CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Starring: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Faithe Herman, Cooper Andrews, Marta Milans

Director: David F. Sandberg

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Surprisingly Intense, Decently Scary Superhero Violence

Release Date: April 5, 2019

Shazam! harkens back to an era when superhero flicks, and the action-adventure generally, were legitimately scary. This is a movie in which a fair amount of people disintegrate, or get eaten by gargoyle-esque monsters, or get thrown out of windows hundreds of stories up. Seriously, this might set a record for most defenestrations in a PG-13 movie. I don’t mean to imply that the ostensibly family-friendly segment of the superhero genre has become otherwise toothless. The injuries and collateral damage are acknowledged in the likes of The Avengers (and overly fetishized in the likes of Man of Steel), but they are rarely this tangibly visceral. It’s been a while since the Penguin bit off someone’s nose in Batman Returns, but Shazam! has plenty of moments that are shocking on the same level, and that is mostly a good thing.

Those violent, sudden deaths hit as hard as they do because Shazam! is at first glance the height of boundless fun and bright colors. Its wish-fulfillment premise is that teenage boy Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is given the superpowers of an ancient wizard, which he accesses by shouting the title exclamation. This turns him into Zachary Levi in full-on beefcake form dressed in the most vibrant red and yellow with a lighting bolt on the front of his ensemble. Like most kids his age, Billy is nowhere near responsible enough to handle the weight of superherodom, which lends his adventures a “With great power comes great responsibility” vibe, but it’s a lot messier than the template set by Spider-Man. In his quest to exploit his powers for fame and fortune, Billy nearly kills a busful of people and panics so much in response that it is genuinely unclear if he can manage to fix his mistake and save them.

Lending a layer of tragedy to Shazam! is the fact that Billy and his main nemesis are both driven by an origin story of familial rejection. Billy was accidentally separated at a young age from his mother at a carnival, and he has spent the ensuing years running away from foster homes in an attempt to reunite with her. Meanwhile, Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) grew up an emotionally abused outcast in his wealthy family. He was once considered a candidate to receive the Shazam powers, and he has spent decades attempting to rediscover the wizardly realm, primarily so that he can exact some extremely disproportionate revenge. It’s not too hard to imagine that in a parallel universe, Billy could grow up to be as terrifying as Thaddeus, but luckily he has the strength of his newest foster family to help carry him along. Amidst all the very real danger, Shazam! would very much likely us to recognize the importance of a loving support system no matter what our level of superpowers.

Shazam! is Recommended If You Like: Spider-Man, Batman Returns, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Finger Lightning Bolts

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