by Mike Peros
If you’re looking for an endearing super-hero with a likable sidekick (this time from DC Comics, and not the Marvel Universe), you need look no further than Shazam! Asher Angel (Disney Channel’s Andi Mack) and Zachary Levi (Chuck, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) share the title role, in that it involves young orphan Billy Batson (Angel) and the adult superhero he turns into (Levi)—and out from—when he says the word “Shazam!” There’s plenty of backstory to go around, involving Billy’s search for his birth mother and becoming part of a foster family. Billy’s disabled foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is a superhero geek and the target of bullies. After Billy demonstrates some goodness and bravery while defending the hapless Freddy, he is summoned to a mystical lair complete with a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who bestows all his powers on an initially unwilling Billy. However Billy is not alone with these powers, since the Wizard has earlier had a confrontation with the unlucky, mistreated young lad Sivana—who alas, did not exhibit the requisite goodness to gain the wizard’s powers at the time. As an embittered adult, Sivana (Mark Strong) possessed enough cleverness (and wealth) to later find his way back to the lair where he stole whatever powers he could, including the all-powerful Eye of Sin. And by the way, Sivana’s hatred extends not only to his own father (John Glover), but to the newly created Shazam!
Shazam! as directed by David F. Sandberg from a screenplay by Henry Gayden, has many of the characteristics (not sure I would say virtues) endemic to films of this ilk, including many scenes of the vengeful super-villain showing just how lethal he can be. Mark Strong does a decent job without being especially memorable, and the final battle goes on far too long for the movie’s good. What elevates Shazam! above others of its kind are its liberal doses of humor, accompanied by a whole lot of heart—and two exceptional performances. While Asher Angel is fine as the young Billy, Zachary Levi is sensational as the “adult” Billy/Shazam. Levi hits all the right notes, playing Shazam as an overgrown kid with a new super-suit of clothes, gleefully surprised by the powers that accompany it (though he does neglect the fact that with great powers comes great responsibility—but that’s Marvel). Jack Dylan Grazer is also terrific as Freddy, the only one (at first) who know of Billy’s new superpowers, and the scenes where they’re testing Billy’s powers and trying out new names (his superhero name isn’t decided on till the end—you can probably guess what it is). It also helps that the film encourages you to care about Billy’s new foster family, including his siblings, and they are also a recognizably human bunch—they too add a good deal of the film’s heart. The bottom line if you’re still looking for a “superhero fix,” Shazam! is hard to beat—at least until Endgame.
I wasn’t aware that the world was clamoring for yet another Hellboy, especially following Ron Perlman’s take on the role of the brooding hunter of lost souls (to put it kindly) from the Guillermo Del Toro films. Yet here we are with the all-new Hellboy with David Harbour taking on the role; to his credit, Harbour projects enough angst and anger along with the quips to acquit himself in a respectable manner. The plotting is unwieldy to say the least, and there are several respected actors who come in for a quick appearance before becoming human mulch. Hellboy’s major nemesis is a long-buried Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) who either wants to destroy Hellboy or marry him (though in Hellboy’s world, that might prove one and the same). Ian McShane is also here, picking up the rent money as Hellboy’s loving foster father (there is a backstory here too). I can’t say that Hellboy is a good film, but it does have some offbeat humor and is fairly entertaining at times, —as long as you don’t take it too seriously and have invested in some ear plugs to be utilized at strategic points.