‘Shazam’: Bill and The Boy kinda liked it and kinda didn’t

“Shazam!” (3-D/2-D)
Intense sequences of action, language and suggestive material.
Playing at: Alamo Drafthouse, Premiere Cinemas (includes Imax and D-Box auditoriums), Tinseltown 17 (includes XD auditorium), Movies 16 (includes XD auditorium) and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Credits: Directed by David F. Sandberg. Screenplay by Henry Gayden; from a story by Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke; based on characters created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck. Music by Benjamin Wallfisch. Cinematography by Maxime Alexandre. Edited by Michel Aller. Production design by Jennifer Spence. Set direction by Shane Vieau. Costumes designed by Leah Butler.
Cast: Zachary Levi,  Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Djimon Hounsou, Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody as Freddy and Super Hero Freddy, Faithe Herman and Meagan Good as Darla and Super Hero Darla, Grace Fulton and Michelle Borth as Mary and Super Hero Mary, and Ian Chen and Ross Butler as Eugene and Super Hero Eugene.

Bill’s rating:  Two stars for adults and three stars for pre-teens out of five stars

Watching family film “Shazam!” proved to be temporarily painful, especially when Gage put an elbow into my ribs about 20 minutes into the movie.

“I thought you were falling asleep,” he explained.

Like I’d admit it.

Seriously, I am fairly certain I could even quote that scene’s dialogue, which is not to say I had not begun to close my eyes and fantasize about a nap sooner than later.

Generally, I get a kick out of even cinematic adventures aimed at younger audiences – Smurfs and My Little Pony being documented exceptions – and after all, “Shazam!” arrives in theaters riding an array of positive reviews which I cannot explain.

And yet, with the exception of a series of over-the-top superhero experiments conceived by newly formed hero Shazam (Zachary Levi) and pre-teen Jack Sylan Grazer as a foster brother versed in superhero lore, there is little to maintain the attention of adults.

Rather, this is a joke-heavy superhero movie which DC Comics has aimed squarely at children who can find the humor in someone being referred to as Thunder Crack.

“Sounds like a butt joke,” says one.

Mind you, unlike The Boy (Gage), I walked into the theater unaware of Shazam being a DC character standing alongside Batman and Superman, although director David F. Sandberg and a handful of screenwriters make sure to give us references to both.

A bit of researched trivia: When a wizard transforms orphan Billy Batson into a superhero on comic pages in 1939, he was called Captain Marvel. Evidently, he kept the name for three decades before it was used elsewhere. That sure would have been a confusing factoid to save for this year’s films.

Regardless, Billy is an orphan who has been unhappy ever since a separation on carnival grounds from his mom. Foster homes have been little more than prisons. Finally, he moves into a foster home with parents and siblings who care about him, especially Grazer as disabled foster brother Freddy, who comes to his rescue when bullies attack at school.

Freddy also is very much into the non-disabled heroes born in the comics, but Billy could not care less.

At least not until an ancient wizard played by Djimon Hounsou forces Billy to say his name – “Shazam!” – at which point Billy gains the body of muscular adult actor Zachary Levi, a plethora of superpowers and a costume which should make him a laughingstock.

Those thinking of references to Tom Hanks in “Big” are to be forgiven.

Shazam even makes it possible for them both to try beer (“Yucko,” precedes the spit take) and peek inside a strip bar.

Billy asks Freddy for help because the latter knows about superheroes, but Freddy soon grows disappointed that Billy is doing nothing more than selling selfies for cash and becoming one of the bullies he used to despise.

Most of the picture is predictable, to the point few viewers remain involved. Billy, moving in and out of his Shazam form while being pursued, finds out the truth about his mom’s disappearance, while also rewarding those who care about him when threatened by the evil wizard who wants Shazam’s powers.

Most humorous scenes already are featured in the trailer, whether not quite leaping a tall building in a single bound, or walking down a hallway with electricity shooting from his fingers, saying, “Your phone is charged … and your phone is charged … and your…”

Even funnier, though, the two boys, large and small, wonder whether it is the costume that is bulletproof or the man. “Shoot him in the face,” one commands a criminal.

Naturally, battles with bad guys only lead Billy to finally accept a loving family. One can sense scenes like this a mile away.

In this light-hearted superhero tale, it is a safe bet youngsters will get a kick out of exaggerated violence.

As for the rest of us, well, we may find the movie disappointing. But at least it helps us fall asleep soon after arriving back at home.

Gage’s rating:  Two-and-one-half stars out of five stars

The trailer for “Shazam!” makes it look like one of the year’s worst films. Happily, I ended up enjoying the movie, despite plenty of apparent faults.

I really enjoyed the shift when a teenager becomes trapped in a superhero’s body. Zachary Levi excels as the adult who is actually a youngster. Levi contributes a lot of joy and humor to the character of Shazam, Frankly, I had assumed such a plot would be annoying and not very funny. I was mistaken.

Levi may be the film’s standout, but the entire cast is stellar, as well, from Asher Angel playing Billy Batson to Faithe Herman playing Darla Dudley. The young cast is superb, having worked out how to separate and introduce their characters.

They display no weaknesses, at least until the script tries to keep hammering jokes constantly.

Some situations find humor stretched to its limit. Overall, however, the film succeeds as a rare superhero comedy.

The concept may not be well liked by those viewers who find it quirky. Others may find it pleasing, as these characters share the same universe as Batman and Superman.

Mind you, the movie takes its time introducing the plot. Pacing can be extraordinarily slow, with too much time passing before the film gains exposition and introduces the characters most important to the story. I swear the slow pacing nearly found my movie-going partner falling asleep 30 minutes into the film.

My biggest problem turned out to be the confrontation that develops between protagonist and antagonist. When the script has one say, “I have people you care about now. Give me your power, or they will die by my hands,” one can cut the clichés with a knife.

It never felt like anyone was in real danger anyway; audiences always knew who was going to win. I was hoping for something more, but was left wanting.

On the whole, “Shazam!” could fare better in terms of pacing, and the ending certainly could be improved. Even so, this is a really fun, light-hearted movie and I feel certain that viewers likely will enjoy the superb actors and warm approach to family.