The true-to-comic-book spirit of "SHAZAM!" makes it by far the best entry in the current round of WB DCU superhero movies. This light-hearted romp is a wonderful diversion from the (often poorly acted and produced) dark live-action and animated fare with beyond gratuitous sex, violence, and profanity that the House that Jack built is churning out these days for far more profit than fun.
The following YouTube clip of a "SHAZAM!" trailer perfectly illustrates to Millennials and Gen Zs that this movie is their daddy's (or grandddaddy's) superhero flick. These kids also learn that there is ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with that.
The simple but brilliant concept of the source material that director David F. Sandberg and writer Henry Gayden expertly adapt to the big screen is that 14 year-old Billy Batson is the chosen one who transforms into he whose "marvelous" name that shall not be spoken and back to his original form by uttering the titular acronym. This largely is the only similarity between this film and the (reviewed) 1974 live-action Saturday-morning series of the same name.
Zachary Levi of the 2007-12 action-comedy series "Chuck" (five seasons! and a movie?) releases his inner-Bartowski in playing this half-man half-boy champion. He proves once again that he is adept at playing a lovable loser nerd who must adapt to a super-powered new normal. This one can be consider Chuck vs. The Seven Deadly Sins.
The most general thought regarding this tale of a boy who goes from being a delinquent foster child to becoming a mighty superhero in a 'verse in which The Justice League really is fighting for truth, justice, and the American way is that is akin to the limited appeal of another boy hero.
Wil Wheaton coming up in conversation a few years ago prompted my remarking that I hated his smug young teen genius (with shades of Hamlet) character Wesley Crusher on TNG. I mentioned as well that i considered it absurd that the highly skilled and equally experienced Enterprise crew members gave that arrogant punk a respected seat at the table. The wisdom of my not foolish friend was that young teen boys that watched the series fantasized about being Wesley. A desire for candor requires confessing to shouting "SHAZAM!" and hoping for the best when watching the '74 series as a young boy.
A more obvious comparison is to the 1988 blockbuster comedy "Big" in which Tom Hanks plays a tween who (presumably on a Friday) magically transforms into an adult. "SHAZAM!" makes one blatant homage to the film and another more subtle one. The confession this time is admitting to still saying "I want to be big" every time that I pass a Zoltar fortune-telling machine.
The '80slicioiusness continues with "SHAZAM!" having strong shades of the cult-classic action-comedy TV series "The Greatest American Hero." This early example of the importance of RTFM centers around the Mr. Kotter of the '80s Ralph Hinkley being the chosen one whom "little green guys" give a super suit. The primary idea is that these brothers from another planet being confident that Hinkley realizes that with great power comes great responsibility make him their guy.
Much of the humor in "Hero" relates to the titular Reagan-era Cold War Captain America both discovering the extent of his abilities and learning how to control them. "SHAZAM!" honoring this legacy extends beyond a very "Hero" like montage.
These fanboy homages begin with the opening scenes. The identified year of 1974 works very well for the 2019 theatrical release in which our time is identified as "the present;" however, this will seem more odd as time goes by. it is even odder later in the film to see a single school that apparently goes from grades 1-12 in the same building.
Fourteen year-old Thaddeus "Lex" Sivana is sitting in the backseat of the family sedan as his father (John Glover of "Smallville") is driving the boy and his older brother over the river and through the woods to grandfather's house. Dad (channeling his best Lionel Luthor) and the older sibling are engaging in their usual practice of berating the backseat boy when Thad finds himself transported to a spooky cave.
Ala "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," Thaddeus meets the weakening ancient guardian of the "grail." Unlike Indie, Thaddeus does not choose wisely. He then is thrust back to his reality, where he quickly sets incidents in motion that do nothing to endear himself to his father and his brother.
The copious discussion of the proud history behind "SHAZAM!" precludes going much deeper into the plot of the film. Suffice it to say that Shazam and now-Dr. Sivana ultimately find themselves in an extended clash of the titans. The Team Shazam that our hero assembles to help fight his battle will come as no surprise to folks who are familiar with earlier incarnations of our central figure; this approach also is familiar to fans of Team Bartowski.
The team building, as well as the central plot, reinforces the "anyone can be a hero" theme of a film from a competing 'verse. It additionally reflects the "friends and family" aspect of admission into Mormon heaven and avoiding spooky Mormon Hell.
Those who agree that "Aquaman" stinks worse than three-day-old fish will find glee in a "SHAZAM!" stinger.