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  Shazam! What's The Magic Word?
Year: 2019
Director: David F. Sandberg
Stars: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Djimon Hounsou, Faithe Herman, Megan Good, Grace Fulton, Michelle Borth, Ian Chen, Ross Butler, Jovan Armand, D.J. Cotrona, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, John Glover
Genre: Comedy, Action, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Some time ago, Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) was a little boy who had an extraordinary experience while travelling with his bullying father (John Glover) and teenage brother in their car to visit his grandfather for Christmas. While playing with his magic 8 ball, which he believed was genuinely magic, something weird occurred and he found himself in a hall of statues confronted by a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who demanded to know if he was pure of heart. Evidently not, as the kid was tempted by the promise of unimaginable powers by the Seven Deadly Sins which had a chance to spring to life if he accepted the wizard's warning. But if Sivana was not right for this, then who was?

As everyone who saw this liked to point out to sound like a smartypants, there were two Captain Marvel movies that were hits in 2019, one of them from actual Marvel and the other from their rivals DC. Except Marvel had the rights to the Captain's name, for films anyway, and got in there first with their superheroine, whereas DC were forced to make their story with nobody mentioning the hero's name. To their credit, they got around this pretty successfully, making the magic word that turns the fourteen-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) into the mighty crusader the name to call him for these purposes: Shazam! It was unlikely now that he would ever be known as anything else.

After some troubles at the box office and with public acceptance, DC seemed to be finally finding its feet with their superhero shared universe, no longer shackled to the dour, self-serious tone of their predecessors and actual divining a sense of fun out of their characters. This approach had gone over like gangbusters for Wonder Woman, but making it as wacky and fantastical as possible has succeeded with Aquaman as well, so Shazam! worked at establishing a middle ground for a lead who was, when not a younger teen, essentially Superman. Director David F. Sandberg and writer Henry Gayden did their best to separate this from the most famous superpowered character of all.

They did so by emphasising the younger incarnation of Captain Marvel, so once he is turned into his alter ego by the wizard who believes, not entirely convincingly, that he has found the right person to carry the fight against ancient evil, he was played by Zachary Levi (best known as TV's Chuck) as an overgrown kid. This meant both a sense of wonder at what he was able to do (all the Superman stuff plus lightning bolts from his hands) married to a self-centred, immature nature which naturally saw Billy as someone with a lot of growing up to do. We understand why when in the early stages he is shown in flashback being abandoned by his mother, though he does not know that until a surprisingly brutal sequence later on, which has led Billy to run away from countless foster homes in search of her.

Now he is in with foster carers Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews (you know, Jerry from The Walking Dead), and their brood of multicultural and multi-ages orphans, who are mostly welcoming (the ones who are not aren't hostile, just wrapped up in themselves), especially Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), a boy with a bad leg who Billy confides in once he gains his abilities, since he has nobody else to tell. The main theme here was that old saw, the child is the father of the man, so Sivana was a bitter and envious youngster who lusted for power he now has, while Billy finds he has demons that his alter ego can go some way to soothing because, whaddya know, he just might be as pure of heart as the wizard believed him to be. There was a lot going on here, eventful was one word to describe it, though it was a little embarrassed by its Golden Age lack of irony in its titular adventurer that it papered over with self-deprecating humour; that was fine as far as it went, but it was never hilarious. It was, however, a goodnatured empowerment fantasy as its origins always were, and its faithful adherence to that was unexpectedly disarming. Nice, John Williams-style music by Benjamin Wallfisch.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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