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Review Roundup: SHAZAM! Starring Zachary Levi - What Did the Critics Think of the Latest Superhero Film?


Review Roundup: SHAZAM! Starring Zachary Levi - What Did the Critics Think of the Latest Superhero Film?

David F. Sandberg ("Annabelle: Creation") directs New Line Cinema's "Shazam!," the origin story that stars Zachary Levi (TV's "Chuck") as the titular DC Super Hero, along with Asher Angel (TV's "Andi Mack") as Billy Batson, and Mark Strong (the "Kingsman" movies) in the role of Super-Villain Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. Peter Safran ("Aquaman," "The Conjuring" and "Annabelle" films) serves as the film's producer.

We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson's (Angel) case, by shouting out one word-SHAZAM!-this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult Super Hero Shazam (Levi), courtesy of an ancient wizard. Still a kid at heart-inside a ripped, godlike body-Shazam revels in this adult version of himself by doing what any teen would do with superpowers: have fun with them! Can he fly? Does he have X-ray vision? Can he shoot lightning out of his hands? Can he skip his social studies test? Shazam sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of a child. But he'll need to master these powers quickly in order to fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Strong).

"Shazam!" also stars Jack Dylan Grazer ("IT") as Billy's best friend and ultimate superhero enthusiast, Freddy, part of the foster family that includes Mary, played by Grace Fulton ("Annabelle: Creation"); Darla, played by Faithe Herman (TV's "This is Us"); Eugene, played by Ian Chen (TV's "Fresh Off the Boat"); and Pedro, played by Jovan Armand (TV's "Hawaii Five-O"). Cooper Andrews (TV's "The Walking Dead") and Marta Milans (TV's "Killer Women") play foster parents Victor and Rosa Vasquez, with Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou ("Blood Diamond") as the Wizard.

Let's see what the critics are saying...

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: "Shazam!," on the other hand, is just a light, funny, grounded, engagingly unpretentious sleight-of-hand ACTION comedy ABOUT A BOY in a (super)man's body. The movie, in other words, is "Big" in tights. And it's Zachary Levi who makes that work, in much the same way that Tom Hanks did. Levi doesn't play Billy as a callow kid; quite the contrary, he's intelligent and jackknife fast. But Billy completely lacks an adult's sense of guile, and Levi uses that innocent quality to take the superhero stuffing out of the material - and to let Shazam discover his identity in a way that makes this the freshest origin story in some time.

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: An old hand at horror, director David F. Sandberg ("Annabelle: Creation," "Lights Out") does throw in a few scenes that are too dark for the otherwise amiable tone of "Shazam!" And when we finally see the Seven Deadly Sins, they look like the kind of bargain-basement CG creatures that you get when a game on your phone shows you an ad for a different game that you would never want to play. But neither of these problems inflicts much damage. The cast is consistently sharp, with Grazer in particular managing great chemistry with both versions of Billy. Levi's body language is constantly inventive, as he plays a tween who still isn't used to a grown man's body, let alone a superhero's. (And yes, Gayden even throws in a gag to acknowledge the fact that we're all thinking about "Big.")

Chris Nashawaty, EW: Whenever Levi is on screen, wowed by his new grown-up physique (his muscles seem to have muscles) and shocked by his newly discovered powers (living lightning zaps from his fingertips), the movie soars. It's like watching the best scenes in the Spider-Man movies, when Peter Parker first discovers he can shoot webs and turn the city into his personal slingshot tumble jungle. The problem is that those scenes - as giddy and full of youthful, caffeinated energy as they are - aren't enough in the modern blockbuster way of doing things.

Scott Mendelson, Forbes: Like Sam Raimi's (still great) first Spider-Man flick Shazam is both light on its feet and cheerfully enjoyable and yet also dark and mournful. It's fun and funny, but it respects its grim subjects and never sells out its drama for the sake of genre tropes. Like Aquaman, it has the feeling of an "everything but THE KITCHEN sink" offering, in this case giving audiences top-notch character drama, heartbreaking and heartwarming story turns, authentically amusing dialogue, appropriately-scaled superhero ACTION and old-school horror from the guy who directed Annabelle: Creation and Lights Out. If your favorite thing about Green Lantern is how it gave equal time to Peter Sarsgaard's monstrous supervillain, then, well, there's that too.

Mark Hughes, Forbes: Shazam! has endless heart and soul, with a pitch-perfect cast who earn our love and support early on, and a childlike sense of awe and wonder that feel like 1980s-era Steven Spielberg filmmaking. Indeed, I walked out of Shazam! thinking this is what we would have gotten if Spielberg had made a superhero movie during the 1980s.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: A loose '80s-era vibe very much permeates the film, which could easily have been produced by Amblin Entertainment back in the day. Unfortunately, the superhero movie plot mechanics eventually kick in big time, with elaborately staged battles between Shazam and Dr. Sivana taking up much of the film's second half and becoming increasingly tiresome. By the time Billy's new siblings have been transformed into superheroes themselves and the Seven DEADLY SINS are fully revealed in their less than impressive CGI incarnations, combat fatigue has long set in. What should have been a fun, fast-paced 105 minutes or so is dragged out to a butt-numbing 132.

Alex Abad-Santos, Vox: Sandberg has found success in Shazam by shrugging off typically cumbersome grimness and ignoring a need to Fuse together with other films for a future team-up epic - all that stuff that weighs down most superhero movies. Instead, for large parts of the movie, Shazam unfurls like a holiday movie spin on the genre. And in embracing earnest GLEE and heartfelt tenderness, Shazam allows us to fully appreciate the magical excitement and wonder that superheroes can supply.

Keith Phipps, The Verge: That's the subtext resting beneath Shazam!'s broad humor, fun spirit, and scary monsters. The film suggests that wish fulfillment will only get people so far, and power alone can't change what's damaged inside. Captain Marvel (or Shazam, or Thundercrack, or whatever you call him) might be one of the simplest superheroes ever created, but Shazam! both gets what makes that simplicity so appealing, and understands the COMPLICATIONS stirred by the common wish to grow up too fast and assume powers you don't know how to control.

Chris Hunneysett, Mirror: Shazam!'s greatest strength is knowing superheroes were created as a wish fulfilment fantasy for lonely adolescents, and is all the more enjoyable when putting them centre stage.

David Betancourt, The Washington Post: Levi deserves a spot next to actors who've recently gotten it right for DC. Put him right up there with Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa - all of a sudden, DC doesn't need Batman and Superman.

David Ehrlich, IndieWire: "Shazam!" is such an unexpected joy from start to finish - at a time when Hollywood is choking to death on all the superhero films that studios keep ramming down its throat, here comes one that looks at the genre in a different light and reconceives it on a human level. It doesn't break the mold so much as it plays with how flexible the mold can be. Warm, witty, and bursting at the seams with great characters, "Shazam!" is easily one of the most fun superhero movies ever made; even after the euphoric "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," that's still a low bar to clear, but it's worth celebrating all the same.

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