David F Sandberg’s Shazam! captures something that has been missing from the superhero genre for quite some time ... joy.
I don't mean fun, games or Deadpool's quips; I mean legitimate, goosebump-inducing joy, without an ounce of cynicism coursing through its veins. Not since maybe the Adam West Batman (you know, Shark Repellent?) show of the 1960s have superheroes given me genuine joy.
But at long last, Shazam! has breathed whimsy into a genre (currently) populated with misery: with the premise simply being that a teenager (Asher Angel) is told by a Space Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) that he is the chosen one and can become a being more powerful than Superman.
If that isn't every little kid's dream, what is?
The pure charm this movie thrives on is the wish fulfilment it brings, giving every little kid who sees it the heroic urge to do good - whether that is saving humanity from evil, or buying booze for your step-brother - because the second he is built-like-a-truck Zachary Levi, 14-year old Billy Batson goes straight for the booze. Not as a drinking endorsement, but because he’s a kid who now looks like a not-kid and wants to do not-kid things. And who can’t relate to wanting to feel grown-up?
C S Lewis once said the most childish thing in life is "the desire to be very grown-up". The irony there is endless: but the intrinsic "desire to be very grown-up" is universal nonetheless.
Further at its heart is the omnibenevolent message of familial love: showing that family isn't just by blood ... it is whoever loves you.
And while that isn’t exactly a game-changing concept: I have no shame in admitting it made a single tear roll down my cheek.
The moments of levity mix with the strokes of comedic genius to create something truly endearing, despite the lightning-quick (see what I did there ... the guy's power is lightning! Ha!) pace and tonally mismatched madness.
The pacing is rapid fire until the overlong climax: wherein the baddie, Mark Strong's Thaddeus Sivana, finally stops loitering around and finally does something, which is also a change in pace to his previously nonexistent role.
Actually no, he does do one thing - but it isn't pretty.
In the scene not-too-long-after our unlikely hero (played with an irresistibly infectious childlike-excitability by Zachary Levi)'s quest for booze, a bald man murders his father in cold blood.
Granted nothing is shown, but they don't exactly try to shimmy away from it either, and as much as I appreciate Sandberg using his roots (Lights Out; Annabelle: Creation) to toy with the genre in a creepy way ... is 'Little-Kid-Becomes-God-and-Buys-Booze: The Movie' really the most fitting?
I'll answer that: no.
Regardless, its a movie defined by joy: which, in its purest form, has been snapped away from almost all modern superhero flicks, sadly.
Shazam! likens back to the original Superman film, which had the rather bold tagline of ‘You’ll believe a man can fly!’.
Time always passes, but that sentiment of wonder still rings true.
And let me tell you, go see this movie, with a packed crowd if you can, and experience the pure energy in the room: it is literally like lightning, and I use that pun unironically.
Go see this movie and you'll experience a sensation not experienced since 1978: go see it, and you'll believe a man can fly!