“I am the last of the Council of Wizards and the Keeper of the Rock of Eternity,” says ancient, other-worldly Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). “I vowed not to pass on my magic until I found someone strong in spirit and pure in heart.” Billy Batson (Asher Angel), 14 years old, abandoned early by his mother, a street-wise, foster-child is the wizard’s choice. “Just say my name,” says the wizard. When Billy repeats the magic word, he’s transformed into adult superhero “Shazam.” That’s the set-up for this light-hearted, but messy flick.
Can grown-up Shazam (Zachary Levi) defeat villainous Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) and his seven deadly monsters? Does Billy find his missing mother? Will you be entertained by “Shazam!”? It has its moments.
Angel Asher, as Billy Batson, and the other young actors who play his foster-siblings are appealing, especially Billy’s best friend, nerdy and fast-talking Freddy Freeman, well-played by Jack Dylan Grazer. Grace Fulton is teen Mary Bromfield, oldest of the siblings. Faithe Herman and Ian Chen play foster-kids, precocious Darla Dudley and video-gamer Eugene Choi.
Adult members of the large cast include Zachary Levi in the title role as goofus Shazam, adolescent inside an adult superhero body — think Tom Hanks in “Big” (1988). Mark Strong is vengeful Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, ready to release, from his evil eye, monstrous, gargoyle-like Seven Deadly Sins. Djimon Hounsou is Wizard Shazam, whose name is magic. Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews are Billy’s foster parents. Caroline Palmer is his elusive birth mother.
“Shazam!” is an action-comedy, directed by David F. Sandberg, with script by Henry Gayden (help from Bill Parker, C.C. Beck and Darren Lemke). Its comic-book character first appeared in 1939, known then as “Captain Marvel.” Zachary Levi’s corny red spandex suit, white cape, gold trim, and day-glow lightning bolt reference his decades-old origin. The film tells two intersecting stories, so keeping them sorted out is a challenge. In one narrative, Billy learns to be a superhero, discovers his superpowers (with help from Freddy), and searches for his mother. In the second, Thaddeus gets his powerful evil eye and, seeking revenge for childhood abuse, murderously destroys members of his own family. The final battle between good and evil takes a lot of time and is full of screen clutter and noise.
Rated PG-13 for intense action, coarse language and suggestive material, “Shazam!” — like many other films these days — is bloated. It runs way too long at 132 minutes.
Say “Shazam!” Inside us all
Superheroes wait their call;
For Billy Batson, it is true —
Not yet for me, how about you?