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Movie review: DC says ‘Shazam!’

Published April 17. 2019 11:59AM

Those of us of a certain age may recall “Shazam!” as a catchphrase of Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) on the hit TV shows, “The Andy Griffith Show” (1960-1968) and “Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.” (1964-1969).

Comic-book collectors and fans will know that “Shazam!” is a word that, when exclaimed by Billy Batson (Asher Angel in the movie), transforms him into an adult superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi in the movie).

The DC Extended Universe extends a bit more with the addition of the superhero Shazam. DC has a long way to go to catch up with the number of characters in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“Shazam!” director David F. Sandberg directed the horror feature films ”Annabelle: Creation” (2017) and “Lights Out” (2016). Sandberg keeps the tone of “Shazam!” light and fun, glossing over the mythical origins of the superhero’s powers with as brief an expository scene as possible.

Much of “Shazam!” takes place in Philadelphia, with several recognizable landmarks, even though the majority of the film was shot in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The storyline emphasizes family bonding, anti-bullying, and the need to fulfill one’s destiny.

There are several big set pieces, including scenes and battles in the Rock of Eternity, which is a stone temple; Chilladelphia, a Philly winter carnival; fights with monsters dubbed the Seven Deadly Sins; the crash of a car and truck that sets the plot in motion, and a bus incident on a bridge which tests some of Shazam’s superhero powers.

The “Shazam!” screenplay is by Henry Gayden (“Earth to Echo,” 2014) from a story by Gayden and Darren Lemke (“Goosebumps,” 2015 and its 2018 sequel; “Shrek Forever After,” 2014) based on the Shazam character created by writer Bill Parker (“Whiz Comics” No. 2, 1940) and illustrator C.C. Beck (creator of Captain Thunder, which became Captain Marvel, which became Shazam).

Are you following this? Don’t look for the big-screen version of the courtroom drama “DC Versus Marvel,” anytime soon. Basically, DC Comics had to stop using the name Captain Marvel (hence the change to the character name, Shazam) in a trademark dispute with Marvel Comics.

Sandberg concentrates on the conflicted youth of Billy Batson, who as a boy became separated from his mother (Caroline Palmer, excellent in the role) in a pivotal scene that provides the back story. When the teen Batson meets his mother years later, it doesn’t go well. This scene, in an apartment building hallway, is perhaps the movie’s most emotional.

Asher Angel (“Driven to Dance,” 2018) has a great screen presence and is very believable as the teen Billy Batson.

Zachary Levi (“Thor: The Dark World,” 2013) as the adult Billy Batson, aka Shazam, plays the role very broadly, oftentimes as parody. His superhero presence is made all the more ridiculous-appearing thanks to a tight red suit with a glowing gold lighting bolt on the chest and a huge, heavy white cape. The character’s appearance is reminiscent of Super Dave Osborne, the superhero spoof character created and played by Bob Einstein (1942-2019).

Mark Strong plays the nemesis, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. Although Strong is surly, he’s not given much to say and the role rings hollow. (The villain was to have been Black Adam, but Dwayne Johnson is to play Black Adam in a separate DC movie.)

In the storyline for “Shazam!,” Billy Batson lives with a foster family, which is a great representation of diversity and inclusion, including Jack Dylan Grazer, excellent as Freddy Freeman, a preteen with a disability; Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley, so cute in the role; Grace Fulton, very forthright as Mary Bromfield; Ian Chen as Eugene Choi, and Jovan Armand as Pedro Pena.

Marta Milans plays the mother Rosa Vasquez. Cooper Andrews plays the father Victor Vasquez.

The foster children are also transformed into superheroes.

Adam Brody plays Superhero Freddy. Meagan Good plays Superhero Darla. Michelle Borth plays Superhero May. Ross Butler plays Superhero Eugene. D.J. Cotrona plays Superhero Pedro.

Djimon Hounsou plays the Wizard, who bestows superpowers on Billy Batson.

Ethan Pugiotto plays the young Thaddeus Sivana. John Glover plays the father, Mr. Sivana. Landon Doak plays the young brother, Sid Sivana. David Kohlsmith plays the young Billy.

“Shazam!” has lots of corny dialogue and, in this, the Shazam character is similar to Deadpool in “Deadpool” (2016), but without the R-rated subject material.

“Shazam!” has an overall naive feel, unlike many slick contemporary superhero films. The film should be especially fun for teens. Adults who accompany their children to the film should enjoy it, too.

“Shazam!,” MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material; Genre: Fantasy, Action, Comedy. Run-time: 2 hrs., 12 mins. Distributed by Warner Bros.

Credit Readers Anonymous: There’s a scene during the middle part of the end credits where Dr. Sivana is scrawling symbols on a prison-cell wall when a green caterpillar, Mr. Mind, appears. Mr. Mind heads The Monster Society of Evil. At the end of the end credits. Freddy coaches Shazam in one of his superpowers.

Box Office, April 12-14: “Shazam!” continued at No. 1 two weeks in a row, $25.1 million, $94.9 million, two weeks, as “Little” had a little opening, with $15.4 million, one week, and “Hellboy” had a heckuva low opening with $12 million, one week.

4. “Pet Sematary” dropped two places, $10 million, $41.1 million, two weeks. 5. Dumbo” dropped two places, $9.1 million, $89.9 million, three weeks. 6. “Captain Marvel” dropped one place, $8.6 million, $386.5 million, six weeks. 7. “Us” dropped three places, with $6.9 million, $163.4 million, four weeks. 8. “After,” $6.2 million, opening. 9. “Missing Link,” $5.8 million, opening. 10. “The Best of Enemies,” $2 million, $8.1 million, two weeks.

Unreel, April 19:

“The Curse of La Llorona,” R: Michael Chaves directs Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Velasquez and Marisol Ramirez in the horror film. A social worker and her children face a supernatural realm.

“Penguins,” G: Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson direct the documentary about an Adélie penguin and its plans to find a another penguin to start a family.

“Breakthrough,” PG: Roxann Dawson directs Chrissy Metz, Topher Grace, Josh Lucas and Marcel Ruiz in the drama. A woman prays for the healing of her 14-year-old son who nearly drowns in a lake.

“Under the Silver Lake,” R: David Robert Mitchell directs Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace and Callie Hernandez in the drama comedy. A man tries to locate a woman he saw swimming one night in the pool at his apartment.

Two popcorn boxes out of five popcorn boxes.

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