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ON FILM: 'Shazam' powered by dual lead performances

By shouting out one word – SHAZAM! – a streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into an adult super hero (Zachary Levi), courtesy of an ancient wizard. "Shazam!" is currently playing in theatres. (Photo source: Warner Bros.)

The latest comic book adaptation from the DC library is "Shazam!," a superhero comedy directed by David Sandberg and starring Asher Angel as Billy Batson. An orphan and frequent runaway, the film opens with Batson on a mission to find his mother. When his most recent search results in no findings, Batson is taken to another foster family.

After school one day, Batson ends up transported from Philadelphia to another realm where he meets the Wizard Shazam, who's looking to give his powers to a new champion. Batson is selected and soon receives all of the wizard's powers, transforming him into his prime form as the new Shazam (Zachary Levi).

With his new abilities, it seems to be all fun and games, but the history of the wizard brings about an antagonist who wants the powers, played by Mark Strong.

"Shazam!" earns a lot of points in how it portrays a young kid getting all the powers of a being almost on the level of Superman. Billy's initial use of the powers, which are mostly about just goofing around with his foster-brother Freddy (Jack Grazer) are plenty of fun and the story develops well when the importance of the situation appears and the stakes get raised.

Billy having his "with great power comes great responsibility" moment is compelling, and it's benefited even more as Batson continues to express himself as a pre-teen, despite looking like a full-powered super hero.

With that said, the film certainly could have used some time shaving. The movie comes in over two hours and in the third act, it seems like things were getting dragged and stretched out a bit.

Additionally, the villain Dr. Sivana, while having a fairly developed backstory and motives, was handled rather poorly here. Usually Strong is quite good on screen, but his character here just seems rather dull and forgettable. He has his menacing moments, but never seems interesting.

Fortunately, the film's protagonist is good. Of course, it's funny watching Billy in his Shazam form mess around with his powers. However, what really makes his character arc interesting is his background as an orphan and his ongoing search for his mother. It makes for an engaging lead character to root for.

Also helping the picture are Freddy, played by Grazer, and the rest of Billy's foster family, who all have their own personalities and are convincingly portrayed by the young cast.

A lot of credit of course has to go to Levi who does superb work portraying a superhero who's still basically a kid. Levi really nails the role, portraying a hero who wants to do the right thing, but doesn't really think first about collateral damage and consequences caused by his actions. Angel deserves credit, too, playing the normal version of Billy, especially since he has to carry some of the more emotional scenes.

As for the entertainment value, there are some good moments of action here and the film clearly has the budget to pull off some solid effects. Although, the design of the evil creatures under the command of Dr. Sivana made it quite difficult to follow what was going on at times.

Overall, "Shazam!" is a pretty solid entry to the DC film library. While the villain could have been improved and the runtime may have been better served by some trimming, the main characters and their respective actors make it work. It's an enjoyable watch at the cinema.