Director David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation) tackles a script by Henry Gayden (Zombie Roadkill) that works hard to make the classic 1940's character relevant in the ever-expanding realm of the comic book adaptation film. But instead of aiming for the serious tones of more recent films in the genre, Gayden gives us a mix of drama and comedy with very entertaining results.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a troublesome kid in search of his real mother. In and out of different foster homes, he seems the furthest thing from the best of humanity. But the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) is out of options. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), once drawn to the cave and rejected by the wizard, has found a way back there. Allied with the embodiment of the Seven Deadly Sins, he seeks to destroy humanity. As a 14-year old, Billy must take on the role of Shazam (Zachary Levi) in an adult's body, learn his abilities, and stop Sivana from succeeding.
The story seems far-fetched, but somehow it works. The script is far from perfect, and in fact, it drags at times while developing some characters and neglecting others. Most notably is Silvana, who never really becomes a villain the audience cares about. The portrayal is plastic, more an effect of the scripting than the actor. This is countered by the phenomenal performance of Levi as Shazam. He clearly remembers what it was like to be fourteen, and both he and the script capture that in an effective manner.
The script's earlier flubs can be forgiven by a stalwart portrayal of what it means to be family and how our true relatives are often not those we are related to by blood. This arc progresses nicely in quite an organic manner, solidifying as the film comes to a close.
The special effects are spot on, especially in scenes when Billy is learning his capabilities. The Sins are disturbing, as they should be, but it would have been more impressive if the audience could clearly distinguish them. The music throughout the film was very organic, setting a background tone when needed, and in your face at all the appropriate times.
There is some graphic violence as well as scary moments that are not going to be appropriate for younger audiences, so the PG-13 rating is well earned.
All told, Shazam is a better-than-average superhero film, partly because the genre has been turned onto its ear and partly despite it. It provides good entertainment, some genuine laughs, and a closing story worth watching and remembering.