Born a generation apart into very different worlds, neither Thaddeus Sivana nor Billy Batson had happy childhoods, Thad’s wealthy New York upbringing offering little comfort from his bullying brother or belittling father, whereas Billy was effectively orphaned when he became separated from his mother at the Philadelphia funfair, spending the next years trying to track her as he bounced through a series of foster homes.

Teenage Billy’s latest shenanigans having landed him in trouble with the law again, he is sent to live with the extended Vasquez family – mom and dad Rosa and Victor and fellow fosters Mary, Freddy, Eugene, Pedro and Darla, eager to provide a home to a boy who finds it difficult to trust after a lifetime of pain and disappointment, no matter how sincere the intention.

Doctor Thad Sivana’s path is very different; blamed by his father for the accident in the winter of 1974 which left him in a wheelchair, he has spent his life attempting to prove that what he claims to have seen was real, an ancient wizard seeking a champion of pure heart to receive his power, a prize of which he felt Thad was unworthy.

Another rejection which still informs and drives the simmering resentment of Thad as an adult self, the wizard’s search has become increasingly desperate as he grows old and it is in Billy that he finds the champion he needs, a child worthy to carry wisdom, strength, stamina, courage and speed as well as a few other surprises, if only he will say the mystic’s name – Shazam!

The seventh adventure in the uneven DC extended universe and following swiftly after the unexpected global splash made by Aquaman, David F Sandberg’s Shazam! is a radical departure for the sequence, an unabashed and unashamed crowdpleaser, a superhero adventure story played equally for laughs and spectacle, Superman as seen through the eyes of a child.

Produced by New Line and distributed by Warner Brothers, both have strong historic performance with Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, and Shazam! is a conscious and deliberate step in that direction of fantasy with ancient inherited powers, vast underground chambers and the swirling spiritual form of the seven deadly sins who have taken up residence in Sivana, imbuing him with dark powers equal to Billy’s gifts.

Asher Angel and Chuck‘s Zachary Levi are the boy Billy and the hero Shazam and each play with a wide-eyed ebullience, the perfect role for Levi’s bulked up manchild of oversized excitement and expressions as he struggles to master flight and lighting bolts while being tested by It’s Jack Dylan Grazer as comic-book savvy Freddy, a pint-sized mentor rather than a sagely elder, and it is the ensemble cast which is the true strength, particularly Billy’s put-together family.

Cramming two origin stories into one film with Kingsman‘s Mark Strong given equal screentime as Sivana, if Shazam! has one fault it is that it is too long yet it manages to maintain a consistent pace and tone, the Christmas setting undercut by the fantastical threat reminding of Gremlins while Benjamin Wallfisch’s score digs up the wonder of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and although set in the same universe as Batman and Superman, those more established stars will have to work hard to fly so high.

Shazam! is currently on general release from 5th April



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