Shazam! marks the DCEU’s first foray into magic and the result is delightfully, well, magical. The movie mixes a sweet hopefulness with unbridled joy and delivers another key success to the reborn franchise. Not everyone disliked Zac Snyder’s doom-laden early DCEU entries, but nobody can possibly have any problem with a film that packs a punch of pure happiness like this. After all, this is a knowingly silly film about a young boy who says the magic word and is granted unimaginable powers. The tone and storyline revel in the preposterous set-up and are geared at young teens – but this is a film for big kids of all ages.
Speaking of which, like all the best kids movies it is packed with plenty to please grown-ups, including a cheeky nod to the 1998 classic comedy Big mid-way through.
Leading man Zachary Levi has proclaimed his love for the Tom Hanks bodyswap film and his central performance is irresistibly joyous. His grin almost splits his face and reflects ours in the audience, when our sides aren’t splitting from a perfectly-judged mix of goofy pratfalls and rather clever gags. The one at the movie’s climax when the hero and villain face each other high in the air over the city is particularly wonderful.
Levi has his perfect foil in Mark Strong’s Sivana. The British star is an old hand at big screen villains but is somehow even more evil and yet delightful in a role where he can also have fun with the trope.
Asher Angel is great as the jaded foster kid who just wants to find the mother who lost him at a fairground when he was little. When a crazy wizard tells him he is the chosen one, he is suitably unimpressed and equally sure there has been a mistake. He also delivers a perfectly pitched “gross” when the old dude tells him to touch his staff.
The scene-stealing stand-out, though, is Jack Dylan Grazer, currently already riding high in the It horror franchise. Grazer is a revelation as the nerdy kid on crutches who revels in discovering he can be a superhero’s sidekick but also heartbreakingly admits how much he wishes it had been him who got those powers. We root for him throughout and cheer for his final act triumphs and transformation.
Rather like the underappreciated Ant-Man movies, Shazam! keeps its scale small and tight, centred on the foster family dynamic and city-based threat posed by Sivana. It adds an immediacy and sense of connection missing from too many larger scale blockbusters.
Even so, it has its eye on the wider DCEU and includes numerous crowd-pleasing nods and gags directed at the Justice League, including one deliriously naughty cameo at the end. The final battle also sets up the rest of the kids for future superhero glory.
Having seen the film both in 2D and 3D, it works equally well in either. The 3D is beautifully deployed but not intrusive. It doesn’t change anything radically, but it does add extra depth to the story and pull the audience in even more.
Likewise seeing it in IMAX is a treat, but not essential. The movie is not formatted for IMAX, but even in standard widescreen the screen is still larger than most. Plus the steeply inclined seats bring everyone closer to the action and increase the impact of the 3D.
Shazam! is a film which will deliver on any screen, needing no gimmicks to charm and delight. Bigger is not better in this case, but the IMAX screen size and seating allow an audience to disappear into a movie – and the wonderful world of Shazam! is somewhere everyone will want to go.
SHAZAM! IS OUT NOW IN CINEMAS