MOVIE BUFF-ET: ‘Shazam!’ strikes near perfect tone with humor, heart, heroics

Warner Bros.

The high-concept pitch for the latest super-hero movie from Warner Bros. Pictures was “Big” but with super powers, and holy moly, does “Shazam!” ever lean into that pitch.

The movie, directed by David F. Sandberg, is the humorous, heartfelt, and heroic story of foster child Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his new foster family that includes three brothers and two sisters. The closest to Billy is his roommate Freddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), a wise-cracking, super-hero geek, who is lame in the literal sense.

New In Local Theaters

  • Shazam! (PG-13) 2 hr. 12 min. – AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorbacks Malco Rogers Towne, Malco Pinnacle Hills, Springdale Malco, Bentonville Skylight
    » Watch trailer
  • Pet Sematary (R) 1 hr. 40 min. – AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorbacks Malco Rogers Towne, Malco Pinnacle Hills, Springdale Malco, Bentonville Skylight
    » Watch trailer
  • The Best of Enemies (PG-13) 2 hr. 13 min. – AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills
    » Watch trailer
  • The Mustang (R) 1 hr. 36 min. – AMC Fiesta Square
    » Watch trailer

When trying to escape from upperclassmen whom he bushwhacked while they were bullying Freddie, Batson jumps on a subway train that mystically transports him to the Rock of Eternity where the final of seven great wizards awaits a pure-hearted champion whom he can bestow upon the mighty powers of:

Solomon — wisdom
Hercules — strength
Atlas — stamina
Zeus — power
Achilles — courage
Mercury — speed

when that person says his name, the magic word “SHAZAM!”

Of course, Billy is that champion despite being just a 14-year-old boy.

When Batson says “SHAZAM,” his body is transformed into a 6-foot-5, muscled-up, grown-up version of himself, but his mind and personality remains that of a teen.

It’s the ultimate dream in wish fulfillment; however, the old wizard (Djimon Hounsou) disappears without leaving super-hero Billy (Zachary Levi) an instruction manual for being a mystically-powered champion.

Billy, of course, turns to Freddie to tutor him on all the “caped crusader stuff,” and hilarity ensues. The chemistry between Levi and Grazer, and Angel and Grazer make the film. Both sets are just fun to watch together.

Amazingly, the performances of Levi and Angel work so well that you can believe the two are playing the same character, just in different forms.

Angel plays Billy a bit more cool, while Levi is goes for a wide-eyed goofiness that’s totally believable for a teenager who is not only in the body of a grown-up but one that possesses super strength and speed as well as the ability to fly, and shoot lightning out of his fingers.

Of course, there is the obligatory villain Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who failed the pure-heart test when he met SHAZAM as a boy and since has been mystically influenced for evil. He wants to conquer Billy and steal his powers for his own nefarious use.

There is a big third-act super-powered throw down that begins at a carnival and expands into the skies above Philadelphia, but as thrilling as the action, heroics, effects, and stakes are, the film grabs you with its heart and emphasis on family and friendship.

Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans shine in smallish roles as Victor and Rosa Vasquez, the kids’ foster parents, and while Grazer’s Freddie is the standout, Faithe Herman as adorable Darla, Jovan Armand as silent but strong Pedro, Ian Chen as techie Eugene, and Grace Fulton as all-American girl Mary each play significant roles in what becomes a somewhat overstuffed story.

However, I have to say, I would watch a movie about the Vasquez foster home even without all the super powers.

This movie isn’t perfect, but it is a winner because of its laugh-out-loud humor and the chemistry and character director Sandberg kneads into what could have been a very cheesy and dull adventure movie if handled with less clarity and levity.

Parents note the PG-13 rating. It’s not just for the middle-school humor. The movie does contain some scary elements, characters, and actions that might be a bit too much for younger or more impressionable children.

The film’s final scene offers a very fun payoff of a running plot point,, and the movie does include mid- and post-credit scenes that were worth the wait.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 12 min.
Grade: B+

Classic Corner

The Little Mermaid

The Skylight Cinema in Bentonville begins a series of films for kids from 8 to 80 at 10 a.m. Saturday by bringing back to the big screen some of the most entertaining family films of all time, beginning with Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” from 1989.

Has it really been 30 years? It has, but this musical fantasy is just as enchanting today as when it was first released. Featuring music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman and featuring the voices of Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Buddy Hackett and Rene Auberjonois among others..

The movie features mermaid princess Ariel who is so enamored with the surface world that she gives up her lovely singing voice to become human so that she might properly meet Prince Eric, whom she saved from a violent storm.

The film marked a return to form by Disney’s animation department, which had struggled for more than two decades after the death of Walt Disney in 1966. Following the release of “The Little Mermaid,” such classics as “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991 and “The Lion King” in 1994 created new generation of Disney animated film fans.

Upcoming films in Skylight’s series include “Wall-E” in May, the animated “101 Dalmatians” in June, “Finding Dory” in July, “The Swiss Family Robinson” in August, “Coco” in September, and “Monsters, Inc.” in October.