SHAZAM! Starring: Asher Angel, Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Djimon Hounsou. Directed by David F. Sandberg. Rated M (Mature themes and action violence). 132 min.

This Canadian-American film is a superhero comedy based on the DC Comics character of the same name. It is the 7th. instalment in the D.C Extended Universe (DCEU) and has been drawn from a screenplay written by Henry Gayden, and a story by Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke.

Captain Marvel (later named Shazam) first appeared in comic book form in 1939, but this is the first full-length movie centred around the male character of Shazam/Captain Marvel. It is a story of the discovery of superpowers in a boy, who is given them by an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou), whenever the wizard’s name (Shazam) is spoken.

Two Captain Marvel films have been released in Australia within a month of each other. One with Marvel Studios stars Brie Larson, and the other with DC Comics stars Zachary Levi. The first is Captain Marvel, and the other turns into Captain Marvel at the sound of Shazam; the first is female, and the second is male; and the first is a serious, fantasy-character study, while the second is a comedy film about a young boy who suddenly finds himself an adult superhero.

In this film, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a 14-yr. old orphan living in the city of Philadelphia, who is about to move into his seventh foster home. In his new foster home, he forms an especially close relationship with Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), his foster brother, who is disabled and a strong superhero enthusiast. One day, after successfully defending Freddy in the school yard, Billy meets an ancient wizard in a subway-car, who magically transforms him into an adult superhero whenever he speaks the wizard’s name. Billy is turned into a superhero with the body of a grown man (Zachary Levi) simply by saying the word “Shazam”. Billy tells Freddy about his transformation, and their friendship deepens.

When the change occurs, Captain Marvel’s superpowers are anchored positively to a set of virtues signalled by the first letter of the word that transforms him. As Captain Marvel, for example, he is given the wisdom of Solomon (S), the valour and strength of Hercules (H), the courage of Achilles (A), and the power of Zeus (Z).

It would not be a superhero movie without a villain to defeat. In this film, Mark Strong plays the villain impressively. He is Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, a mad industrialist, who has dedicated his life to unlocking the secrets of magic, and has developed some nasty tricks of his own which he malevolently displays, deservedly earning the film’s M classification .

Billy was chosen as a new Champion of Eternity by the Council of Eternity, which refused to give that honour to Thaddeus, who deeply resents its slight. Thaddeus, however, has developed sinister powers, that he uses evilly, and Billy has to find the way to thwart him, which he does as Captain Marvel.

The film’s plot line is secondary to the comedy action associated with Batson’s turning into a superhero, and Zachary Levi plays the superhero element of his role to the hilt. The film is a clever comedy satire that targets its appeal across ages. It lacks the seriousness of Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel, and has been made wittily to broadly entertain. The movie’s scripting is good, and Levi shows impressive comic timing in the title role. True to form, Mark Strong, as Dr. Sivana, manages to be scary and funny at the same time, and the film has some great fantasy effects.

The byline for this movie is that “we all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out”. That byline is too serious for what this movie actually delivers, but the movie entertainingly does deliver fantasy adventure whimsically and smartly, in the name of “magic”. The film perhaps is best seen as one that offers viewers, in comic-book style, a fun-take of what young persons could do, if they happen to find that they have superhuman powers.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Roadshow Films

Released April 4th., 2019

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