily genetics, but is instead where you find it.

            But the Bad Guy now bursts on to the scene, in the person of Little Thaddeus, now all grown up as Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), but still harboring hate and revenge in his heart.  Oh, and he's recruited the Seven Deadly Sins as henchmen.  It's a little weak on the logic, but pride, greed, lust, gluttony, wrath, and sloth somehow become subordinate to envy, which is the Villain's weakness, if only our still-immature superhero can figure himself out long enough to dispatch the menacing threat.

            Well, as long as you don't think about the plot too much, you can enjoy the entertaining combination of action, comedy, and fantasy, complete with wisecracks, and a healthy dose of “family values,” remembering to suitably expand the definition of “family.”  But how great would it be to say one word and instantly acquire superpowers?  Shazam!

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association