Zachary Levi is the adult superhero and Jack Dylan Grazer plays his sidekick in “Shazam!” (Warner Bros.)

Zachary Levi is the adult superhero and Jack Dylan Grazer plays his sidekick in “Shazam!” (Warner Bros.)

‘Shazam!’ earns its exclamation mark with gee-whiz cheerfulness

A put-upon orphan becomes an adult superhero by uttering the title phrase in this DC Comics lark.

Not every movie deserves an exclamation point. “Airplane!”, yes. “Moulin Rouge!”, not so much.

“Shazam!” earns its punctuation through unrelenting, gee-whiz cheerfulness. Fueled by nerd energy and sold by a goofy cast, this superhero spin-off carves its own path through the usual comic-book material.

Our hero is adolescent Billy Batson (Asher Angel), an unhappy orphan assigned to his umpteenth Philadelphia foster home.

Billy is tapped by destiny — or, to be specific, by an ancient gray-bearded wizard (Djimon Hounsou) with a magical stick — and acquires superpowers. If he merely says the word “shazam” out loud, he can turn himself into an indestructible hero, complete with cape and tights.

In big-boy guise, he’s played by Zachary Levi (from TV’s “Chuck”), a 38-year-old actor who convinces us he’s really 15. The film explicitly acknowledges its similarity to “Big,” another film about a lad who suddenly finds himself in an adult body.

Billy isn’t the only person in the universe with special skills: We meet another such kid in the movie’s jarringly creeped-out prologue. That boy grows up to be resentful Thaddeus Sivana (“Kingsmen” veteran Mark Strong), a supervillain with a glowing glass eye and an entourage of hideous sidekick demons.

As sidekicks go, Billy has the edge. Fellow foster kid Freddy (funny, whiny Jack Dylan Grazer, from “It”) knows everything there is to know about superheroes — which makes him exactly the target audience member for this movie.

As Freddy would point out, although this superhero’s comic-book origins are tied to a character called Captain Marvel (this is very complicated to explain), “Shazam!” is not a part of the Marvel universe. This is a DC Comics movie, but it makes almost no effort to connect itself to the broader DC world, which is a relief.

A few moments of blithe destruction don’t quite go with the otherwise jaunty tone — one corporate board meeting plays as darkly as something out of “RoboCop.” And director David F. Sandberg dawdles a bit before we get to the first “shazam” moment (there’s no reason this movie needs to be 132 minutes long).

Along with the breezy slapstick, what “Shazam!” does best is sketch its little misfit community. Billy’s new pals from the foster home play an increasingly large role as the action climaxes — at which point you realize the film is a wish-fulfillment about lost kids who secretly harbor superpowers, even if they’re getting beat up at school the rest of the time. That’s a fantasy at the heart of most comic books, and jovially earned here.

“Shazam!” (3 stars)

An orphan adolescent (Asher Angel) gains the ability to become an adult superhero (Zachary Levi), merely by uttering the word “shazam.” The movie owes a lot to “Big,” but earns its own fun through its unrelenting, gee-whiz cheerfulness. A jovial cast (including supervillain Mark Strong) helps put over this lightweight lark from the DC Comics world.

Rating: PG-13, for violence, language

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Blue Fox, Oak Harbor Plaza

Talk to us

More in Life

CloZee performs during the second day of Summer Meltdown on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in Darrington, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The psychedelic fest Summer Meltdown is back — and in Monroe

The music and camping event is on for July 28-31, with a new venue along the Skykomish River.

Veteran Keith F. Reyes, 64, gets his monthly pedicure at Nail Flare on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Stanwood, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No more gnarly feet: This ‘Wounded Warrior’ gets pedicures

Keith Reyes, 64, visits a Stanwood nail salon for “foot treatments” that help soothe blast injuries.

Enumclaw, the band
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Most of these venues require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or negative… Continue reading

Does this ring a “Belle”? Storied anime writer-director Mamoru Hosoda’s newest resets “Beauty and the Beast” in a musical, virtual environment — among other modern twists. (GKIDS/TNS)
‘Belle’ is striking virtual reality riff on ‘Beauty and the Beast’

In it, ‘Beauty’ is the charismatic online avatar of a moody teenager that attracts the attention of a bruised and brooding Beast

"Redeeming Love"
Movie review: ‘Redeeming Love’ doesn’t yield cinematic riches

The story, about a sex worker “redeemed” by a folksy farmer in Gold Rush-era California, is creepy “tradwife” fan fiction.

Eggs Florentine
Baked Eggs Florentine: A brunch favorite inspired by a queen

The kitchen manager at Quil Ceda Creek Casino shares a dish that pays homage to a spinach-crazy 16th century monarch.

Jennifer Bardsley, author of her newest book Good Catch, at her home on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 in Edmonds, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds author transitions from young adult novels to romance

Jennifer Bardsley’s “Good Catch” is set in an Edmonds-like town. Spoiler alert: There’s a happy ending.

Caption: They might be too old for lunch box notes, but teenagers benefit from TLC too.
Fun ways to show the teens in your life that you care

The teen years can be challenging but they don’t last long. A little bit of extra attention can go a long way.

This easy-to-make spinach and mushroom quiche is perfect for a light dinner or fancy brunch. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Gretchen’s table: A spinach-mushroom quiche with cheesy goodness

The savory egg custard baked in a pie crust is easy to make — especially if you use a refrigerated crust.

Most Read