It’s a semi-scientific fact: Anybody who saw Steven Spielberg’s ET The Extra Terrestrial and its ilk on first release at the movies basically thinks they lived through a golden era of teen movies that has long since faded into the sunset.
How much of that is true and how much is just cantankerous out-of-touchness, I’ll let you decide, but few would argue that the 1980s weren’t a sweet spot thanks to Molly Ringwald, Matthew Broderick and the grand canon of John Hughes.
Many of the decade’s biggest hits cut through the cute with a thrilling dark streak, like Joe Dante’s 1984 Gremlins and Richard Donner’s 1985 The Goonies, both penned by future Harry Potter director Chris Columbus.
The hijinks spirit and sweet nature – combined with just enough spooky stuff – of those classics electrifies the latest and possibly greatest movie from superhero house DC Comics, Shazam!
Forget Thanos-level universe-ending doom and gloom, this one has the heart of Wonder Woman and the silliness of Aquaman’s bad dad jokes plus the dark side of horror-meister David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation) on directorial duties.
The director wears his creepy back catalogue on his sleeve, kicking off with a spooky ’70s-set prologue in which an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) is holding back the fury of the seven deadly sins by searching for kids worthy enough to take on his mantle.
The daftness of this set-up is half the fun in a film that flat out refuses to take itself too seriously.
The title itself is enough to crack a big dumb grin, (although things were much more serious in the legal battle with rival house Marvel that led to its use).
Relative newcomer Asher Angel is brilliant as floppy-fringed troublemaker Billy Batson, an unlikely hero who steals cops’ lunches for kicks. Abandoned by his mum when he was little, he’s been skipping out on one foster home after another.
Finding his groove with a local couple (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews), Billy is absorbed into a pleasingly diverse foster family that includes Faithe Herman’s industrial-strength adorable Darla, Ian Chen’s nerdy Eugene and Billy’s new bestie, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer from It).
Goonies-esque gang at the ready, Billy gets magically turbocharged, able to transform into a super-buff cross between Thor and Superman (played by a goofy Zachary Levi) whenever he says, “Shazam!”
Cueing up more ’80s goodness a la Tom Hanks in Penny Marshall’s Big, he and Freddy immediately put his big boy disguise to good use doing what any hormonal screen teenagers would: Buying beer, sneaking into strip clubs and shooting stupid YouTube pranks.
The viral aspect of the vids is a whip-smart entry point for teens of today while us old-timers will love the vintage vibes.
While the retro trend in superhero movies is nothing new – think the ’60s/’70s mixtape of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy films or stable mate Captain Marvel mainlining 1990s grunge pop – here it’s soaked into the movie’s soul if not the soundtrack led by Imagine Dragons.
The movie is outrageously dorky fun with a few swear words thrown in.
Mark Strong’s shoulder-chipped bad guy might be the weakest link, but he’s largely irrelevant in an absolute hoot that shamelessly trails a bigger-scope sequel we’re already Shazam-ing for.
Shazam! premieres nationally at cinemas on April 5