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‘Shazam!’ soars on Zachary Levi’s electric performance

Movies

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”Shazam!” is a movie packed full of laughs and heart, with relatable themes and likable characters. But what really makes this movie work is that you have a fully-grown man playing a 14-year-old kid in the heavily-muscled body of a superhero, and not only do you buy it completely, you can understand what he’s going through emotionally. And for that, Zachary Levi deserves the highest of fives.

The latest movie based on a DC Comics character, “Shazam” introduces us to Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a troubled teenager shuffling around the Philadephia foster care system as he looks for his birth parents. He’s offered a home with the Vasquez family, which includes disabled superhero fanboy, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer).

After saving Freddy from a couple of bullies, Billy finds himself face to face with an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who gifts him with a bunch of superpowers. All he has to do is say the wizard’s name, and -SHAZAM!- Billy is transformed into a fully-grown superhero (Levi). He and Freddy better hurry and figure out how to use Billy’s new powers, though, because the evil Sivana (Mark Strong) wants all the old wizard’s powers and is willing to kill so he doesn’t have to share.

“Shazam!” is a flat out blast that sneaks in a few surprisingly effective emotional beats. The heart of the movie is the growing relationship between Billy and his new family, especially Freddy. Watching the two of them geek out over what Billy can do in his superhero form just puts a smile on your face. You know for a fact that if this really happened, there’s no teenage kid who wouldn’t be stoked out of his mind to find he has these powers.

This is where Levi comes in and what he pulls off so beautifully. He reacts with the same kind of enthusiasm a kid who suddenly finds himself in possession of these abilities would. He gives us the same kind of overdramatic reactions to situations, the same exaggerated facial expressions. Simply put, Levi is perfect in this role.

He gets fantastic support from Grazer, who gets to play excitement over Billy’s powers but also jealousy that he doesn’t get to be a hero. Strong is very solid playing a character who is what Billy could become in the wrong situation. Angel also deserves some props for putting in a good performance as Billy. He and Grazer work really well together.

Some love also needs to be given to director David F. Sandberg and the screenwriters, who really captured the feeling of being a lonely kid looking for family and love, then transmitted that feeling to the audience through these characters.

They’ve also given us a superhero tale where the protagonist learns, grows and changes through the course of the story. Billy goes through something almost anyone can relate to, as he searches for people who will care for him and learns to draw strength from his family. The message of the film is one about the importance of love, and that always resonates.

“Shazam!” may not be the flashiest comic book movie with the most eye-popping visuals or pulse-pounding action. But it has genuine heart, great characters and a fantastic performance from Zachary Levi. And it carries a full charge of fun. If you love superhero cinema, you’re not going to want to miss this one.

4 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Thanks to Fat Cats in Rexburg for providing screenings for movie reviews on EastIdahoNews.com.

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