The latest (and lightest) film offering from DC Comics’ extended universe has a particular advantage: it’s a kids’ film, starring kids. The central character, Billy Batson (Asher Angel), is 14; so is his smart-alec foster brother and “manager”, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). Billy is granted a tidy collection of magic powers by a wizard (a bewigged and bearded Djimon Hounsou), including strength, super-speed and fingertips filled with lightning. By shouting “Shazam!” he is transformed into an adult in a superhero suit (Zachary Levi, believably and likably hapless), so, like many 14-year-old boys, he uses his new identity to buy beer (which he promptly spits out), saunter into a strip club, and go viral on YouTube. The evil Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) is after Billy’s powers, hell-bent on revenge after being told, as a child, by both his father and the wizard that he was weak.
There’s a sense of Stranger Things camaraderie among Billy and his foster siblings, who are actually fun to spend time with, and the film’s message of found family is a sweet one. Still, its overblown finale overstays its welcome, teeing up the team as mainstays in the inevitable sequel.
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