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First Shazam! reviews herald movie as refreshing bolt from the blue for DCEU

By Josh Weiss
Shazam! Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer

After the staggering success of Aquaman, there's a lot of pressure on Warner Bros. to prove that its shared superhero universe is, indeed, back on the right track. Luckily, the first standalone film to follow James Wan, Shazam!, seems to do just that.

The review embargo is now up for the film, and critics could not help but fall in love with the Big-meets-Superman premise that finds young foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel) turning into an adult superhero (played by Zachary Levi). In particular, the reviews are heavily praising Levi, who apparently goes whole hog in the role of a character once named Captain Marvel at DC.

Directed by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out), Shazam! could be the most lighthearted and funniest DCEU film so far, despite the fact that it was helmed by a veteran of the horror genre. Co-starring alongside Angel and Levi are Jack Dyan Grazer (It: Chapter One) as Billy's fellow foster kid, Freddie Freeman, and Mark Strong (Kingsman: The Secret) as the main antagonist, Dr. Thaddeus Sivanna.

While the film (written by Henry Gayden) doesn't widely open until April 5, it did get a limited early release this weekend thanks to Fandango. The movie's expected to rake in $40 million during its first weekend in early April.

Find out what critics are saying about Shazam! ...

"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." -Owen Gliberman, Variety

"A loose '80s-era vibe very much permeates the film, which could easily have been produced by Amblin Entertainment back in the day ... Levi is a delight in the central role, hilariously conveying the goofy adolescent within the strapping body of his musclebound superhero. Angel and Grazer work together beautifully as the teenage boys bonding over their joy at discovering Shazam's powers, and Strong uses his fierce intensity and taut physicality to make his villain suitably fearsome even while providing subtle comic flourishes along the way." -Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter

"Buoyant and unpretentious, Shazam! aims low and mostly succeeds, a kid-friendly caper powered with enough energy to keep its target audience engaged with a fun central conceit that plays like a cross between Big and Superman. Levi, whose work has mostly graced the small screen from Chuck to the most recent season of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, has a puppyish charm, launching himself into the role with total abandon." -Benjamin Lee, The Guardian

"Here comes one that looks at the genre in a different light and reconceives it on a human level. It doesn’t break the mold so much as it plays with how flexible the mold can be. Warm, witty, and bursting at the seams with great characters, Shazam! is easily one of the most fun superhero movies ever made; even after the euphoric Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, that’s still a low bar to clear, but it’s worth celebrating all the same." -David Ehrlich, IndieWire

"Shazam! is many things the DC films have not been, and it’s not just fun and funny. As if the filmmakers had the wisdom of Solomon himself, Shazam! offers a lean story focused on a single idea: family. As a storyteller, director David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation) and screenwriter Henry Gayden never introduce more elements than they can juggle. In Sandberg’s film, pretty much every character orbits around the idea of family. And in a welcome change from decades of Disney-branded wicked stepmothers, Shazam! posits that love, not blood, is the true foundation for a good home. Shazam! isn’t afraid to be emotional, maybe even emotionally dark, but it’s never hopeless." -Eric Francisco, Inverse

"There are a few hiccups along the way but Shazam! is undoubtedly another win for DC. It never quite reaches the bombastic heights of Aquaman or sheer gravitas of Wonder Woman, but it’s got heart enough for all three, a good balance of humor and action, and near infinite potential for the future. I have no idea how this innocent, lovable boy ends up fitting into a larger DC universe but it’s going to be really exciting to find out. He’s a star." -Germain Lussier, Gizmodo

"Levi is essential to that because, for a guy not named Chris, he makes a pitch-perfect do-gooder. There’s a youthful wonder and innocence he captures as the Frito-chomping man-child hero, and he has all of the facial expressions and flossing skills (the dancing kind rather than the dental) to convey the pure excitement of a boy learning he can pretty much do anything. Supes and Bats will never die, but in Shazam!, a character who’s been around for seven decades and is only now breaking through into the mainstream, youngsters have a new family-friendly hero to call their own." -Brian Truitt, USA Today

"If the Wonder Woman and Aquaman movies represented DC Comics’ first big-screen steps away from the austere color palette of the Zach Snyder movies, Shazam! takes us deeply into primary colors in a single bound. There’s still a touch of urban decay and kitchen-table warmth on display — this is by no means Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy or a candy-colored Cartoon Network production — but this new DC entry has a lovely lightness, both in the visuals and in its tone." -Alonso Duralde, TheWrap

"Sandberg has found success in Shazam! by shrugging off typically cumbersome grimness and ignoring a need to fuse together with other films for a future team-up epic — all that stuff that weighs down most superhero movies. Instead, for large parts of the movie, Shazam! unfurls like a holiday movie spin on the genre. And in embracing earnest glee and heartfelt tenderness, Shazam! allows us to fully appreciate the magical excitement and wonder that superheroes can supply." -Alex Abad-Santos, Vox

"Whenever Levi is on screen, wowed by his new grown-up physique (his muscles seem to have muscles) and shocked by his newly discovered powers (living lightning zaps from his fingertips), the movie soars. It’s like watching the best scenes in the Spider-Man movies, when Peter Parker first discovers he can shoot webs and turn the city into his personal slingshot tumble jungle. The problem is that those scenes — as giddy and full of youthful, caffeinated energy as they are — aren’t enough in the modern blockbuster way of doing things." -Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly

"OK, so it’s basically Big with superheroes and villains instead of businesspeople and girlfriends, but director David F. Sandberg has infused his film with so much heart and charm that it hardly matters. Even the deficiencies, like the sluggish beginning and the random, ridiculous villains, fade away under a haze of goodwill because unlike so many big spectacle action pics with sequels in mind, Shazam! actually sticks the landing." -Lindsey Bahr, AP