‘Shazam!’ is a superhero movie made mostly for kids

Apr 5, 2019, 7:20 AM | Updated: 9:24 am
(Warner Bros.)
(Warner Bros.)

“Shazam!” is a superhero movie strictly for kids. Not little kids, mind you. But middle-schoolers, for sure.

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For anyone else, or at least anyone who’s seen any random half-dozen superhero movies, there’s not much here for you. You’ve seen most all of it before and, unfortunately, done much, much better.

The movie has an old wizard hanging out in a cheap-looking cave, some standard-issue gargoyle monsters, and a mostly unremarkable villain who’s villainy is evidenced by his baldness and blue right eye (oooh, scary).

There’s also a sympathetic hero, a 14-year-old runaway foster kid who turns into an adult superhero quite unexpectedly.

And of course the movie has a message: Just as our hero Billy/Shazam has to learn how to use his powers for good, he also has to learn about the value of family, which he conveniently and predictably does.

To its credit, “Shazam!” does not take itself seriously. Its overall tone is comic, and one gets the sense that it realizes it’s just rehashing comic book tropes. After all, Billy’s sidekick Freddy is a comic book nerd who can recite chapter and verse of every superhero.

But that doesn’t make the movie any more compelling. And its sense of humor is not exactly high wit, seen the first time he finds himself in full superhero costume.

“What are your superpowers?” Freddy asks.

“Superpowers? Dude, I don’t even know how to pee in this thing!” Billy answers.

And when Billy and Freddy try out good superhero names, they experiment with “Thunder Crack,” (“No, sounds like a butt joke) and “Mr. Philadelphia” (“No, sounds like a cream cheese”). Freddy finally announces:

“His name is Captain Sparklefingers!”

That’s funny to a young teen, I suppose.

To be fair, there is a decent joke involving Shazam buying something a 14-year-old could never get away with.

“I’d like to purchase some of your finest beer, please,” he says to a confused mini-mart clerk.

Then, when he and Freddy try the beer, they can’t spit it out fast enough.

Funny. But only one in every 20 jokes or so lands.

Broadway and TV star Zachary Levi plays Shazam, the adult hero version of 14-year-old Billy, in an unconvincing, exaggerated way.

Too often he’s performing an adult’s idea of being a kid rather than playing a kid who’s being an adult. He more or less mugs his way through the entire movie. He and the movie could afford to dial it down a notch or three.

But the real problem with Levi’s performance is that he doesn’t match the personality of the kid he’s supposedly the grown-up version of. Billy is a rather wary, introspective loner but as Shazam, he’s more like a back-slapping extrovert. I’m sure superpowers change a man, but this feels like a complete disconnect. He doesn’t even look like him.

In its grappling with what it’s like to be a kid in a grown-up body, “Shazam!” reminds one of Tom Hanks in “Big.” In its look at a teenager suddenly granted superpowers, it treads ground similar to “Spiderman: Homecoming.”

And of course, its “breaking the fourth wall” and making all sorts of self-reflective cracks at its own superhero genre, it’s reminiscent of the Deadpool films. That’s a great lineup of source materials, but “Shazam!” doesn’t come close to matching any of them.

If you haven’t seen any of those films, and have not been schooled by the best comic book superhero movies ever, “Shazam!” just might work. Especially if you’re 12.

Tom Tangney on KIRO Radio

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‘Shazam!’ is a superhero movie made mostly for kids