Llanelli Star - - FILM REVIEWS -

SHAZAM! (12A) ★★★ ★★

SINCE Mar­vel Comics launched its ev­er­ex­pand­ing cin­e­matic uni­verse with the mus­cu­lar block­buster Iron Man, ri­val DC Comics has largely played catch-up.

Were it not for Christo­pher Nolan’s Os­car-win­ning Dark Knight tril­ogy and Gal Gadot’s grav­ity-de­fy­ing ac­ro­bat­ics as Won­der Woman, a sta­ble of su­per­heroes in­clud­ing Su­per­man, Aqua­man, The Flash and Cy­borg could have flat­lined past the point of rein­ven­tion.

David F Sand­berg’s hugely en­ter­tain­ing romp marks a wel­come shift in tone for the DC Comics brand, swag­ger­ing away from dark, brood­ing se­ri­ous­ness into the ir­rev­er­ent ter­ri­tory of Dead­pool, al­beit with fam­ily-friendly hu­mour and a nos­tal­gia for body swap fan­tasies in­clud­ing Big.

Scripted with tongue wedged in cheek by Henry Gay­den, Shazam! plays to the strength of lead­ing man Zachary Levi, who chan­nels the naivete and ner­vous en­ergy of a 14-year-old boy trapped in­side the hulk­ing frame of a span­dex-clad saviour of the uni­verse who ini­tially goes by the moniker Cap­tain Sparklefin­gers.

There are plenty of in-jokes for comic book afi­ciona­dos and a crowd-pleas­ing re­veal to­wards the end, plus two ad­di­tional scenes fash­ion­ably con­cealed dur­ing end cred­its that tease fu­ture in­stal­ments.

Billy Bat­son (Asher An­gel) is placed into care as a young boy after he be­comes sep­a­rated from his mother in crowds at a state fair.

The teenager is re­solved to re­unite with his birth par­ent and stead­fastly re­jects the love of foster guardians in six coun­ties. After his lat­est brush with the law, Billy is re­lo­cated to the lov­ing home of Vic­tor

and Rosa Vasquez (Cooper An­drews, Marta Mi­lans), who al­ready have five chil­dren un­der their roof: Freddy ( Jack Dy­lan Grazer), Mary (Grace Ful­ton), Pedro ( Jo­van Ar­mand), Eugene (Ian Chen) and Darla (Faithe Her­man).

Billy closes his heart to the Vasquez clan but he is com­pelled to in­ter­vene when Freddy is at­tacked by bul­lies out­side the school gates.

This act of self­less­ness leads Billy to the lair of an an­cient wizard called Shazam (Dji­mon Houn­sou), who is search­ing

for a hu­man cham­pion to in­herit his pow­ers.

“Lay your hands on my staff,” in­structs Shazam.

The lad com­plies with the innuendo-laden re­quest and turns into a mus­cle­bound hunk (Levi), whose abil­i­ties could prove de­ci­sive in mankind’s bat­tle with archvil­lain Dr Thad­deus Si­vana (Mark Strong).

Shazam! is en­gi­neered to de­light in broad strokes, pok­ing fun at con­ven­tions of comic book ori­gin sto­ries with­out sac­ri­fic­ing emo­tional

con­nec­tions to the char­ac­ters.

Laughs are plen­ti­ful and dig­i­tal ef­fects-heavy ac­tion se­quences re­tain a light touch even when mul­ti­ple lives hang in the bal­ance. Some choice lan­guage and one mem­o­rable scene of a de­monic crea­ture bit­ing a male vic­tim’s head ne­ces­si­tate a 12A cer­tifi­cate.

Strong’s neme­sis is emo­tion­ally un­der­pow­ered when it mat­ters but his an­tag­o­nist’s child­hood-driven men­ace con­trasts pleas­ingly with Levi’s goofy, boy­ish charm.

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