Film Review: ‘Shazam!’

Variety | 4/5/2019 | Owen Gleiberman
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In “Shazam!,” Zachary Levi brings off something so winning it’s irresistible. He plays a square-jawed, rippling-muscled man of might, with a cheesy Day-Glo lighting bolt affixed to his chest, who projects an insanely wholesome and old-fashioned idea of what a superhero can be. But he’s also playing a breathless teenage kid on the inside, and the result of this body-morph balancing act is that the character, Shazam, is at once boyish and manly, wide-eyed and wizardly, ridiculously corny and heroically hip.

Levi, the 38-year-old actor best known for his roles on “Chuck” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” has always seemed a bit on the generically handsome side, but in “Shazam!,” wearing a 1950s-looking red-spandex body suit set off by a white cape with gold piping that looks like a restaurant tablecloth, he’s a walking piece of pop art, with eyes that (literally) pop, hair so absurdly dark and lacquered it’s simply perfect, and a slightly abashed ****-eating grin that says, “I have no idea if you’re buying this, because even I can’t quite believe I’m a superhero.”

Sort - Look - Attitude - Actor - Ben

It’s the sort of look and attitude you could imagine an actor like Ben Stiller summoning if he were holding down the middle of a comic-book spoof. But the cheeky, balsa-wood trick of Levi’s performance is that he’s not making fun — he’s totally sincere. It’s just that he’s playing a superhero with a major case of imposter syndrome. At “Shazam!,” we seem to be watching a knowing satire of a comic-book film that is also, in every frame, the genuine article. The movie is dunked in mockery, but Shazam’s feats of amazement play as cosmic jokes mostly because they’re amazing to him.

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