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‘Shazam’ is the hero DC has been waiting for

Zachary Levi is a perfect fit in heartwarming origin story

Written By Amanda Myers, Co-Features Editor

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Audiences have been waiting for a decent DC movie since the dark ages, or so it feels like. If “Aquaman” was an inkling of the worldwide success the comic conglomerate could achieve when Zack Snyder wasn’t behind the camera, “Shazam” proves that humor and heart (and Zachary Levi) are a surefire replacement to their tired formula of clunky CGI and grit.

When a kid becomes emboldened with powers of greatness, Superman meets “Big” is the best plot synopsis you can give thanks to pre-hype press junkets. 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is chosen by the current iteration of Shazam –  a wizard on the verge of death – to take over his mantle and bring peace to the universe.

It sounds like a weighty plot point, but Batson’s arc makes sure the character’s actions are rooted in teenage territory.

Before this, Batson is assigned to a new foster home and meets a family of unique kids, including Freddy, played by Jack Dylan Grazer (“It”). Freddy has a fascination with superheroes like Batman and Superman, so you can imagine his surprise to find out that his new foster brother is a superhero himself.

Their training sessions are some of the best moments of the film, testing Batson’s abilities as the newly minted Shazam for signs of flight, strength and invisibility. The real hero in all of this has to be Levi.

If there ever was an actor destined for a role, that’s Levi’s case in “Shazam.” His inner child and boyish charm as the nerdy Chuck Bartowski on “Chuck” should have made him a national name, but it’s fitting that a superhero role brings his affable personality to the DC universe and beyond.

Even though there is a childlike lightness across the board, “Shazam” doesn’t stray from getting dark and serious when it needs to. Director David Sandberg, most known for horror films like “Annabelle: Creation,” doesn’t waver when showing the real consequences of immoral actions. The opening scene of the film emphasizes this with a crash dive into the villain of Dr. Sivina, along with his demonic henchmen.

Mark Strong is a fitting choice for the baddie given his sleek spy work in the “Kingsman” films, or his oft-forgotten role in the ill-fated, Ryan Reynolds-starring “Green Lantern.” There are moments when we’re not sure how serious we should be taking Sivana, though, and if he is meant to be dramatized for serious purposes or comedic effect. Perhaps that’s the meta point of the childish take on the genre.

“Shazam” emphasizes tropes of villains and heroes in a way that doesn’t break the fourth-wall, but makes for a more self-aware setting, keeping Batson and Sivana self-contained to their own world. For as much of an issue their plot happens to play into the movie, the more pressing tone comes in regards to a feeling of family.

It’s refreshing to see a superhero movie that’s not a me-against-the-world kind of deal. There is some of that mentality in the first act as Batson is discovering his powers, but when he finally embraces the responsibility relative to his adult form, that’s when the heart of the story comes thru.

Without giving away any major spoilers, it’s safe to say the foster family plays a crucial role in this defining arc. Their dynamic was designed around 80s tropes like “The Goonies” and creates a more formative team than that of the “Justice League” by far.

“Shazam” sets up a new story worth pursuing, giving a fresh take to a stale, over bloated genre. Levi is the caped crusader we deserve and the inner child we need.

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