Eppler: "Shazam!" gets big laughs with clever premise
"Shazam!" is another step in the right direction for the DC Comics movies, but with some of the previous hangups.
"Shazam!" is essentially working with the premise, "What if 'Big' but he becomes Superman?" It's actually a pretty smart idea considering how much superheroes appeal to kids.
In "Shazam!" an orphaned kid called Billy Batson (Asher Angel) gains superpowers from a wizard where he just has to say a magic word and is instantly turned into a grown man superhero - an ultimate childhood fantasy. Billy does a lot of the things you might expect a teenager to do with this gift - some that have nothing to do with super powers like trying to buy beer.
It is a lot of fun watching Big Billy (Zachary Levi) and his friend (Jack Dylan Graser) figure out his powers working off their knowledge of superheroes in a world where Batman and Superman actually exist. Remember, this is a DC comics movie.
Zachary Levi is really funny - convincing as an wide-eyed kid doing his best imitation of an adult, and he's surrounded by an excellent cast of youngsters - especially Graser and Faithe Herman as foster siblings.
Thankfully, the trailers didn't give too much away about "Shazam!" leading to some genuine surprises in the final quarter. But there's no reason for this thing to go on more than two hours. It sags a bit in places, and the great Mark Strong is stuck doing generic bad guy duty again.
My biggest complaint is that "Shazam!" is obviously made and marketed to appeal to kids, but there are some pretty intense scenes of violence and horror that don't fit the lighter tone of the rest of the film. That's been a problem for some of these DC movies - poor judgment by the filmmakers.
But I like "Shazam!" overall. It doesn't feel essential, but it's a fun time at the movies.
EPPLER'S RATING: * * *
* * * * * Incredible - One of the best of the year
* * * * Excellent - Touches greatness with only minor quibbles
* * * Good - Plenty to like, definitely worth seeing
* * Mediocre - You can do better
* Awful - The worst, an insult to movies